Mark Motes, COO, Smyth Jewelers, Timonium, Md.

1. What is your best money-saving initiative?

Last year I asked the managers to reduce their departmental expenses 15 percent. We had to lay off some people. Some were hired back, and we hired additional people when we started buying gold, but we needed to let some non-performers go and do more with less staff. The managers became better managers, and their staff became more efficient workers.

2. What one advertisement elicited the most response and why did it work?

An agency developed a campaign using our tagline “Where Baltimore gets engaged” as the central message using two recognizable local personalities. With permission from the companies, our ad agency created a campaign showing Mr. Boh, the character from National Bohemian Beer, an inexpensive beer that’s popular with young people in Baltimore, on bended knee proposing to the Little Utz Snack girl, a cartoon figure used to promote Utz’s potato chips and snacks. The campaign, which ran from 2007 through 2009, was hugely successful and very popular in our market.

3. What was your finest hour in customer service?

One of our managers, Fred Heim, was at an Einstein Bros. Bagel shop and overheard a woman mention Smyth’s to her companion. Fred discovered the woman was unhappy with the opal bracelet she purchased at the store. Fred introduced himself, apologized for eavesdropping, but wanted to do what he could to remedy the complaint. The woman mentioned that one of the opals chipped a few weeks after the purchase. Fred invited her to the store. The manager on duty and the woman came to an agreement to remedy the problem and both walked away happy. The woman commented that “it’s hard enough to get good service when you’re in a store let alone outside of one.”

4. What advice have you received from a fellow jeweler that changed the way you run your store?

I gave a friend, a fellow jeweler, a tour. He told me I had too many people on the sales floor. The more I thought about it the more his advice made sense. In the past, if sales volumes went up so did the number of staff. This didn’t make sense in a down economy. When I spoke to my managers about reducing costs, I asked why they had so many staff. I heard responses like “to fill the schedule” or “this person does this job well” or “we keep this person around because he or she is good at a certain job.” As an employer you do get attached to people. You can carry them when you’re profitable. But, times being what they are, store owners can’t have the same number or more when sales volume is down.

5. When you walk through your front door, what do you like most about your store?

Every store owner likes to make sure customers are greeted or acknowledged within 30 seconds of entering. With five managers on the sales floor one is always about 75 feet from the main entrance. We beat that 30-second rule without pouncing on the customer. But by having that sales manager near the door, they not only greet the customer early on but also have the opportunity to engage the customer in a casual conversation to find out the reason for coming to the store. Within two to three minutes the manager can make a decision on which salesperson can best serve the customer. Based on the salesperson’s expertise, they are radioed to assist that particular customer.