Merchandising 101 and the More Things Change

For whatever reason, the independent retail jewelry world seems to be impervious to a basic tenet of retailing. Marshall Field, the man, many years ago coined the phrase “Give the lady what she wants.” Very simply, Field summed up this basic principle of any business, but particularly retailing.

Early in my career as a sales representative for Lenox China, I encountered an objection that I didn’t understand then, and today it makes absolutely no sense whatever. The objection was the replacement of a best-selling item from the assortment that had sold out because Mrs. So and So purchased the product, and she would be upset and presumably would no longer patronize her jeweler if anyone else in the community purchased the same item.

Last night I spoke with my son, who was just wrapping up at the IJO Show in Dallas. The business he wrote at the show was a few thousand dollars less than last year, which isn’t bad considering the times. During the conversation he related his experience talking with a jeweler who visited his booth to write some business. The jeweler had sold much of what he purchased at the last show in the fall of 2009. As is usual, when presenting the line to the jeweler, best-selling items were highlighted, and frequently the jeweler said he indeed had the item and sold it. Of course, the normal response from any salesperson on hearing that the item had sold out is something like, “It’s one of our best sellers, so let’s replace it.” More often than not came a negative response from the jeweler. When pressed for an explanation the jeweler restated the objection that his customers would be upset if another retail client purchased the same product.

It would be nice if every product in a jewelry store were totally unique and one of a kind. It’s also totally impossible and unrealistic.

It’s a fact that in any business—retail, wholesale, or manufacturing—80 percent of the revenue comes from 20 percent of the product line. Jewelers need an assortment because customers want to choose from an array of products rather than only the 200 best sellers in a 1,000-item assortment. The other 800 items are needed to provide that sense of a good selection for the consumer to make his or her choice.

If you’re one of those jewelers who subscribe to the theory of not replacing best sellers in favor of something new, consider this fact: The large majority of new products fail. In this economy you need every advantage when a client walks through the door. Having the right products in your showcase is an absolute requirement for success. Otherwise you’re handing a golden opportunity to your competition. More important, you are hastening the day of your store’s eventual failure.

Giving customers what they want worked for Marshall Field. It will work for you just as well.

frankdallahan@comcast.net