How jewelers are managing the tightest labor market in years.
Plus: tips on finding and hiring (and keeping!) the best people for your business.
People who make and sell jewelry say business is booming, but they have one key complaint: They can’t find anyone to do the work.
Manufacturers, designers, and retailers say they have been casting a wider net, raising pay, and reevaluating their benefits and working environment to attract and retain talent.
Industry Mirrors Broader Labor-Market Woes
Lauren Priori, owner of L. Priori Jewelry in Philadelphia, spent five months looking for a person to fill an assistant position, a process that normally would have taken about a month. “I opened a third location in Washington, D.C., a couple of months ago, so that was my big staffing challenge of the year,” she tells JCK. “It took much longer to fill those positions than it’s ever taken.” She adds that she hired the manager for her new store only after a seven-month search.
This scramble for workers is unfolding even as the jewelry industry is thriving. With activities like traveling abroad, attending music and sporting events, and dining out all constrained as the coronavirus surged, Americans flush with stimulus checks turned their spending firepower to goods. Home renovations soared, sports equipment and patio furniture flew off the shelves—and jewelers enjoyed robust demand.
Christopher Slowinski, founder and president of Christopher Designs, a New York City–based engagement ring manufacturer, said his hiring struggles are hurting his ability to expand. “I would like to have 10 new people to hire right now,” he says. “Business is great.”
Jewelry industry insiders say the job market is tight across the supply chain. They report challenges filling job openings for the full gamut of positions, ranging from bench jewelers and back-office personnel such as procurement and inventory managers to showroom sales staff.
Store owners and managers say they’ve had to run ads on job websites to get applicants, whereas earlier hires usually came via word-of-mouth or referrals. And some describe being outright ghosted as well. “We had several people who submitted applications, and we reached out to them and they never reached back out,” says Michael Fleck, owner of Midland, Texas–based Occasions Fine Jewelry. “I was surprised by that.”
Of course, these struggles aren’t unique to the jewelry trade. Companies of all stripes are scrambling to add employees, hoping to entice workers with higher pay, sign-on bonuses, and even perks like free tuition. In an August survey, consulting firm PwC found that a whopping 65% of working Americans are looking for a new job. So why can’t companies find employees?
Economists say there are myriad factors at work contributing to the labor shortage: A scarcity of child care options has kept many working parents out of the labor pool, and the fear of contracting COVID-19 is keeping others—including many who are older or immunocompromised, or who live with someone who is at a higher risk of severe complications—on the sidelines. The sunsetting of CARES Act provisions to expand unemployment benefits as well as widespread resumption of in-person schooling should help ease the labor situation somewhat in the coming months, experts say. But hiring is expected to remain challenging, particularly for customer-facing positions.
In the meantime, business owners say they are making do with the employees they have, but many worry about worker burnout. “We’re working everybody harder,” Slowinski says. “They’re making more money now because they have overtime, but in the long run it’s no good because everybody’s going to get tired of it.”
Some jewelers are going the extra mile to keep their employees happy. “We started offering better benefits and unlimited vacation—and making sure people are taking vacation,” Priori says. “My team is getting a little burnt out, which I think a lot of people in retail feel.”
How to Land—and Keep—a Great Staff
These circumstances make bringing on a new bench jeweler or seasoned salesperson seem like an insurmountable task, but jewelers and industry employment experts say there are a number of things you can do to improve your recruitment success.
U.S. Department of Labor data reflect what many business owners have already realized: Wages are rising, so if you want to attract and keep workers, take a look at your compensation and make sure it’s at least as competitive as what your rivals are offering.
“Jewelers are having to pay more to get top talent,” says Suzanne Courvisier-Mathis, president and CEO of jewelry talent search firm Diamond Staffing Solutions in Derry, N.H.
Independent business owners might believe themselves at a disadvantage to big companies that often set a “pay floor” in local markets, but Courvisier-Mathis says there are ways you can get creative when you think about compensation. One client, she says, employs some workers who get health insurance through their spouses and don’t need the insurance the company offers. In those cases, the business leverages those unspent premiums: “In lieu of the person taking insurance, they give them money every week,” she says.
Give employees time (off).
Aside from money, the next-best thing you can give workers is time, experts say. While it might seem like a drastic step, Fleck says he actually began closing his store for an extra day each week to give employees more time to themselves. “About two months ago, we started closing on Mondays, and one reason we did that was to be able to offer a Sunday and Monday off to our staff.”
For retail staffers—many of whom are often expected to work long hours, weekends, and holidays—time can sometimes be more valuable than money. “While mostly for our current staff, it’s also a recruiting tool,” Fleck says. “We get to say, ‘You get Sundays and Mondays off.’ Two days off in a row is especially appealing to people who work in the retail industry.”
A person with charisma and a great personality for selling clothing or computers could be a terrific hire for the jewelry trade, says Kate Peterson, president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a consulting firm specializing in luxury industries and based in Montgomery Village, Md. It’s up to managers to ensure that these people get the kind of onboarding and training they need to be successful—but if the backbone of the necessary skill set is there, it can be well worth the investment.
“Your priority is to hire people who are wired right for retailing,” Peterson says. “If the Macy’s in my area is closing, I go look for the good ones in the shoe department, the furniture department. I also track the specialty retailers.”
At L. Priori Jewelry, “most of the team doesn’t have a jewelry background,” says Priori, adding that a recently hired store manager had previously worked in nonprofit policy lobbying.
Fleck says his store’s “secret sauce” for finding great people is to draw from populations that are often overlooked by human resources departments—like recent immigrants and single parents. “I’ve constantly had the theory that we find people who are underemployed and underpaid and we offer them more money, and that’s worked for the past 10 years pretty flawlessly,” he says.
Accommodating the juggling act performed by working parents and other caregivers is an important aspect of making your company an attractive place to work, and those who have done it say letting employees work within the bounds of their schedule can pay off.
Priori said when child care obligations became a problem for the bench jeweler she had hired after a lengthy search, there was no question that making the job work for him was the top priority. “He has very flexible hours,” she says. “He works four 10-hour shifts, and whatever he needs to do for his kids is fine by me.”
Start early—and stay alert for potential hires.
Jewelers looking ahead to the holiday season hopefully have already started recruiting for any seasonal positions they hope to fill, Courvisier-Mathis says, because the nation’s biggest retailers have gotten an early start on the holiday season. Walmart announced before Labor Day that it planned to hire 20,000 supply-chain workers, and national chains ranging from Kohl’s to Michael’s to Dollar General have all announced plans to add thousands of workers.
Courvisier-Mathis says if a promising candidate pops up on your radar, don’t wait: “Hire even when you are not in need of someone,” she says. “The time is now. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait until the fourth quarter.”
Some hiring managers find that keeping an eye out for good people all the time—not just when they’re trying to hire—can lead to success. To fill sales positions, Fleck says he and his top deputies stay on the lookout for promising prospects in their day-to-day consumer activities. “We have a very strong training regimen,” he says, “so it’s mostly about finding the right personality.”
(Top photo: Getty Images)