5 Retail Management Takeaways From Stuller’s Bridge Conference

For people unfamiliar with Stuller Inc., think of the company as the jewelry lovechild of Home Depot and Trader Joe’s: Not only does the Lafayette, La.–based supplier sell the building blocks of any successful jewelry business (findings, loose gems, tools), but it also offers well-made jewelry, from evergreen styles to of-the-moment trends, at unbeatable prices.

After four visits to Stuller’s massive—and massively impressive—operation in the heart of Cajun country, I’ve learned that the company also excels at hospitality.

That’s why I didn’t hesitate to say yes when JCK publisher Mark Smelzer asked me to join him, JCK sales representative Randi Gewertz, and JCK Las Vegas industry vice president Katie Dominesey on a visit to Lafayette last week to attend Stuller’s well-regarded Bridge Conference.

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My Bridge partners in crime: Randi Gewertz, Katie Dominesey, and Mark Smelzer

Mark sweetened the deal: We’d spend our first night in New Orleans, where we would meet up with Ashley Brown, executive director of marketing and public relations at Stuller, for what has become quite the tradition: a cool city tour followed by a delicious meal, drinks, music, and a Sunday brunch at Mr. B’s Bistro. (Last year, we biked around the Marigny and Faubourg districts with Confederacy of Cruisers, and this year we learned all about the creepy crimes that haunt the Crescent City with French Quarter Phantoms.)

We pulled into Lafayette on the evening of Sunday, Oct. 18, with 15 minutes to spare before president Danny Clark’s opening presentation. This was my third Bridge event (check out my post from the 2013 conference), but I still managed to learn a slew of new tips and tricks to running a successful retail jewelry business. These five management takeaways were especially memorable:

1. Every company has to grow—but heed the caveats.

Growth can come in many forms—people, revenues, customers—but it must come efficiently. Companies can ensure that they grow profitably by having the right talent in the right place at the right time, by being transparent with both their customers and their employees, and by embracing a growth mindset, which means setting higher goals, being open to change, collaborating, and being optimistic and flexible.

2. Keep score.

Track everything—including, but not limited to, sales, costs, average sale, return customers, inventory, people performance, and close rate. “If you can’t track it, you shouldn’t be doing it,” Clark says.

3. Successful leaders are results-oriented.

See point No. 2. Focus on your numbers. Why? Because they measure your effectiveness. When you measure and track everything related to your business, you’ll find clarity in the numbers, as well as accountability. “You can’t hide from the numbers,” Clark says.

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A lovely display of birthstone jewelry at the Stuller showroom. Opalicious!

4. Learn how to recognize a dysfunctional team.

Five signs of dysfunction are: absence of trust, fear of conflict (often manifested in an artificial harmony), a lack of commitment or ambiguity, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results (instead focusing on status and ego). The way to overcome these hurdles is by fostering a culture of education, participation, facilitation, and negotiation. “It’s not about everybody having their way; it’s about everybody having their say,” Clark says.

5. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

People are what set a company apart from the competition. See point No. 4. Create a culture that’s inclusive, transparent, and results-oriented—and you’ll see that no amount of strategic planning will ever replace the benefits of maintaining a well-oiled employee machine.