Golden Touch

Holly Wesche Conn admits she was late to hop on the gold-buying bandwagon. But since last March, the owner of Wesche Jewelers has been making up for lost time with 12 gold buying parties in 2009, and an equally ambitious number of such events scheduled this year.

After her first two gold buying parties last year the Melbourne, FL-based retailer discovered that getting customers to sell their gold to her required more than just offering 20 percent above market averages and attentive customer service.

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Quoted: “We want to offer people a fair price for their gold and a more positive transactional experience than the ‘weigh ‘em and pay ‘em’ gold buyers in our market.” Holly Wesche Conn

For Conn and her staff, there are five main components to every gold buying party. Each event has a theme, food, music, and decorations plus some sort of entertainment. Staff members add to the festivities by wearing theme-specific attire and the well-known “Got Gold?” t-shirts in a variety of colors provided for free by the refiner. All of these components come together to create an upbeat and fun atmosphere in the store.

Conn admits that marketing store events is her forte. But logistics and cost containment issues needed to be addressed first when planning her gold-buying events. The initial order of business was making sure her store was following all legal requirements associated with buying gold and jewelry from the public.

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She contacted her local sheriff’s department to learn about the State of Florida statues, licensing, and the proper paperwork involved. Conn discovered that she had to replace some of her scales at the store in order to make them compliant. And, as a gold buyer she had to obtain certain information from gold sellers, including a right thumb print.

With liability and legal matters handled, Conn moved on to making the gold buying event run more efficiently. On average, roughly 70 to 80 people come in to sell gold during an event. Factor in spouses, friends and children, and that’s about 150 to 200 people in the store in one day.

To direct traffic, Conn posts a greeter at the door to make sure those coming in to sell gold or buy jewelry are sent to the appropriate staff on the sales floor. Conn works as a gold buyer as do three to four other staffers with three other sales associates dedicated to helping repair or jewelry customers.

The store also recruits one or two people to act as “runners” during the event. Runners photocopy the driver’s license of customers selling items and take gold that needs to be tested from buyers to the jeweler in the back who performs an acid test to determine karatage. Teenage children of staffers have proven to work well in this position.

During the gold-buying consultation, the buyers sort the gold into piles of 10K, 14K, 18K, and high karat gold. Once the customer agrees to the sell their items, the buyer offers the customer a check on the spot or a credit toward the purchase of a new item from Wesche Jewelers’ inventory.

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The gold buyer then places each of the piles of jewelry in a separate small, pre-marked by karat, zip lock baggie. These baggies of gold, along with the gold-buying form and a copy of the seller’s driver’s license, are put into a one-gallon zip lock bag. All the one-gallon bags (each representing a single gold buy) are held in plastic bins which are held in Wesche Jewelers’ vault. “It may not be the most sophisticated method, but it works beautifully for us,” says Conn.

With serious logistics handled, Conn was then able to move on to the more fun work of her gold buying parties starting with themes. Gold lends itself to only so many workable themes, with the March Western Gold Rush party the most successful in terms of gold buying, but also customer response and staff participation. Seasonal themes have also worked well. In November Conn held a pre-holiday gold buying event and in January a “Cash after Christmas” event.

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With the amount of steps taken to register customers in, sort the take-ins, inspect and ultimately pay for the gold, on average it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to help a single gold-selling customer – depending on the number of pieces brought in.

To keep customers’ minds off the wait, Conn typically has many activities planned that are geared toward individuals or families. Paraffin hand treatments and chair massages are indulgences both women and men responded well to. During the store’s December gold buying party Santa worked the crowd and handed out candy canes.

During the recent March western-themed event, Conn had pony rides for the children. Registering for the customary $500 Wesche Jewelers gift card is another way to beat the wait. Add in sensory pleasures such as the food and the music, as well as jewelry cleaning and basic repair services and people hardly know they’ve been waiting. “When we help people we always apologize for the wait,” says Conn. “But many people respond with, ‘it was no problem at all. You fed us and kept us entertained.”

Offsetting expenses was the last task for Conn in making her gold buying events a success. In addition to being a good customer, Conn is also a member of the local Clear Channel Radio Community Advisory Board. Her long-standing relationship with the radio group (three stations) allowed for a mutually beneficial partnership in promoting the gold buying events, which has included live broadcasts from the store the day of the event. “Many people stop in and comment that they heard the live spot on the radio, went home and grabbed their gold, then came here,” says Conn.

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Many of the radio station’s other advertisers have become good cross promotional partners for Conn such as local beauty spas and retail food venues. For last summer’s Gold Rush party Conn worked out a deal for free fruit smoothies and got half-off on sandwiches from Tropical Smoothie. For the March event she was able to have Sonny’s Real Pit Barbecue provide barbecue and fixings for free.

But the real success of these events is measured not only by how much gold they purchase or by how well customers are entertained, but also how customers rate their store experience during the gold buying process itself.

It can be an emotional time when parting with old family heirlooms or jewelry that has been broken for some time but still has sentimental value. And, many of the gold-selling customers are older or elderly people who are not sure how cash-for-gold programs work. That’s why Conn trains her staff to act as jewelry consultants first and gold buyers second.

“We try to put people at ease, explain the process, and give them advice regarding what they should consider selling verses getting the item repaired,” says Conn. “We end up getting a lot of repair business during these events. Above all, we aim to make the whole experience comfortable and fun for the customer.”

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Cash flow issues are a jeweler’s main concern with gold buying events. Conn has been fortunate enough to work with Steve Hartz Refining. Given the number of Wesche’s gold buying party, Conn can estimate how much she’ll take in for a typical store event and the refining company wires that amount into her account the week of the event – about half of what she thinks she’ll do at the gold buying party.

Tip:
Holly Wesche Conn likes to use inkless fingerprint pads from I. D. Technologies. The small ink-pad comes with adhesive on the back so they can secure the inkless pad to a clipboard which holds the gold-buying forms, for fast and easy access (and it serves as a reminder to the buyer to be sure to get the seller’s thumb print).

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Tip:
Want to scan a lot of jewelry fast to determine if it’s even gold? Use a magnet. “Many times lesser metals that have magnetic qualities have very thin micron layers of gold. A magnet will quickly separate these pieces when sorting through jewelry.” – Source: Holly Wesche Conn

Tip:
Have disinfectant liquid dispensers, towelettes or alcohol swabs for staffers who are gold buyers. During the day, the gold buyers are handling a large amount of gold, watches, jewelry and even dental items which are often not very clean. – Source: Holly Wesche Conn