Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’ll be checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt glean shareable tips and tricks for a better and more productive quarantine—and for many, reopening.
Today we hear from Harris Botnick, co-owner of Atlanta-based Worthmore Jewelers, which has a second location in Decatur, Ga. The company recently reopened its stores, as Georgia lifted its lockdowns. Here’s how things have been going.
JCK: How are you, and how is your family?
We are all doing great. Our kids are young adults: One just graduated from University of Alabama (Roll Tide), and one has been working in New York for the last three years in the jewelry industry. Our son who just graduated, thankfully, had a great job offer before COVID-19 struck and is still scheduled to start in June. Our daughter had planned on moving home this summer to join the family business. Needless to say, we escalated her time frame and got her back to Atlanta mid-March.
So, we look at our time closed down as bonus time with our adult kids that we would never have had if not for the world shutting down. We took advantage of the time with family meals, walks around the neighborhood, each family member choosing an old-school [music] album to enjoy at dinner each evening. On top of this, since our daughter has a strong social media and web design background, we were able to focus on stepping up our social game and getting our website to a point where we could start e-commerce.
Has life resumed to a sort of normalcy in Georgia?
I would say it’s slowly resuming into a new normal. Many of the businesses have chosen to reopen, while an equal number have chosen not to reopen. We are noticing more traffic on the roads, but nowhere close to pre-COVID days.
Were you able to secure a PPP loan, and did it help you maintain payroll?
We did keep our staff of 20 on the payroll over the entire shutdown. I know the financially smart option would have been to furlough everyone and shift their pay to the federal government. We just did not feel good about that option. Our staff is there for us each day, giving it their all. Many of them have been with us for years, and we consider them family. We did not want to put any more stress on them or their families than was necessary. The furlough choice was not an option for us, and, fortunately, we are financially strong enough to have sustained the two months we were waiting for the PPP loan.
We did apply for the PPP the first day applications were being accepted. We bank with medium-size banks and have good relationships with our bankers. Even with that, it did take two months to actually receive the funds. My business partner, Joan Wasser, spent countless hours compiling info, while the requested documentation continuously changed. Her hard work and hours upon hours of stress did ultimately pay off. Now all we have to do is be able fill out the stacks of paper to have the loan forgiven!
Can you tell me how the reopening of Worthmore stores has been? What was day one like, and how has it been since?
I feel that we had a very solid plan for reopening and have continued to learn more each day on what we can do even better. One thing I realized is, as a small business we are so much better qualified to control our environments than the big-box stores. We are in the store each day, watching, listening, and interacting with customers, so any thing we see that needs to be improved on can be immediately addressed.
We begin each day with temperature checks for each employee, then start on one side of the store as a team and completely disinfect all touch points. Areas that we quickly realized were not being done were things like the guard gates where you place your hands to slide them open or closed, the upper portions of the safe doors where you reset your hand to slowly close them.
We then set up the showcases and begin our day. Throughout the day we are disinfecting all areas continuously and have hand sanitizer spaced throughout the store for customers and staff. We keep the doors locked and customers are welcomed in by our security guards only when a salesperson is available. The guard greets them with a mask on and hand sanitizer. Each salesperson on the sales floor wears a mask when customers are in the store at all times. We have had several times when we have had to ask customers to wait outside until a salesperson was available and have had no complaints.
The first weekend we did notice our engagement areas in the store were getting too crowed, so we quickly redid the floor plan to move some of the more popular cases to areas of the store that did not always see heavy traffic.
Each morning we discuss things like this to see what needs to be improved on and make those changes. The feedback we have received from customers has been extremely positive, and many of our customers have thanked us for being open, and have let me know that we are actually the first place they’ve ventured out to.
How are customers behaving in your store? Easy breezy or guarded or something else entirely?
Customers have been very thankful for our precautions. No matter what their beliefs are about the virus, they have been very polite and respectful with our new way of doing business.
How have sales been so far? Do you feel like people are buying?
May has been extremely strong! We were blessed to be able to reopen right before Mother’s Day, so that gave us a great jump start. We did have a few customers cancel engagement rings, but we have had far more move up their dates.
How was quarantine for you personally? What kinds of things did you do to help with stress?
For me, personally, after I accepted that this is out of my control, it was peaceful. Since the gym was closed down, I started jogging outside, and fortunately the weather in Georgia was very nice. I had the chance to take walks with my family and really reflect on how lucky our family is to be together and to get along so nicely.
How do you think the COVID-19 crisis will change jewelry retail in the next year and beyond?
When we reopened, I anticipated having a strong May. I felt like with Mother’s Day, graduation, and everyone’s need for some retail therapy, we would be busy.
I do feel as the summer goes on, and the realization on where our economy truly is hits everyone, the majority of retail will feel it. I think back to 2008 when we opened our second location and the economy came to a grinding halt. It forced us to get smarter. We had been very comfortable in the way we did business, everything was flowing and strong. We buckled down and made some quick changes that enabled us to survive and ultimately get stronger. We will all have to do this again: Think outside the box, which we love, stay top of mind with our clients, be creative in our social, and continue to let our crew know how much we value them.
We have always felt our crew is the number one most important part of our business, followed closely by our vendors. Without a great crew and great vendors, the customers will not be taken care of. We cannot forget this!
Do you feel the pandemic will change the way jewelry shoppers shop? What are your thoughts on that?
I think everyone, including myself, has shopped more online in the past two months than ever. As brick-and-mortar businesses, we are going to have to give our clients an elevated shopping experience and, more than ever, be able to show what sets us apart from the online businesses, including the importance of keeping it local.
Any movies, books, TV shows, etc., that you enjoyed during stay-at-home orders?
I read lots. I personally love adventure and spy novels. Lots of new TV shows from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. I have to admit, we did watch a crazy amount of TV: Fauda, Handmaid’s Tale, Dead to Me, Unorthodox, and many more. Currently we are watching Better Things on Hulu—if you have children, this is a must.
Top: Worthmore’s husband-and-wife co-owners Harris and Geri Botnick (image via @worthmorejewelers)
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