I Watched A Lot of Webinars. Here’s Some Great Advice

One of the things that is gratifying to see is, during a crisis, the jewelry industry bands together to help each other.

We have seen an explosion of webinars, and even webinar conferences, full of great tips and advice on how jewelers can survive these tough times.

There are so many webinars, I’ve struggled to watch them all, but I’ve now watched quite a few, and—while I recommend people watch them in their entirety—here is some of the best advice I’ve heard.

Keep your employees busy.

If your store is closed and you are still paying your employees—either out of loyalty of because you received a Paycheck Protection Program loan—consider ways to make good use of their time, said Kate Peterson, president of Performance Concepts, on the InStore webinar “Managing Through the Crisis: Human Resource Concerns.”

“If you’re going to be paying them to be at home, figure out a way to make them valuable to you,” she said.

That could mean increasing their training and product knowledge, especially since many trade groups have made their materials free during the crisis.

They could also reach out to clients. “There’s a lot to be said for keeping in touch with your customers,” Peterson said. “Just reaching out once every week or so, saying, ‘Just checking up on you and seeing if there’s anything you need.’ They can call, they can send emails, they can send texts.”

They could also volunteer in the community. While that’s obviously not possible to the extent that it was, Peterson noted that at-home volunteer opportunities do exist, such as programs that let people FaceTime with seniors in retirement communities.

“Anything employees do that’s community-focused, that’s outreach-focused, that’s training-focused is better in the long run,” she said. “Giving them something meaningful to do can really be the difference between anxiety and comfort for people. Otherwise they have nothing to do but watch the news, and that’s enough to put anxiety into people.”

She also recommended that stores have regular morning meetings using tools like Zoom or even virtual happy hours.

“All it has to be is getting everyone’s face on a screen and asking, ‘How are you? How are things in your neighborhood? What can we do for you?’ And let everyone talk. It’s bringing people together. That gives them a sense of normalcy that they desperately need right now.”

One thing to keep in mind is, if you furlough or lay off your employees, they can’t do any work for you, even if they want to.

“You can’t volunteer for a for-profit corporation,” said Jewelers Vigilance Committee senior counsel Sara Yood on the Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America (MJSA) webinar “You Have Insurance and Legal Questions, We Have Guidance.” “That is not a thing under labor law. That can create a lot of legal liability for employers.”

Yood also advised, when deciding whether to keep people, that retailers need to think about the long term.

“Employers are in a tough situation, but I want people to really dig deep and think about their business,” Yood said. “I highly suspect in the future, after we have made it through this crisis, [prospective employees] will ask the question: What did you do to your employees during the crisis?”

You can’t run the standard marketing messages.

Not everyone wants to hear about COVID-19 all day, so it’s okay to run some standard marketing messages. People are looking for escapism.

Yet it’s also good to acknowledge the current situation in some way.

The COVID-19 pandemic has “brought out an incredible amount of good in people,” said Suzanne McGrath, mentor for SCORE, a group that helps small businesses, on the webinar “Coronavirus and Your Small Business: Q&A with SCORE Mentors”.

“The [key word] is empathy….  You should acknowledge all the people who are suffering and the people who are on the front lines who are protecting us.”

She suggested that people strive for a sincere, personal tone.

“Reach out to your core customers and let them know how this is affecting you. Let them know who you are, who the person is behind the business, and how important your customers are to you.”

John Carter, president and CEO of Jack Lewis Jewelers, said during the American Gem Society (AGS) webinar “Overcoming Current Challenges and Preparing for the Future” that he’s seen a jeweler using #LoveIsn’tCanceled.

“That perfectly fits with what the industry is feeling right now,” he says.

On the Jewelers of America (JA) webinar “Use Social Platforms to Bond with Customers During Tough Times,” Andre Savoie, CEO of High Level Thinkers, warned against jewelers just “jumping to sales.”

“It just looks like a money grab. That kind of message is especially inappropriate in this environment.”

He said jewelers’ communications need to stop talking about features and benefits.

“That will trigger the rational brain that says, ‘You shouldn’t be open. You should be closed. You are just trying to get our money.’ ”

Instead, he says, they should stress the “emotional side” of things.

“We have to focus on what’s in our heart,” he said. “What drives you? What do you believe? And build your marketing campaign around that.”

He said that jewelers, especially those who have been in business for decades, have a “gold mine of incredible stories” about their business that are perfect for the current environment.

“You have thousands of stories of great customers that you served, of times that you made something out of nothing,” he said. “Now is the time to share that.”

Emmanuel Raheb, CEO of Smart Age Solutions, said on the JA webinar “10 Tactical Ways to Grow Your Business During COVID-19” that so many people are cooped up and isolated, they actually want to hear from companies.

He added: “Be compassionate and creative. Don’t shove diamonds down people’s throats.”

He pointed to one jeweler’s ad that featured a Cartier watch that said: “What time is it? Probably time to wash your hands again.”

He noted that if people do still have money to advertise, it’s a good time to get your message out, as Google Adwords, Facebook, and conventional media are charging far less now than they usually do, and competitors are likely scaling back their spend.

Take care of your security.

If your store is closed, you should keep high-value items in a safe or a secure location off the premises. But lower-end items should also be locked away, said Larry Spicer, vice president of loss prevention for Jewelers Mutual, on the MJSA webinar.

“Lower-priced items should be locked in a drawer, and not visible.… If your safe is at capacity, you want to take those lower-value items and put them in a drawer, put them in a cabinet. You definitely want to keep them out of sight.”

On the AGS webinar, Larry Rickert, owner of Jim Kryshak Jewelers, agreed.

“Make sure everything is off the floor. If you have Pandora, put it away. Don’t laugh and say that I don’t care if someone breaks in and steals my Pandora. I have seen on [Facebook group] Jewelers Helping Jewelers, where some idiot broke in and wrecked all sorts of showcases to steal marginal-value stuff.”

He added: “Don’t put a sheet over your showcase. You’re saying that there is something worth stealing.”

John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, said during the JA webinar Protecting Your Store” that there is a greater chance of cybercrime during this period, given that everyone is working at home.

If you get a suspicious email from a supplier, he advised, follow up a with a phone call to the supplier. Sometimes criminals impersonate them.

He also advised that jewelers make sure their alarm systems are working properly.

Spicer also recommended that, when closed, jewelers make sure that copies of their financial records, including inventory records, are “secure and accessible.”

Communicate with people you owe money to, including your vendors, bankers, and landlords.

On the Plumb Club webinar “Navigating the New Financial, Legal, and HR Landscape,” veteran industry financier Erik Jens advised that in a situation like this, people shouldn’t look at the bank as their enemy.

“The bank is your partner,” he said. “In earlier crises, and I’ve seen it a lot in the diamond business, everyone hid their losses, and that can create problems going forward. Don’t hide your losses. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Be open and transparent. It’s better for your business, better for your people, better for your clients.”

Larry Tauber, founding partner of law firm Cohen Tauber Spievack & Wagner, said on the Plumb Club webinar that, when negotiating with landlords, “try to take a non-adversarial tone. Emphasize that this is a temporary situation. And that, by working together, they will end up with a viable and hopefully solid tenant once the crisis ends.”

Carter said he’s had success reaching out to the billboard companies that run his ads.

“I said, ‘Traffic is down, my store is closed, how about 60 days of zero payables?’” he said. “They all did it. They are eager to help. I had one tack an extra 60 days on at the end of my contract. I thought that was a great compromise.”

He also recommended suppliers reach out to their retailers.

“We know you’re scared too. We’re all friends. A personal message from you goes a long way. The people that have done that with me, I’ll never forget it.”

And if you do make a deal with someone, make sure it’s in writing, said John Tile, a SCORE mentor on that group’s webinar.

“Document every conversation and keep a log with dates, times, people you talk to,” he said, “I would follow up with whoever you are talking to with a document, saying, ‘Here is what we discussed.’ ”

Make good use of this time.

Peterson noted this is also a good time to do things a lot of employers typically put off, like writing an employee manual.

“A lot of stores have called us [asking for advice], and we say, ‘What does your employee manual say?’ They said, ‘We don’t have one.’ If you have two employees or 25, you need an employee manual.”

Carter advised jewelers to use the time to master social media tools such as Instagram and YouTube.

“I’m tired of waking up every day angry,” he said. “We are using this as a chance to get better as a store. That’s the mindset we have to come out of this with.”

Finally, if you’re interested in webinars on these or other topics, you can see a list of upcoming events on this Reed Jewelry Group pageJCK also announces them regularly on our industry cancellations page, and you can hear the recorded versions on the Reed Jewelry page as well as the JCK resource page, which also has a lot of other great info.

(Photo: Getty Images)

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JCK News Director

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