When it comes to hiring, a sore spot for many jewelry retailers across the country, Susan Priolo of Sofia Jewelry in Mill Valley, Calif., considers herself fortunate. While Priolo admits she once had trouble finding staff who supported her family-owned store’s mission, those days have largely passed. With a capable and engaged team, Sofia Jewelry is thriving.
“Our business is growing under the leadership of our son and daughter in ways that we could not have imagined when we opened in 1994,” Priolo says.
Of course, not all jewelry shops are so lucky. From unreliable, culture-draining sales associates to uncompromising designers, many jewelry retailers can swap horror stories of poor hires—though it need not be so.
1. Hiring out of desperation
Far too often, retailers hire out of desperation, eager to simply fill the position so they can remove the task from their to-do list. But a rushed hire might not share the same values, work ethic, or commitment to the customer that’s necessary in the store, and that can prove damaging.
“You can’t just get a warm body,” says James Gattas, owner of Memphis, Tenn.–based James Gattas Jewelers. “It’s so important to hire someone who has the necessary qualifications and energy.”
While rushing to bring in new staff “may lead to a short-term fix, there are longer-term implications, such as a threat to customer service and loss of business,” says Bob Lockett, division vice president of human resources for ADP, a leading provider of HR management software and services.
One savvy practice: Always be on the lookout for talent. By consistently accepting applications and interviewing prospective employees, stores can gain a roster of candidates to contact when the need arises.
2. Considering the résumé alone
Over the past three decades, Brad Lawrence, owner of Gold Casters Fine Jewelry in Bloomington, Ind., has hired some individuals who struggled to succeed in his store despite their impressive résumés.
“They just didn’t have the ‘servant mentality’ that comes from the heart,” Lawrence says.
While it can be beneficial to select staff members with industry experience and credentials, Lockett says small-business owners too often hire talent for the wrong reasons, and that misstep can spark a disappointing experience for both the new employee and the retailer. “While employers should hire for will and skill as required, many times owners look at the job qualifications rather than the potential employee’s will to deliver exceptional service, the will to treat colleagues and customers with respect, and the will to live by a set of values and principles.”
3. Looking for replicas
Business owners are often drawn to employees “who look and behave like us,” admits Mark Ginsberg of Iowa City, Iowa–based M.C. Ginsberg. He’s learned, however, that such narrow-minded thinking limits one’s ability to pull in different personalities and skill sets that can enhance the business.
“When you have diverse, communicative, and unique personalities, you will distinguish your business and have different ways to approach a challenge,” Ginsberg says. “You don’t want a one-dimensional space.”
In the interview process at George Press Jewelers in Livingston, N.J., co-owner Cheryl Press similarly investigates what a candidate can add to the team, whether that’s proven sales skills, appraisal acumen, or CAD experience.
“I’ll measure a candidate’s strengths against what we need and what we already have on our team,” Press says.
4. Taking recommendations at face value
Gattas confesses that some of his worst hires have come from personal recommendations. Viewing his 22-year-old store as a pleasant, positive place to work, employees, family, and colleagues have all shared glowing personal referrals with the jeweler. Some have worked out; others haven’t, and in those cases Gattas admits he should have seen the warning signs.
Gattas now digs far below the surface of potential recruits—employing tools ranging from background checks to multilayered personality tests designed specifically to assess the individual’s character and basic skills.
“We need to play that devil’s advocate role and make sure the person is who we need for our business,” Gattas explains.
In an effort to more fully vet candidates in advance of extending an employment offer, George Press Jewelers brings them into its 2,500-square-foot store to work a paid shift. Press says this allows leadership to see how the prospective employees engage customers, take initiative, and interact with current staff. “Someone can interview well, but it’s a different ball game when you have a day or two to observe them firsthand. Ours is a small store, and bringing a new hire on board needs to work for everyone.”
5. Too freely hiring family and friends
In the jewelry industry, where many businesses are family-owned affairs, stores can tend to rely heavily on family and friends for staffing. Beware, cautions Lockett.
“While there are circumstances that can result in a positive situation,” Lockett says, “small-business owners should consider the following when hiring friends and family: Do they share the same passion for the business? Could there be difficulty in terminating their employment if needed? Would the relationship be in jeopardy if this friend and/or family member needed to be terminated?”
6. Overlooking “moldable” candidates
Years ago, Ginsberg says, he overwhelmingly favored seasoned candidates who possessed deep industry knowledge. That was a mistake, he acknowledges today, as it led him to overlook compelling prospects who were raw yet willing to learn about his “deconstructed jewelry environment.”
Similarly, Lawrence isn’t shy about taking a chance on individuals with no industry experience. In fact, he often prefers a clean-slate candidate, particularly if the individual demonstrates a genuine passion for helping and interacting with others.
“Teaching people the basics of jewelry is the easy part,” Lawrence says.
And while Lawrence knows many jewelers hesitate to invest time and energy in young people in particular, he urges otherwise. “It’s true that a young person might not be with us for 30 years,” he adds, “but they can more than pay for themselves with the enthusiasm and vibrancy they bring to the showroom and the business.”
(Top: Frank Masi/© CBS/Everett)