Christmas List

Give your first gift of the holiday season to your store by undertaking a refreshing makeover. Customers will base their first opinions of your store on the way their senses respond.

Scrutinize the entire store. Invest in a paint job for the walls and ceiling, put up new wallpaper, install a fresh carpet or professionally polish the floor as needed. Check for dust and cobwebs in corners and replace burned-out light bulbs. Polish mirrors and the glass on showcases, front windows and doors regularly. Clean jewelry every day and after each showing.

Is there a prevalent odor or mustiness in your store?

A light spray of holiday air-freshener or the use of a potpourri burner is a pleasant greeting (but remember that too much may ignite the allergies of sensitive customers). Soft holiday music creates a warm, soothing mood for customers escaping raucous crowds.

Strive for a neat look. Keep paperwork, tools and supplies in a designated office space, and avoid leaving such items on the tops of showcases unless in use. Make sure the store is lighted to show merchandise to its best advantage. It not only makes your stock sparkle and easy to see, it creates a cheerful atmosphere.

Because you look at your store every day, it helps to get a fresh perspective, says James Porte, president of the Jewelry Marketing Institute, New York, N.Y. Offer gift certificates to a few select and trusted customers in exchange for their objective eyes. Ask them to “tear apart” the store, looking for everything that would turn them off when buying.

After the store passes the white glove test, it’s time to dress it in holiday finery. Select decorations that convey quality and class, says store designer Pat Foltz. “I advocate going for a clean look; go simple instead of trying to do too much,” she says.

Start a tradition by investing in a few quality objects for displays to use every year. For inexpensive decorating options, use fabric in store displays. Traditional red and green are preferable because they convey the spirit of Christmas to customers. The natural look is consistently popular. “Decorating with mistletoe or pine cone motifs is elegant and also natural,” Foltz says.

Simplicity and class can be communicated subtly, but also outrageously to turn heads. Cartier, for example, “ties” a giant red bow around its store each year to celebrate the holidays.

You may have great fun decorating your store for Christmas, but remember the focus should still be jewelry. The showcases in which the jewelry is displayed should be clean, neat and spare. Group jewelry into collections and use space to emphasize each piece.

When decorating inside showcases, make sure jewelry remains the center of attention. If the jewelry is going to interact with the decorations, use decorations that are smaller than the jewelry or that contrast in color. Solid colors are your best bet, says Foltz, and prints should be smaller than the jewelry itself.

No matter how beautiful the store and merchandise, if customers aren’t comfortable they won’t stay long enough to buy. Have hot drinks and snacks available for chilled or exhausted customers — hot apple cider and Christmas cookies are favorites. If shoppers come in pairs but only one is interested in shopping, have a comfortable chair and entertainment (magazines, videos) available for the partner. Keep quiet toys, games, books and cartoon videos on hand to occupy bored children who could irritate parents or other customers enough to leave the store — and kill sales.

Stocking stuffers: Christmas will bring a constant flow of customers of all types looking for many different things. “We make sure we have a full basket,” says Ann Marie Dunn of J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point, Fla. The store is fully stocked with a wide variety of merchandise to fill any customer’s needs.

Consider your potential customers when stocking your store. In a mall environment, teenagers and younger adults may browse for gifts. Inexpensive jewelry in sterling silver will attract them. Do people travel miles to buy high-end lines in your store? A few significant pieces may attract these customers and their friends. Consider adding a new line of designer jewelry for customers seeking something different.

Talk to your suppliers early to learn about promotions or services offered for the season. Dig out literature collected at trade shows to remind yourself of any specials advertised there.

It’s difficult to foresee trends; fashionable merchandise ordered in September may be “out” by December. Ask suppliers what trends are gaining momentum. Study fashion magazines, which often promote fashions before they become massively popular. Watch television, especially programs that set fashion trends (the “Y” necklace craze, after all, began with such programs as “Melrose Place” and “Friends”). Keep your eyes open when attending social events or go out to dinner or the movies. Note new colors and styles among the fall and winter clothing lines, then pick jewelry that complements the look.

Note what your fashion-forward customers request when they come into your store. If you begin to see a pattern in requests for jewelry you don’t carry, order it. Ask your salespeople to wear jewelry and apparel trends in the store so customers can get used to seeing them together.

Santa’s helpers: Holiday excitement is infectious, and an enthusiastic salesperson will encourage customers. Boost morale and enthusiasm among employees by making them feel like vital parts of the store, says Angela White, marketing manager for the American Gem Society. Hold regular meetings and open the lines of communication to solicit ideas and insights from the staff.

A common motivational tool — the sales contest — may or may not be a good way to motivate your staff. “Contests can sometimes create negativity during the Christmas season, when everything is about family and goodwill,” says White. “But in other stores, contests can create healthy competition that is good for sales.”

Because the holidays are fast-paced, tempers can flare on both sides of the sales counter. Biographer William Winter once said good manners are “the final and perfect flower of noble character.” Likewise, the courtesies of a salesperson add the final touches to a jeweler’s reputation. It never hurts to remind your staff gently of some basics in customer service.

The salesperson is part of the store’s interior and will help to form the customer’s first impression of the business. Put casual dress on hold until the season is over and pay attention to details: scuffed shoes, runs in stockings, wrinkled or stained clothing will not convey the top-flight impression you seek. Conservative yet fashionable clothing is the best bet for not offending customers.

The entire staff should remember to wear warm, sincere smiles, and to be courteous and helpful no matter how stressed or busy. Remind salespeople to work with only one customer at a time and not to leave one customer to take a phone call from another.

Part of the holiday sales preparation involves educating your staff. Customers are impressed by a salesperson with thorough product knowledge and a sharp sales technique.

Lane Robards, director of training at B.C. Clark in Oklahoma City, Okla., uses a GOLD program (Growth and Opportunity through Learning and Development) to provide ongoing training. Each Saturday, employees voluntarily attend a morning class on product knowledge, sales or a topic such as financial planning, health and vacation plans. Robards gears his fall classes toward learning about the merchandise the stores will feature at Christmas. He often brings in representatives of jewelry suppliers to conduct classes about their products, detailing the history, features and benefits of the merchandise.

The sessions have contributed to higher morale and a stronger sense of teamwork among employees. “If I can help to improve the frame of mind of our employees, they will come to work better prepared to sell,” Robards says.

The crush of crowds will likely require you to add staff. Unfortunately, you can’t just ask Santa for well-trained, eager, hard-working seasonal employees. Hiring and training part-time help can be difficult in such a short period of time, and now is the time to start. First, get in touch with part-time employees you’ve used in the past; they’re already familiar with your store, clientele and policies. Or contact the employment or career placement office of a local college and advertise in the campus newspaper. Also call senior centers, churches, synagogues and retirement communities to locate people who may have a depth of experience and time on their hands. In addition, ask friends, neighbors and reliable customers if they have any friends or relatives who may be looking for part-time work.

If you must advertise in the newspaper or place a “Help Wanted” sign in the window, make sure you set guidelines to cause fewer headaches. Specify “No phone calls” in your ad and ask applicants to apply in person. Make your expectations and qualifications as detailed as possible. Every applicant must follow the same rules — each must fill out a job application and submit references, for example. Letting a few applicants slip by the rules because you know or trust them is discrimination against the others. Also be careful to use proper terms: “salesman” discriminates against female applicants.

Whether bringing new people on board permanently or just for the season, hiring employees in a short period of time is always nerve-wracking. A preemployment test can be a helpful tool. Clayton Bromberg of Underwood Jewelers in Jacksonville, Fla., administers a test developed by Personnel Management Technologies Inc., also of Jacksonville, after the applicant has completed an interview. “When you’re hiring somebody, you need to do everything in your power to hire the right person,” Bromberg says. “If you leave it to luck, more often than not you don’t hire the right person.”

The test he uses states 81 work-related opinions about topics such as customer service, theft, ethics and substance abuse. The candidate responds to the opinion by choosing from a scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” The survey takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete, and the results provide insight into the job candidate’s values and priorities. Most importantly, says Bromberg, it makes everybody in the store feel more secure about a new employee.

Teaching new seasonal help about products quickly is the next task. Janice Mack-Talcott, director of education and education development for the Jewelers Education Foundation of the American Gem Society, suggests the organization’s “Graduate Sales Associate” course. This self-study course includes 15 short lessons covering gems and metals, manufacturing techniques, watches, service, employment relations, employer expectations, security and sales techniques. The average sales associate completes the course in two weeks, says Mack-Talcott, with each lesson taking about 20 minutes to read. Employers then have only to cover store-specific information, such as basic services, security procedures and return policies. “Even if a store has only one copy of the course for part-time employees, it’s a great training tool that can be done quickly and effectively,” she says. “It puts a part-time employee on the same playing field as a full-time employee.”

Part-time employees’ training should be done in the first week on the job and should cover all store policies and information about merchandise. Go through the names of stones, how to judge quality and which product brands, styles and lengths you carry. Discuss basic vocabulary by explaining, for example, what “gold-filled” means and what the difference is between 14 karat and 18 karat gold.

Create a buzz: While the emphasis during this season is on selling, you have to get customers into the store first. Special events, charity support and advertising campaigns are among the ways to raise your store’s profile in the community. Call your state jewelers’ association or other industry association for ideas, suggests Michelle Connolly of the Cultured Pearl Information Center, New York, N.Y. CPIC, for example, offers postcard packets and booklets with original marketing ideas for Christmas, Connolly says.

Special events give customers reasons to visit your store and see your merchandise. When deciding on a holiday event, be sure the idea works with your store’s overall image, cautions AGS’s Angela White. “If a quiet store that never did charity work or a promotion suddenly has a big event at Christmas, it’s blatantly obvious that it was a scheme to take advantage of the holiday spirit,” she says.

Options include arranging small concerts with carolers or brass choirs or inviting your best customers to a cocktail party or fashion show. Some jewelers hire a Santa to visit stores, but events designed to draw children into a jewelry store usually don’t help to sell merchandise to their parents, Porte cautions.

Done correctly, a charity event generates good publicity, raises money for a good cause and brings people into your store. Outside Carl Greve Jewelers in Portland, Ore., a Salvation Army brass band plays Christmas carols each evening during a three-night cocktail party in the store. Customers on the store’s mailing list are invited and served the finest liquors, wine and hot hors d’oeuvres. The admission is a minimum of $5, payable to the Salvation Army. Widely successful, the annual event draws around 600 people per night. “This is a selling event,” says jeweler Nick Greve. The store offers a special 20% discount on many lines during the party.

Don’t forget that while Christmas is the season of giving, it’s also the season of getting. Customers love to receive gifts, whether little bonuses or magnificent prizes. Give gifts with purchases, from coupons for services to clothing, jewelry or accessories.

B.C. Clark offers free Christmas plates to customers who keep their charge accounts active. Owner Jim Clark sends reminders to customers who haven’t been in the store recently; most come in and buy something just so they receive a plate (the store gives 8,000-10,000 plates yearly).

You also can hold drawings for an astounding piece of jewelry or a vacation to a warmer clime. AGS’s Tom Dorman tells of a jeweler who gives out keys with each purchase, making the customer eligible to win a car from a local dealership. The customer with the keys that fit wins the car, which comes complete with a diamond ring in the glove compartment.

Events and giveaways such as these can also garner free publicity through a story in a local newspaper or magazine. But remember to send press releases so reporters know what’s happening. The release should be written like a newspaper article, with a “lead,” or beginning sentence, that summarizes the entire article. Include the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why. Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Include the name of the person the reporter should contact for quotes, and quote that person — even if it’s you — in the press release. Send the press release to the city editor or news editor. Remember, the editor is not obligated to run the article. A follow-up phone call to the editor to make sure he or she has received and read the press release is probably fine, but harassing the editor will hurt rather than help your cause.

The holidays are fueled by traditions, and creating and maintaining them forges a bond with regular customers and the community. B.C. Clark has run the same Christmas jingle for 40 years, and the people of Oklahoma City have adopted it as a cherished tradition. In fact, an attempt to change the jingle 15 years ago met with protests. Last year’s TV version featured customers singing the jingle.

While not all advertising strategies become beloved parts of the holiday, successful campaigns are marked by quality and effectiveness rather than cost, says Porte. Start with a budget in mind and specify what you want to promote. Create an image and be aware of a focused message. Start your campaign as early as October so your message is firmly in people’s minds before they start to shop in November.

When picking your media, decide which will best communicate your message while giving the best value. Determine the target audience and how to reach it. Television may reach many people, but your budget will only go so far in cities where TV advertising is expensive. Most jewelers are more comfortable and effective working with newspaper advertising and direct mailings, says Porte.

A message is most effective when it directly reaches the people it intimately affects. Send direct mail about new products, promotions or events to customers. Update your regular client list and also design a mailing for new customers who have bought something from you for the first time in the past six months. You also may rent a mailing list consisting of potential customers who may be interested in jewelry from direct mail houses or credit companies such as American Express.

Differentiate your mailing from junk mail by picking unique materials. Use distinctive envelopes or packages so recipients rush to open them.

Mailings are an ideal way to keep in touch with your regulars at the holidays. Keep track of who has come into your store this season, and make follow-up phone calls to the ones who left without making a purchase. Target only the customer who was in the store so you don’t risk spoiling a surprise for anyone else in the family.

Selling the season: Never underestimate the buying power of the consumer, says Dorman. Men are likely to spend 68% more on gifts during Christmas than they would at other times of the year, he says. A customer who may ordinarily balk at an expensive ring or necklace may splurge in a mood of generosity, so suggest items that might be a little out of the customer’s stated price range.

Be prepared to work for the sale — just because customers have money in their pockets doesn’t mean they’ll hand it over to you. “People are shopping because they have to shop,” says Robards, and they are bombarded by advertising that pulls them in many different directions. “Our greatest competitors are not necessarily other jewelers. One year [consumers] may buy a fur coat; another year they may want to take a trip. We are competing with other luxury items.”

Sell the quality and longevity of jewelry. “Reinforce the fact that jewelry will be with you long after the coat or the trip,” he says. “It is a value that will stick with you for a long time.” Don’t forget, though, to appeal to the emotions also. According to JEF, men tend to make decisions based on emotional reactions to a product, while women make decisions based on practical factors. When a man is buying a gift for a woman, ask questions such as “Can you imagine how special she will feel wearing this necklace?” or “Don’t you think she’ll be so happy when she opens this on Christmas morning?” When selling to a woman, point out how useful and versatile a piece of jewelry will be in accessorizing outfits.

When greeting customers, be genuine. This sounds like another lesson in courtesy, but a smile, strong eye contact and open body language (open hands placed on a counter or chair and slightly leaning toward the customer) indicate you’re happy to help. Ask “Did you have something particular in mind?” or another specific question to draw information out of a customer.

Customers should not feel pressured or uncomfortable. If they firmly tell you they’re just browsing, give them a quick directory of the store (“Pearls are here, diamonds over there”) and let them know you’re available to help. Keep an eye on customers, watching for inquisitive facial expressions that may indicate they have questions about a particular product. But don’t hover.

And don’t jump to conclusions. A woman who enters your store in jeans may be prepared to spend more than a woman in a designer suit, and a younger customer may have more money to spend than an older one.

It helps to know to recognize when a customer is ready to buy. JEF says salespeople can expect to close about 10% of sales presentations made to browsers and 50% of those made to qualified buyers. To qualify a buyer, ask if he or she will need to consult with someone before making a purchase. Next, ask for a price range. Engage the customer in conversation and ask if this will be a gift or self-purchase. If it’s a gift, ask about the occasion and the recipient’s tastes.

Phrase questions so they will draw a positive response from the customer. Begin with phrases “wouldn’t you” and “shouldn’t you.” For example: “Wouldn’t you agree that a few months’ salary is appropriate to spend on a diamond that will last you the rest of your lives?”

Listen to the answers. Allow the customer to answer before starting your sales pitch. You may miss something important by not listening closely. Don’t push customers beyond their needs or desires.

Present ideas based on information gathered during your probing. Rephrase what the customer has already told you: “From what you have said, it sounds like your wife really likes small, delicate gold jewelry.” Then suggest what your store has along those lines and show it, perhaps asking another salesperson to model the jewelry.

Salespeople must learn when to stop talking and ask for the sale. A customer who watches the piece more than the salesperson or talks about plans for the purchase by inquiring about payment options is close to buying. That’s when to make the final move. You can do this with an assumption, asking “Would you like me to wrap this for you, or do you want to wear it?” or a strong suggestion, insisting “You’ll be so happy with your decision!” or “This is a piece that will last forever.” Then stop and wait for a response.

If the answer is no, find out why. Customers may have a million reasons not to buy a piece of jewelry, and your job is to understand and eliminate their doubts. “I just don’t want to pay that much” is one common statement. Find out if the customer feels the jewelry is overpriced or if it costs more than he or she can afford. “I saw it someplace else at half this price” is another common statement. Ask where the customer saw it and whether it was of the same quality. Address the customer’s objections straightforwardly: “I understand your concern, but did you consider this?”

Because you are asking customers to spend a significant amount of money in your store, they may have some tough questions. They may be skeptical about the quality or pricing of jewelry because of news stories about unethical jewelers. Answer these questions honestly and objectively.

Last-minute shoppers? Procrastinators may spend more because they are desperate. But you’ll set yourself up for returned merchandise unless you make them slow down and seriously evaluate what the gift recipients would appreciate. Not only will the procrastinators make a more satisfying decision, they’ll remember you the next time they need to buy a gift.

A strong team effort will keep sales alive in your store. If you are having difficulty closing a sale yourself but think a sale is still possible, switch gears. Graciously introduce the customer to a different salesperson, explaining that this staff member may be able to provide even more information. Support each other in the face of angry customers, and never reprimand a salesperson in front of a customer.

Create sales opportunities wherever possible. For example, send customers coupons offering free repairs. Did a customer buy a pearl necklace or a diamond ring last Christmas? Send a gift certificate for a free restringing or cleaning. Offer free gift-wrapping and free delivery with purchase.

As you’re about to ring up a purchase or make a quick repair, suggest other merchandise as as way to increase business through add-ons.

Finally, through the rush of the year-end holiday selling season, the long hours, the impatient customers and the holiday tunes you’ve heard one too many times, keep your chin up, says Dorman. Anticipate emotional strain and prepare to be patient with everyone. Make the season fun instead of drudgery by maintaining an upbeat attitude; customers will notice and appreciate it. “A good attitude will give you altitude,” says Dorman.

A brisk nip in the air and joyous holiday songs playing over every sound system should spur droves of shoppers into retail stores in the next few months. Their pockets may be full and they may be motivated to spend, but persuading them to buy jewelry instead of another gift won’t necessarily be a snap. The beautiful ring or necklace in your store may be only one of dozens of breathtaking ideas a customer has seen that day.

“Deck the halls” and “joy to the world” are fine holiday sentiments, but the best adage for a jeweler at Christmas and Hanukkah is borrowed from the Boy Scouts: “be prepared.” Now is the time to refresh your store and stock, hire seasonal help and train both new and experienced salespeople.

“Jewelers need to prepare for Christmas like training for an athletic event,” says Tom Dorman, executive director of the American Gem Society, Las Vegas, Nev. “Christmas will be trying for salespeople, emotionally and physically. Jewelers need to put on a ‘game face’ and make preparing for Christmas a total commitment.”

If you haven’t started your preparations yet, don’t despair. The following tips will brief you on how to prime your store and your staff for this most wonderful, and profitable, time of the year. Also see the story on pages 106-107 for holiday security tips.

HIRING LINE

Recruiting and training your sales force is an important part of your holiday preparation. A confident, well-informed staff will stay focused and calm during this hectic, yet crucial, business period.

Personnel Management Technologies Inc. offers a 10-15-minute survey that assesses a job candidate’s values and priorities. A software and survey package to test eight candidates is available for $99.95, a package of 25 for $200. Personnel Management Technologies Inc., 3100 University Blvd. S., Suite 122, Jacksonville, FL 32216; (904) 725-6302.

The Jewelers Education Foundation offers a self-study course to train new jewelry store salespeople.The “Graduate Sales Associate” lesson packet and enrollment into the foundation’s certification program costs $395 per person, with discounts available for multiple enrollment. Jewelers Education Foundation, 8881 W. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas, NV 89117; (702) 255-6500, fax (702) 255-7420.