Getting It Right

Success in the retail jewelry business can be a fickle and elusive goal. Zale has been up, down, and in Chapter 11, and it’s now up again. Service Merchandise rode the wave of a new concept (catalog showroom selling) to dizzying heights but is now in the midst of trying to redefine itself. Best Products ultimately folded when it couldn’t adapt to a radically new method of selling and an aggressive competitive environment. Sterling Jewelers went on a ravenous acquisition campaign only to have its British parent’s president announce proudly, “We sell crap.” Both his career and his company’s fortune soon headed south.

Over time, few have been able to engineer the transition from a small, family-owned business into a major jewelry retailer. Perhaps the elements that make an individual jeweler successful are lost as a firm grows larger and more complex. It seems the closer you get to being a big business, the further you get from the traits that make independent jewelers successful – the personal touch of the owner who knows customers by name, the warmth of a beautiful store with old, handsome fixtures, sales staff who know their product to such a degree that they exude helpfulness and expertise.

But there is one firm that has mastered the treacherous transition from small to big time. Reed’s Jewelers of Wilmington, N.C., was founded by Bill Zimmer and his wife, Roberta, after he returned from World War II. It’s now a multi-state chain that combines the best of the old-time jewelry store with an ability to meet the requirements of modern marketing. Bill’s son Alan possesses the financial, organizational, marketing, and people skills to address today’s complex and changing jewelry marketplace.

Reed’s Jewelers recently held its annual managers’ meeting, and I was there to see for myself just what makes the firm so successful. This is the time of year when plans and programs for the all-important holiday season are presented to regional managers, store managers, and key sales personnel. Reed’s also uses the three-day meeting to solicit from its vendors frank, constructive criticism while sharing with them key operating information and fielding questions about how the business is doing.

The highlight of this year’s event was the awards dinner, when individuals were recognized for achieving impressive goals. The dinner is a combination of tradition, family reunion, high-tech glitz, and revival-level enthusiasm. The connection of the participants with the award winners is something you have to see to believe.

In an age marked by cynicism, the generosity and enthusiasm of all the attendees were contagious. When someone’s name was announced in recognition for outstanding performance, the entire audience jumped to its feet to cheer and applaud. It’s infectious, effective motivation.

Much is written about the topic of motivation. Some with a practical orientation say, “Show me the money.” Others offer peer recognition as a more effective motivator. Recognition by the owners and management staff of Reed’s Jewelers is motivation at its best.

Reed’s has enjoyed strong success in the southeastern United States because of its strengths: knowledgeable leadership, a sense of family participation, and core competence from its buying, operations, sales, and financial staff. It also focuses on giving customers what they want. Perhaps success is not so elusive and fickle when you get things right.

Frank Dallahan

Executive Director,

Trade Relations