At least once a year, someone in the jewelry industry is taken to task by the general media for a wrong they’ve committed or a wrong they might commit. Deceptive discounting, stone switching, undisclosed enhancements, inflated appraisals, children with severed limbs-all these crimes and horrors have been in the news. A flurry of activity follows each exposé, as the targets of the exposé-along with the industry at large-try to control the damage and prevent the public perception of jewelers from sliding down to the level of used car salesmen.
The misdeeds exposed by the media are unacceptable and deserve to be condemned. At the same time, this industry is unique in that it considers a handshake and a spoken word to be a binding contract, even for multimillion-dollar transactions. Those who don’t honor their word are thoroughly admonished and find they don’t have many more opportunities to conduct business in good faith. No wonder we bristle when a newspaper or television reporter slaps the industry’s collective hand instead of shaking it.
The only answer is to deal with hot-button issues on a proactive, rather than reactive, basis. The Industry Image Task Force, a coalition of leaders from key industry associations and the trade press, is working hard to do exactly that. Whether it’s graphic pictures of atrocities committed by diamond-smuggling rebels in Sierra Leone, or an unwelcome proliferation of synthetic amethyst on the market, the IITF works hard to ensure that even if an issue doesn’t go away quietly, jewelers know how to discuss it with their customers.
Ignorance is no excuse for failure to take responsibility. The trade press covers the issues and informs the industry before the general media seize on a topic and lambaste us for not dealing with it. Six of the nine editorials that have run in JCK this year have dealt with issues that could land a jeweler in trouble. But it’s up to the individual jeweler to become informed and to inform his or her staff. A sales associate who hasn’t been educated about the issues and who innocently gives misinformation while answering a customer’s question can be the spark that sets off a chain reaction of negative publicity.
Time is tight for everyone, but if your customers have an opinion about an issue, they’ll expect you-and your staff-to know about it, too. If you’re not up to date, admit it, then get up to date and get back to your customer with an answer.
A good place to start boning up is the IITF’s “Counter Intelligence” course. Prepared in conjunction with Jewelers of America, the course costs only $79 and is well worth the price. It’s a good crash course to get sales associates up to speed on basic, everyday product and industry issues. Moreover, as the course gets refined and updated, the IITF plans to provide talking points for dealing with some of today’s most sensitive issues. In addition to articles in the trade press and courses like Counter Intelligence, key associations such as Jewelers of America, JSA, JVC, and MJSA work to keep their members informed by sending updates, bulletins, and talking points to help jewelers answer questions and understand issues. But JA, the IITF, the trade press, and others can only do so much. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
Like any industry, the jewelry industry has its bad apples, but most of its members are fundamentally honest people, trying to earn an honest living. Most also have desks piled high with papers, mail, and other work. It’s not easy to find time to read every article or take home a study course, but one thing is for sure: It takes a lot less time than trying to rebuild your reputation after an investigative news crew has been to your store.
For more information or to obtain a copy of Counter Intelligence, contact Jewelers of America at (800) 223-0673 or log onto JA’s Web site: www.jewelers.org/ja_member/main.html