Efficiency and Profitability in the Jewelry Repair Department

There?s an untapped profit center in most jewelry stores?the repair department. Many jewelers?especially those who consider repair service a loss leader?may blink in disbelief at that. However, repair has become an important part of business that jewelers can?t afford to ignore, say retail and repair experts. ?Retail jewelers must learn how to make their shops efficient and profitable, or their business will suffer,? says Bradney W. Simon, founder of B.W. Simon, Spartanburg, S.C., who provides instruction to bench jewelers.

According to Jewelers of America?s annual ?Cost of Doing Business Survey,? shop services provide 6% to 25% of jewelers? business and are now their third largest category, representing a greater source of revenue than colored stone jewelry and pearls.

The survey also finds repair department volume and profit margins have risen steadily in recent years, notes Mark Mann, JA?s director of certification for its Bench Jeweler Certification program. That upward trend will continue as more jewelry is recycled, he says, and as consumers give more attention to previously worn jewelry and pieces passed from generation to generation.

There are added reasons to reconsider the profit potential of the repair bench. ?This jewelry service doesn?t exist on TV shopping networks or Internet sites [where jewelry is sold],? Mann says, ?so it?s an opportunity for jewelers to attract customers with skilled, personalized service.? Repair also enables jewelers to realize ?suitable profit margins? in an increasingly price-competitive jewelry market. ?The repair department will become a large component of many jewelers? business in coming years as their expertise increasingly focuses on service and/or [custom jewelry] manufacture,? says Mann.

So, says Simon, jewelers must ?continually strive to improve bench skills and use sound management principles in the shop.? The payoff is worth it. As he says in his seminars, ?I passionately believe jewelers can operate their repair shops efficiently and have them contribute to the overall profitability of their stores.?

This JCK report, the first of two parts, tells how to improve your repair department?s efficiency and productivity. The advice comes from three experts in jewelry repair operations: Mann, Simon, and David Geller of Jewelry Artisans Inc., Atlanta. (For information on each, see p. 84.)

Efficiency = productivity. An efficiently run repair shop is productive and profitable. Here are practical suggestions to reduce wasted time and effort, avoid needless interruptions, and improve productivity.

  1. Make proper use of bench people. A recent JA poll finds two-thirds of current U.S. bench jewelers have more than 10 years? experience and superior bench skills. Yet most jewelers don?t market their repair services or bench people?s experience. According to JCK and JA surveys, many jewelers even underutilize them. ?They are paid at upper per-hour rates and yet used for routine work,? says Mann. Others use their bench jewelers as backup?to help with sales, work with customers, do inventory, order materials, or even sweep up. ?In a jewelry store, everyone should do some of that, but often it falls on the bench jeweler, limiting work at the bench,? says Mann.

  2. Improve your shop layout. Arrange the shop area so it?s easier to move around, and don?t pile everything up at the workbench. For example, put plating and polishing equipment near the sink, away from the bench (but not too far). Don?t forget to consider ventilation and environmental factors, notes Geller.

  3. Organize your bench. ?Every minute spent organizing your jobs and keeping your bench straight is multiplied in time saved doing the work,? says Simon. ?However, there is a big difference between a clean bench?putting away tools?and an organized bench.? A properly organized bench may be ?full of tools, hanging from the front, sides, and top, [but] it is arranged in a manner logical to that jeweler, based on tools used most often and the type of work most often performed.? Frequently used tools should be within easy reach. Those used less than once a week should be kept in bench drawers or on shelves or storage units next to, or on the wall in front of, the bench.

  4. Use time-saving tools. Methods, tools, and techniques that reduce time for various tasks improve efficiency and let a jeweler increase profits while charging the same price for services. JA is reviewing tools, computer software, and management procedures that let jewelers accomplish routine tasks in less time. It will issue a report within a year.

  5. Use effective take-in procedures. These can minimize repair time, if done correctly. Let?s say a ring is brought in for sizing, and the only instructions on the envelope are, ?Size to 5.? But what if the bench jeweler finds some prongs are worn? Should they be repaired? That would affect repair time, cost, and delivery. In such a case, the jeweler must contact the customer, who will come in to see what needs to be done. All this takes time and effort that could be avoided by a thorough review of jewelry at take-in, when the customer is present. Using computer take-in software also helps, says Mann, because it provides essential checkpoints.
    Geller offers two more tips for take-in. ?First, use specific delivery dates. Place a board in the showroom with promise dates for repairs. Let the shop say when a job can be delivered, rather than arbitrarily promising ?one week.? Better to be on time than promise ?short? and be late.
    ?Second, reduce warranty problems by photocopying all flat items, chains, bracelets, etc. Put the photocopy in the job envelope,? Geller says. ?Retrieve it later if, for example, a customer claims something broke where you soldered it.?

  6. Communicate effectively. Clear and effective instructions are often overlooked in take-in procedures, says Simon. ?Problems attributed to the shop are often due to faulty communications between the customer, the salesperson, and the bench jeweler,? he says. Incomplete or unclear instructions on a job envelope result in unacceptable repairs, while specific directions aid productivity. The bench jeweler should also be told the job?s delivery date and price. Here are Simon?s ?four Cs of effective communication?:
    ? Clear. Speak clearly, and write legibly. Use terms and phrases everyone understands. For example, ?ASAP? stands for ?As Soon As Possible.? To some, that means, ?Drop everything, and do this now!? To others, ?Do this as soon as you can, but there?s no urgency.? Instead, write a specific date or time.
    ? Concise. Give only pertinent information. The bench worker doesn?t need to know why a customer wants a job done, only what he or she wants.
    ? Complete. Give all pertinent information. Incomplete or inaccurate instructions cause problems and delays. Don?t write, ?Please repair.? Such ambiguity can result in the wrong repair, an incomplete repair, or more repair work than the customer wants, which the store must redo at its own cost. Write exactly what the customer wants done.
    ? Consistent. To reduce confusion, be consistent in your instructions. Don?t write ?ESTIMATE? in big letters in the middle of one repair envelope and then use the abbreviation ?est.? in small letters in a top corner of the next.

  7. Use the assembly-line approach. For the highest productivity in a repair shop, experts recommend this: Break work for a repair job into steps, and perform each step on all the orders needing that repair before moving to the next step.
    In sizing rings, for example, many take a ring and measure, saw, bend, solder, file, hammer, and polish it. Then they take the next ring and repeat the steps, and so on until all rings are sized. That wastes time. Rather than do each envelope separately, take all rings to be sized, mark the back of each shank for the amount of gold to be removed, and saw through all the rings without putting down the saw. Then go to the next step and the next tool. This approach works with many jobs?such as soldering chains or retipping prongs?and ?eliminates wasted time and maximizes productivity without sacrificing quality,? says Simon.
    A couple of other tips improve productivity, too, he says. One is to do the repair jobs you dislike first rather than put them off. Another is to put each specific repair job into its own envelope to avoid wasted time opening envelopes in search of unfinished jobs.

  8. Use a ?job facilitator.? This is someone on staff (but not a bench worker) trained to arrange the work sent to the shop, says Mann. A facilitator knows the abilities of each bench jeweler, organizes work they do each day, and allocates the time needed to do each repair. Thus, all chain repairs may go to a bench jeweler who is the fastest, while all ring shank repairs and sizings go to another with a special talent for doing them.

Contact the Experts

If you want more information or have questions on profitable repairs, contact the three experts interviewed for this report.

  • David S. Geller, whose family has been in the jewelry business 14 generations, owns Jewelry Artisans Inc., Atlanta, which last year serviced more than 8,800 repair envelopes and did more than $1.8 million in sales, half coming from the bench. Geller has developed a system for paying his jewelers on commission (ensuring the store profits about four times on their labor) as well as a repair price book used by 2,000 stores in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and Guam. He is a frequent speaker at state jewelers? meetings and trade shows and offers three separate all-day seminars on how to do repairs and custom work. You can reach him at (888) 255-9848 or dgeller@bellsouth.net.

  • Bradney W. Simon, a JA certified master bench jeweler, writes and publishes ?E-BENCH,? a free monthly e-mail newsletter for bench jewelers and shop managers. He also conducts seminars on shop management issues. He operates B.W. Simon, an advisory company designed to help make jewelry repair shops more efficient and profitable. His book, Run Your Shop Without It Running You, is available through his Web site at www.BWSimon.com or by calling (864) 598-5274.

  • Mark B. Mann is director of professional certification for Jewelers of America. He was instrumental in developing and implementing the bench jeweler, sales, and management professional certification programs for JA, which have certified some 1,200 people and enroll several hundred jewelers annually. He headed the jewelry manufacturing arts department at the Gemological Institute of America for 10 years prior to joining JA. Mann also developed ?Masters in Motion,? an interactive program in which JA certified masters demonstrate specific bench skills live. He is the author of The JA Professional?s Guide to Fine Jewelry Craftsmanship. It is available from Jewelers of America, 1185 Avenue of the Americas, 30th Floor, New York, NY 10036, and from the Gemological Institute of America bookstore, Gesswein Co., Rio Grande Co., and Stuller Inc. Mann oversees a variety of educational programs for bench jewelers, sales professionals, and store managers. He can be reached at (212) 768-8777.

Just the Facts

Bench jewelers do it every day. After working on dozens of pieces of jewelry, they return them to their envelopes based on descriptions written on the envelopes. However, that can be dicey without an accurate description to begin with. In his Internet newsletter ?E-Bench,? bench repair expert Bradney W. Simon says those descriptions should include:

Jewelry type. In general terms, describe the piece of jewelry: women?s or men?s, ring, chain, bracelet, earrings, pin, pendant, or watch.

Metal. Describe metal by color only (e.g., write ?yellow,? not ?gold?), noting the presence and wording of any quality stamps (e.g., write ?stamped 14k,? not ?14k gold?). If you identify an item as gold-filled or plated, notify the customer. If he or she wants the repair to proceed, write ?test as gold-filled? or ?test as plated.?

Stones. Describe a stone by color, size, and shape only. Never write on the envelope what you think the stone is. For example, when you identify a cubic zirconia, write on the envelope: ?Test as CZ, not clear stone.? If your tests show the stone to be synthetic or imitation, and the customer agrees to the repair, state your findings on the envelope. Otherwise, follow standard industry procedures and limit the description to color, shape, and size. Note any chips, abrasions, and/or inclusions. To further identify large or expensive stones, stamp the back of the envelope and the receipt with a rubber stamp of the shape of the stone. Plot on the diagram all inclusions and chips.

Condition. Based on your inspection, note the condition of the item: wear, damage, prior repairs, and all factors that affect the value of the item; the potential for damage claims; and the ability to repair it successfully. In addition, list any unusual features or factors the bench jeweler should know or the record should show. If, for example, you have recommended a repair (retipping worn prongs, for example), and the customer declines that recommendation, write it here. If the customer returns demanding a new stone because the stone fell out of the mounting you repaired, you?ll have proof that you saw worn prongs and warned of the danger, but repair options were declined.

Ring Sizing. When recording sizing instructions, measure and record the shank?s width and thickness to the tenth of a millimeter. For example, ?shank 1.6 mm thick, 2.7 mm wide.? This protects you if the customer says that sizing thinned the shank too much; you can measure the shank and show it?s the same size as at take-in.

Retipping. When taking in jewelry for retipping, do not just write ?retip prongs.? Be specific?state the number of prongs to be retipped and designate them on a simply drawn diagram. Draw a sketch of circles for the stones and a line for the prongs that need to be retipped. Do not draw any prongs that don?t need work.

Chain Repair. When taking in a broken chain for repair, first measure and record to the nearest eighth of an inch the total length of all pieces of the chain. If its length is only 10 in. or 12 in., you know and should tell the customer that a piece of chain is missing. Next, measure (again to the nearest eighth of an inch) and record the length from the clasp of the chain to the break. If the customer brings the chain in again, this record shows if the chain has broken in the repaired spot, or if it is a new break.

Estimates. Always give the customer an estimate of routine repair work when the jewelry is left. This allows the customer to decide whether or not to have the repair done before you begin doing it. If the price is too high, you can work with the customer to modify the amount of work to be done until it meets his or her budget. For common repairs, all salespeople performing take-ins should know how to use the store?s price sheet to calculate total estimates.

This section is reprinted with permission from Bradney W. Simon?s free Internet newsletter, ?E-BENCH?A New Method of Learning in a New Millennium,? April 2000, Volume 1, Issue 4. Copyright 2000 by B.W. Simon. All rights reserved.