For Safety’s Sake

Jeweler Richard White peered through his store window last August at a car across the street. It had been there 45 minutes, and a visiting traveling jewelry salesperson told White he thought the car had followed him to the store.

White, an experienced third-generation jeweler and the owner of Ed White’s Jewelers in Cullman, Ala., took no chances. He called Cullman’s police chief, Max Bartlett, who devised a plan. When the salesman left the store, Bartlett was parked a short distance away, waiting and watching. When the salesman drove off, the suspect car followed him—and the policeman followed it. The car weaved in and out of traffic to stay near the salesman. In a few minutes, it was joined by a second car, both of which cut through parking lots to keep up with the salesman. At that point, the police stopped the two cars and arrested four suspects, all Hispanic males. A search of their two cars uncovered razor knives, latex gloves, walkie-talkies, and even a Texas license plate to switch tags. As the suspects prepared to make bail, they were taken into custody by the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The four were an alleged active robbery gang, one of many preying on traveling jewelry salespeople.

Bartlett told The Cullman Times that he had “no doubt” that a robbery had been thwarted. “I can’t praise enough [the] owners of the jewelry store for their alertness in contacting us,” he said. “They were really on their toes and possibly prevented a dangerous confrontation.”

That’s the way it should work between jewelers and sales representatives, says White, a member of the Jewelers of America (JA) board of directors. “It’s pure courtesy. I’d want someone to do it for me if I was in their place.”

Jewelers and traveling salespeople bind the national industry together at the grassroots level and can help each other beyond merely buying and selling. “Building an alliance between traveling salesmen and jewelry retailers is very important, because they help each other,” says John J. Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA). “The salesman shares a lot of stuff he hears on the road about crime and crime prevention, while the jeweler is a ‘spotter’ for the salesman, watching out for him while he is in his store.”

An important alliance. Unfortunately, that alliance is weaker today than it should be, and it’s weaker than it was even a few years ago. Some traveling salespeople complain about jewelers who make appointments and then ignore the sales reps when they arrive, taking few or no security precautions on their behalf. Jewelers, for their part, claim that business has become so competitive that they simply don’t have enough time to deal with traveling salespeople. As a result, notes Kennedy, “Close relationships between jewelers and vendors are becoming rare. There’s still a sizable percentage of jewelers and vendors who are ‘old school’ and help each other out. But jewelers watching out for traveling salespeople isn’t as commonly done.”

A recent national survey of hundreds of jewelers conducted by JCK magazine lends credence to that view. One in four jewelers (26%) told JCK that they don’t take any safety precautions on behalf of the salespeople who visit their store, and several even said they had never considered it.

But that mutual assistance is as necessary now as it ever was. The threat to traveling salespeople posed by professional South American robbery gangs remains real and constant.

Danger zone. “Jewelers need to be aware that it is very dangerous out there [for salespeople],” says Carol Young, the executive director of the Southern Jewelry Travelers Association (SJTA). “As an industry as a whole, we all have an obligation to reduce the danger facing them. If there are safe alternatives to accommodate them, then we’re all winners.”

Jewelers are “cutting their own throats by not helping sales reps in something as simple as this,” says White. “If the problem [of robbery gangs preying on salespeople] continues, they won’t go on the road anymore or at least won’t bring their jewelry lines.”

Many of the jewelers polled by JCK who do take proper security precautions on behalf of traveling salespeople agree with those sentiments. Ensuring the safety of the visiting vendors while they’re in your store “provides peace of mind for us as well as for the salesperson,” says Dale Robertson of Norris Jewelers in Milford, Ohio. “We have a relationship as friends. We look out for each other.”