Almost every retailer in the country would agree: Business has changed profoundly since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008. Silver as a category has grown dramatically, the middle market has all but vanished, bridal customers are spending less but want more customization, and a majority of jewelers are buying precious metals and even diamonds from the public.
While layoffs are largely over, the decision-making process behind bringing on new full-time and part-time employees is more judicious than ever. “Growth for specialty retail jewelers is accelerating, but no one’s doing victory laps quite yet,” says Ken Gassman, president and founder of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute. “Retailers are being very cautious when hiring because few positions are open and there’s much these new hires must do in response to changes in our industry.”
In this brave new world of jewelry retailing, some things are self-evident: Entry-level salespeople sell entry-level jewelry, such as beads and fashion silver designed to appeal to female self-purchasers. “This merchandise requires less product knowledge and experience to sell,” says Suzanne DeVries, president and founder of Diamond Staffing Solutions Inc.
DeVries advises store owners not to underestimate the commitment that recent college grads are prepared to give. Young people remain one of the groups most adversely affected by the slow economic recovery, meaning they might consider a career in jewelry retailing more seriously than they would have in the boom years.
Another lucrative pool for hiring consists of jewelry sales reps left behind as increased security risks, changes in buying practices, and the emergence of virtual selling tools have forced manufacturers to reduce or eliminate their traveling sales teams.
“They already have the basics on product knowledge, and know a lot about retail jewelry stores and their customers,” says Jon Parker, senior vice president of executive search consulting for DJP Executive Search.
The prevalence of gold buying also requires employees with a special skill set. These days, buying gold from the public is less about responding to urgent personal finance issues and more about offsetting money budgeted for a new jewelry purchase, be it a finished piece or a custom project.
Another aspect of hiring in the new economy rests on demographic shifts that are now full-on game changers. For example, Hispanics now represent 16 percent of America’s 311 million population, according to the 2010 census.
“Knowing ethnicity and age demographics five to 10 years from now will keep you ahead of the game,” says Performance Concepts president and CEO Kate Peterson. “In today’s retail jewelry job market, being bilingual is just as valuable as gemological credentials.”
Demographics are just one facet of the new staffing challenges retailers face. In general, the best advice for finding salespeople who promise to stay with you for at least five to 10 years is to rethink everything you thought you knew about hiring, says Peterson: “Don’t assume what you had then as part of your success is what will work for future growth.”