How Green Is My Pasture?

We’re experiencing a perfect retail storm in the U.S. jewelry business: soft economy, weak dollar, pricey gasoline, dismal housing market, tight credit, and sharply rising prices for precious metals. The weak dollar makes foreign-produced jewelry more expensive, and costly metals may boost the prices of some jewelry beyond the reach of today’s “average” consumer. So let’s recall an old saying in fishing, which applies to today’s jewelry retailing: “The weather we get, the weather we got, we gonna get weather, whether or not!”

By now you’ve begun revamping your product lines, trimming costs, and hunkering down to stay afloat during this patch of bad retail weather. Even the best jewelry merchandisers and retailers endured slow sales over the last several quarters, but what’s most interesting is that, despite gloomy economic forecasts, they haven’t stopped doing what they do well: advertising, promoting, and selling. In fact, some of the better retailers are buying other retail operations to improve their store locations, add new customers to their base, and reduce the number of competitive stores in their area. This may reduce the clutter and glut left over from the past decade’s “irrational exuberance” and too-easy lines of credit.

With fewer people out and about, you’ll have longer lulls at the retail counter. Rather than cut back on staffing, use this time to employ new sales-training tools downloaded from the Web and send part of the staff to training workshops while the rest cover the store. Contact your best vendors and have them send representatives to conduct additional in-store product training. Hire a professional sales trainer to work not only on motivational and empathetic selling techniques but also on closing skills and add-on sales. This sends a clear message to your staff that their jobs are not in jeopardy and lets them know you’re supporting and encouraging them to be even better sales associates. This is classic Norman Vincent Peale “power of positive thinking,” and it works.

Take solace in the fact that you cannot control these macroeconomic tsunamis. But you can sustain your business by strengthening your ability to sell and service jewelry and gifts. And you can continue developing and employing persuasive marketing initiatives while your competition digs a deeper foxhole. Now is the best time to be top of mind. This is not a funeral, so make some joyous noise and go ahead and ask for the business while other retailers are hunkered down. You’ll be surprised at the positive response you get.

Create an idea bank for your store and financially reward employees for suggestions to improve the business, from POS revisions to new sales software to flex hours that strengthen your employees’ dedication and efficiency. You have to pay only for ideas you implement, but you’ll create a stronger sense of team purpose and camaraderie. It’s also a wonderful way to generate feedback and gain internal analysis of areas in your store operations that were previously incognito.

Don’t forget that your employees are feeling the same economic pinch your customers are feeling, and it’s imperative that you work toward positive internal solutions until the business environment improves. Consumer sentiment and market conditions are cyclical, and this downturn will pass. The trick is to minimize its impact on your store and treat it as an opportunity to become better at what you love to do. To keep good employees from seeking greener pastures—and taking with them the knowledge you worked so hard to instill—don’t be afraid to pay some bonuses for good work, sweeten commissions for extra sales, provide intellectual improvement through training, and give extra days off for those who earned them. That’s less expensive than finding, hiring, and training new employees to replace the productive ones.

Weathering the storm

Do more training.
Create an idea bank.
Reward employees.
Strive to be top of mind.
Make joyous noise.