How I Lost That Sale

Watch your mouth!

Tasteless jokes. Thoughtless remarks. Telling a customer what he or she needs. Such blunders can cost you business—repeatedly.

JCK recently polled scores of jewelers across the country to find out whether they’d ever committed a faux pas that cost them a sale. More than half the respondents (54%) said yes. Their stories spotlight the pitfalls of speaking before thinking.

Who was that lady? Royal Air Force pilots used to have a toast: “Here’s to our wives and girlfriends—may they never meet.” That’s worth remembering in jewelry stores, too, because jewelers often mistake one for the other. A Missouri jeweler, for example, made the faux pas of assuring a man buying a jewelry gift, “Your wife will love this.” The gift was for his girlfriend. No sale.

At William Crow Jewelry in Denver, a saleswoman sold a bracelet to a man for a Christmas gift. When he brought his wife in on Valentine’s Day, the saleswoman asked her, “How did you like that beautiful bracelet he bought you for Christmas?” There was, she recalls, “a stony silence. Then both walked out.” She learned later the bracelet was for another woman.

Appearances can be deceiving in other ways as well. In Pennsylvania, a former classmate of jeweler Paul Rowe came in with an older woman to buy an engagement ring. When he couldn’t decide on a round or a marquise diamond, the jeweler said helpfully, “Why don’t you ask your mother’s opinion?” As he left, the customer replied angrily, “She’s my girlfriend, not my mother!”

A jeweler in Maine once said to a customer, “How nice you brought your mother along to help.” “She isn’t my mother,” the man snapped before storming out with his companion.

Don’t presume. In Louisiana, a jeweler asked a woman during a sales transaction, “So, when is the baby due?” The woman wasn’t pregnant. She canceled the sale and left.

Another potential sale killer is “focusing on the wrong individual when a couple comes in to shop,” says Randy Wimmer of Wimmer’s Jewelry, Fargo, N.D. In Indiana, a salesman was showing earrings to a mother and daughter, when the woman asked her daughter to try on an attractive pair. “They look great on your daughter,” the salesman enthused. “Earrings don’t look as nice on those large, droopy lobes we get when we age.” Unfortunately, Mom was buying earrings for herself—her daughter was just modeling them for her. No sale.

The most embarrassing example of tactless presumption, though, happened in a Florida jewelry store. A salesman saw a young couple standing at the diamond case with their backs to him. Eager for a sale, he walked up, saying to the man in a loud, friendly voice, “Hey, isn’t it about time you bought her a ring?” The woman wheeled around, revealing a pregnant profile. “He already has,” she said coldly, and the couple left.

Who’s paying for this? Don’t assume you know better than your customers what they can afford or what they want.

One Pennsylvania jeweler told a customer that a ring wasn’t worth repairing because the cost of repair exceeded its value. But the jeweler learned later it had been a gift from her deceased mother. “The emotion connected to it was worth much more to her than the cost of repair,” he says.

In San Antonio, Texas, a jeweler told a customer, “I don’t think what you’ve selected is appropriate for the person you’re buying it for.” The customer thought about it, said thanks—and left to buy something “appropriate” elsewhere.

A Florida jeweler was working with a customer when one of his salespeople, trying to be helpful, brought over some jewelry that was, he said, “more in line with your budget.” The couple agreed. Unfortunately, they were about to buy a more expensive item. “I have learned never to presume what someone can afford,” says the rueful man.

Don’t be a comedian. If you must show off your sparkling wit, moonlight at a comedy club. If you’re selling jewelry, forget the nightclub material.

In Florida, a customer phoned to have a pair of diamond earrings custom made. “You want them how big?” quipped the jeweler. “I’ll have to go to the diamond mines for those.” The customer, taken aback, hung up.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, a customer kept asking for something cheaper in a sapphire pendant. “Who are you buying this for, your dog?” joked the jeweler. The customer had her own comeback: “I’ll never return here!”

In Chicago, two heavyset women entered a jewelry store one afternoon. One wanted to buy something; the other insisted they return after lunch. The jeweler joked, “Ladies, ladies! Food is not what you need. What you need is jewelry!” Recalls another jeweler who was present: “We thought the women were going to punch him. Instead, they walked out and never came back.”

In Virginia, a woman entered a jewelry store and asked the jeweler, “Can you make me a cocktail ring?” “Poof!” he joked. “You’re a cocktail ring!” The woman did some magic, too. She disappeared.

Don’t knock the competition. Never bad-mouth competitors. Customers don’t like it. “Their facial expressions told me that right away,” recalls an Ohio jeweler. A Philadelphia jeweler agrees. “If I talk negatively about my competition, customers walk out.”

Don’t be pushy. Each transaction follows its own path. Don’t force a conclusion before a customer is ready, says jeweler Henry J. Emanuel of Fond du Lac, Wis. “Try to close a sale too fast, and you can’t connect with the prospect.” In another Wisconsin jewelry store, a salesman anxious for a quick sale told a customer admiring a butterfly-shaped ring that it had been there “a long, long time, but we could never sell it for this price.”

“That was stupid,” says his boss. The woman had already looked at the ring twice, indicating interest. “Yet, the salesman decided that since it was an older piece, he would blow it out the door at a low price,” says the jeweler. “Instead, the customer grimaced and left. She would have bought it at full price, but the salesman had no patience.” And no sale.

In Pennsylvania, a customer wanted a half-carat emerald-cut diamond because he liked the way it sparkled. But the jeweler suggested a princess-cut or radiant-cut diamond instead and brought some out to show him. “He wasn’t happy that I was pushing the princess cut on him,” says the jeweler. “He stormed out with no words, just fire from his eyes.”

Add-on sales are routine, but if the customer resists, don’t push. “Let me show you just one more item,” insisted an Ohio jeweler to a customer. That was “overkill,” he says now. “I should have stopped when I was ahead. The customer said, ‘I only want one ring, not two,’ and walked out without either.”

Sales You Don’t Mind Losing

Many jewelers told JCK they’ve sacrificed sales rather than give in to demands for discounts. It’s better to keep your integrity, they say, than yield to the temptation of phony discounts or quick sales at below retail.

Chappell Jewelers in Wilmington, Del., won’t inflate prices to give phony discounts. Owner Richard Chappell remembers “one obnoxious man” who insisted on a discount. “He was one of those smart guys who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing,” Chappell says. Finally, to make his point, Chappell wrote a sales slip for double the jewelry’s price and deducted 50%. “I gave it to him and said he could have any discount he wanted, but the bottom line would always be the ticketed price.”

The customer was “stunned as the significance sank in,” recalls the jeweler. “He mumbled something about being misled.” Chappell told him, “Most discounting is misleading, because it takes advantage of a customer’s lack of knowledge and gullibility for a ‘good deal.’ ” The customer left subdued and wiser.

Some customers can’t be satisfied. Pennsylvania jeweler John S. Cryan III recalls sitting “for hours” with a young doctor, discussing a diamond ring for his bride-to-be. “His understanding of the ‘four Cs,’ quality, and his budget led to a well-made, emerald-cut 75-pointer with VVS2 clarity and F color,” says Cryan. “But he wanted his mother to see it before giving the final go-ahead.”

He returned a few days later with Mom. “She was a short, stocky woman with a voice like a fingernail on a blackboard,” recalls Cryan, “and so much self-proclaimed ‘expertise’ of jewelry that I’m surprised the Gemological Institute of America didn’t consult her!”

The woman spent an hour deriding the diamond, the mounting, and the price. Cryan suggested her future daughter-in-law would love the ring and its symbolism. That brought more insults, “making me feel I should destroy the mounting, burn down the shop, and drop the diamond in the Atlantic,” recalls the frustrated jeweler.

Finally, Cryan asked, “Who’s purchasing the ring? Maybe Mom should buy one to her liking, and the doctor can return later by himself [for the other one].” At that, “Mom and the doctor left, never to return,” says the jeweler. “I just hope he didn’t call Mom in to help run an exam on his next patient!”