“I Love My Job”

The sentiment expressed above is shared by nearly 40% of the 200 jewelers taking part in a recent JCK poll. Another 22% said being a jeweler is “more fun than it’s ever been,” and 26.9% agreed with the statement, “I’m just as satisfied as I was when I started out.” In all, more than 91% of respondents gave a thumbs-up when asked about job satisfaction.

Their happiness was hard-earned. Most jewelers attributed their success and contentment to continued education, and many said they had deliberately reshaped their businesses. Gary Lord, owner of Sierra Moon in Auburn, Calif., a shop with four full-time jewelry designers, decided five years ago to farm out his store’s repair work. “I realized we were spending 60% of our time on repairs, which accounted for 9% of sales. The battle against the clock was never-ending. I didn’t go into this business to be a bench mechanic. I want to create; that’s what makes me happy.”

For Jim Watters, vice president of Bruce Watters Inc., St. Petersburg, Fla., stocking better inventory—a move the firm’s top salesperson had advocated—made a big difference. “We found there are a lot of customers who want higher-end goods,” says Watters. The firm also decided to grant employees more vacation time. “There aren’t many people who get really wealthy in the jewelry business, but at least we can take time off,” Watters observes.

Management innovation has provided a healthy tonic for other jewelers. Tom Dixon, president of Schwanke-Kasten Co., Milwaukee, says his firm’s revenues are four times what they were 10 years ago. He attributes this to higher-end merchandise, stronger marketing campaigns, new and talented sales associates, and a computer system that improved inventory control and reduced labor costs. “We’re bigger, better, and making more money with fewer problems. It has been a gas to be here with everything coming together at once,” says Dixon, a former buyer for Marshall Field’s who was recruited back to his family’s firm 11 years ago.

Several jewelers in the “very happy” category said they had purchased businesses that once employed them as sales associates and were now reaping the financial rewards.

Naysayers were few. Only 8.6% of respondents reported feeling burnt out, and just 13.4% said being a jeweler is “not fun anymore.” In fact, 73% of respondents said if they had to start over again, they’d still choose a career as a jeweler. (For those who would follow other paths, some of the choices ranged far afield: hog farmer, cartoonist, truck driver, housewife, poet, stock analyst, shipwright, oceanographer, and architect.)

More than half (56%) of respondents said they would advise their children to join them in the jewelry business, while 29% said they wouldn’t. (Many said the decision was entirely up to the kids.) For 15%, the question wasn’t applicable.

The high satisfaction levels might seem out of sync with the intense competition facing independents. Some jewelers did report that their satisfaction declined somewhat, for a multitude of reasons, most notably dishonest competition (37.6% of respondents), lack of ethics in the jewelry industry (31.2%), difficulties finding staff (28.5%), and margin pressures (28%).

What seems to buoy jewelers, despite the stress, is an intrinsic joy in the creative process of making jewelry, the beauty of the materials they work with and sell, and sharing in the occasions that jewelry celebrates. “I started as a rock hound and cutter,” says Jon Allison of Allison’s Custom Jewelry in Sidney, Ohio. “We create our own custom jewelry and love taking care of our customers, so everything is exciting.”

How to Survive the Employee Shortage

Unemployment is at record lows almost everywhere. Retailers, confronted with growing labor shortages, are aggressively poaching each other’s employees, and the situation is likely to grow worse. According to a Manpower Inc. survey of nearly 16,000 businesses, 24% planned to add staff in the first quarter of 2000.

The talent shortage is affecting jewelers. A recent JCK poll of retail jewelers reveals that nearly a third (28.5%) are having trouble finding staff. Will your store fall victim to today’s tight labor market?

Not if you’re offering competitive salaries and benefits and an environment that helps employees balance work with outside obligations, contends Kate Peterson, a management, training, and operations consultant with Performance Concepts. Peterson believes jewelers can turn the employment squeeze to their advantage. “The job market is forcing the issues of management practices and benefits,” she says. “The people who are doing these things right pretty much have their pick of the lot. They’re the beneficiaries of the lack of loyalty in the workplace.

If a jeweler spends a year or so working on satisfaction issues and job structure, word gets out.”

Consider the case of Virginia Daugherty, a sales associate who recently joined Condon Jewelers in Madison, Wis., which has 1% unemployment. She applied to Condon even before an opening at the store was advertised because she was dissatisfied with her job as manager of a chain jewelry store. “Condon’s was my first choice,” Daugherty says. “This is the best-run store I’ve ever worked for, and I’m delighted to be here.”

Research supports Peterson’s contention that sensitivity to work-family balance is the prime factor in attracting and retaining employees. A recent study from the Boston College Center for Work & Family finds that most workers’ top priority is flexibility—to control their own time and when, how, and where they do their jobs. “The attitude that money buys the ability to treat people any way you want doesn’t fly anymore,” says Peterson. “For those who haven’t figured out how to play the game, the unemployment numbers pose a huge problem. You can’t treat employees like they don’t have a life.”

For jewelers who say, “I can’t hire people who will stay,” Peterson responds, “The smart For jewelers who say, “I can’t hire people who will stay,” Peterson responds, “The smart owners are the ones saying instead, ‘What am I doing to make it so easy for them to leave?’ ” To find out, ask employees to form a work-quality discussion group that develops recommendations for making your store a better place to work. Be ready to make some of the changes they recommend.

Even if a request sounds unreasonable, look at the real issues behind it, Peterson advises. “Try to find creative ways to solve problems.” For instance, if all your employees want weekends off, one solution might be more flexible schedules or job sharing. “Productivity rises dramatically when you pay attention to working conditions and flexibility,” she adds. “If you have to hire two more people to offer flexibility, very often what happens is everyone’s productivity increases. Then payroll as a percent of sales barely changes at all.”

Though some jewelers may be tempted to offer perks instead of overhauling benefits, compensation, and job structure, Peterson says this won’t produce the desired effect. “If the perks are offered in exchange for adequate benefits and work-family balance, then all you’ll get is a short-term effect.”

Peterson cautions jewelers not to rely on employee loyalty. “In the past, loyalty went a lot further than it does today. When it becomes a choice between loyalty to an employer and what’s best for your family, because there are so many better deals out there, loyalty tends to take a backseat.”

For additional insights on recruiting talented employees, see JCK, September 1999, p. 86.

“The attitude that money buys the ability to treat people any way you want doesn’t fly anymore.” — Kate Peterson, Performance Concepts

Protect Your Store’s Reputation

A customer mistakenly claims you switched her diamond when you sized her engagement ring. You explain, tactfully, that you didn’t and show her your procedures for tracking stones.

A few days later the situation turns ugly. The customer has convinced a scandal-hungry consumer reporter from your local TV station to look into your supposed wrongdoing. Now what? According to the Jewelry Information Center’s recently published JIC Public Relations Handbook, you can take a number of steps to protect yourself:

  1. Always be truthful. At the risk of stating the obvious, integrity is a jeweler’s best protection in matters like this one. More broadly, make sure your staff has the necessary training and certification to sell gemstones and handle repair take-in in the first place. JCK further recommends that, at take-in, jewelry professionals show the customer the gem under magnification and provide a copy of a hand-drawn plot or a digital photo. Alternatively, provide a Gemprint image. For information, visit www.gemprint.com or call (888) Gemprint.

  2. Communicate clearly and credibly in advance. Potentially problematic issues such as stone switching, Pegasus diamonds, synthetics, and gemstone treatments call for credible communication. The JIC Public Relations Handbook explains how to respond to sensitive questions posed by reporters and customers. The new Counter Intelligence self-study course for sales associates also provides communications training on gemstone treatments, synthetics, and marks of quality. The course was created through a coalition of 24 jewelry trade organizations known as the Industry Image Task Force, which JIC founded in 1998. Counter Intelligence is available for $79 through Jewelers of America at (800) 223-0673.

  3. Maintain your composure. If a reporter calls, stay cool, even if he’s pursuing a negative story. Determine the nature of the article and find out what questions will be asked. If you need to prepare for the interview, ask what the reporter’s deadline is and schedule a time to call back.

  4. Make sure your message is heard. Choose two or three points to make and speak succinctly. Brevity helps you get your point across. Speak naturally—never read from notes. Use short sentences. That way, if a TV or radio reporter edits your comments, you won’t sound stilted. It also helps reporters who take notes by hand capture your comments accurately.

  5. Beware of landmines. Remember that any comment can be spliced out of an interview and presented as your only contribution to the story. An unflattering aside about a competitor’s practices could come back to haunt you, as could any negative insights about jewelry industry practices. Be tactful.

  6. Become an information resource. Keep a file of articles and fact sheets on sensitive topics. When a reporter calls, determine what additional background information would contribute to the story’s accuracy and give the reporter information that helps her become an “instant expert.” Provide referrals to industry organizations that can bring her up to speed on the subject at hand or suggest appropriate experts to interview. Pass along Web addresses to help the reporter conduct independent research. (The Jewelry Information Center’s site at www.jewelryinfo.org is linked to other industry sites.)

In addition to coaching jewelers on crisis communications, the JIC Public Relations Handbook explains how jewelers can incorporate public relations into their overall marketing and community relations efforts. It’s an underused strategy, says Carolyn Jacoby, JIC’s membership director. “Public relations is a cost-effective way to get credible information about your company out there that will give you a difference from your competition that ads cannot achieve. It helps you promote yourself as a professional and as a contributing member of your community.” The JIC Public Relations Handbook costs $20 for JIC members, $50 for non-members. Call (800) 459-0130.

Trouble-Shoot Your Web Site

Before you jump to cyberspace, do some homework. Although Web sites offer advantages to independent stores that want to expand their customer base and strengthen customer relationships, hidden pitfalls dot the virtual landscape. Here are some prevention procedures:

  • Avoid lengthy registration questionnaires. All too often, Web site questionnaires pop up before visitors even get to see what’s for sale. Experts at Comdex, the computer industry’s major trade show, recently cautioned companies against this practice. Though firms may find this a useful way to capture information about would-be customers, it often drives people away before they browse or make purchases.

  • Simplify check-out. For each transaction, limit mouse-clicks and requests for information to the fewest possible. An estimated 60% to 70% of online buyers who fill virtual shopping carts with goods abandon them before completing their purchases.

  • Consider establishing a Web presence under the umbrella of a larger site. Computer consultants sometimes replicate technology and services already available through larger commercial online vendors. For instance, Yahoo! offers relatively low-cost Web site start-up packages and can process online credit card transactions, provide transaction security, and post catalogs online. For more information, visit www.shopping.yahoo.com; click on “Resources,” then click on “Build a Yahoo Store.”

  • Promote your site. Jewelers often pour resources into a Web site, then forget to promote it. Marketing campaigns should use both new and conventional media to inform current and prospective customers that you have a Web site. In addition to listing your site with search engines, consider reciprocal banner ads (they’re the ones that stream across a Web page)—your banner runs on the Web site of a non-competing firm that serves a similar customer base, and in exchange, that firm’s banner runs on your site. (See “Is Your Web Site Lost in Cyberspace?” JCK, February 2000, p. 142.)

  • Invite customers to critique your site. Don’t overlook this simple, inexpensive way to test your Web site. Choose several customers whose opinions you respect and invite them to the store for a “cyber session.” Ask them to navigate your Web site and critique its layout, content, ease of use, and checkout mechanism (if you’re selling goods online). This can also be done through questionnaires in a Web site’s guest book.

  • Consider online satisfaction surveys. As American Demographics magazine recently reported, “Finding out what drives customer loyalty on the Web—and what drives customers away—can mean the difference between toasting a profitable new millennium or closing your store’s virtual doors.” American Demographics cites an easy way to monitor satisfaction in real time: cPulse, a survey firm that many online retailers, including Nike, use to continually monitor and improve their customer support. The firm surveys Web site visitors and provides its clients with real-time data on how customers rate the site’s ease of navigation and ordering, product selection and prices, site security, shipping and handling, delivery options, product descriptions, and new product updates. For information, visit www.cpulse.com or call (917) 658-0139.

Another cPulse service is compiling benchmark online satisfaction data for specific industry sectors. According to Darin Levine, the firm’s director of sales, this information could be provided to jewelry clients for a fee if five or more jewelry firms purchased the monitoring service.

Why should online customer satisfaction matter? Because the competition is just a click away. Says Levine: “At the end of the day, whether you’re in bricks and mortar or virtual, how you treat clients, respond to clients, and recover when things go bad is the differentiator between a successful business and a failing business. On the Internet, a satisfied customer is not a loyal customer. Only a completely satisfied customer is a loyal customer.”