Lessons Learned

The American Gem Society rolled into Boston in April for its annual conclave, featuring four days jam-packed with seminars and social events. In case you missed it, JCK compiled the five most useful tips from the educational sessions to help you improve your business.

1.? Life Sentence: Researchers once asked bank employees why they were better than the bank across the street, recalled Fast Company founder William Taylor. Most couldn’t answer or made something up on the spot, he said. “How can a company outperform the competition if its own people can’t explain why they are better than their competitors?” he asked. Taylor advised retailers to return to their stores and ask themselves: “What’s your sentence?”

2.? Most Likely to Succeed: Passing a business on to the next generation is “a long, difficult process that takes a lot of time and energy,” said Randy -Waesche, a succession expert. He advises families to start early and involve everyone in the process—including spouses. Spell out governances and rules, and develop a mission statement that says “what the family wants to accomplish with the business.” When bringing family members in, solicit opinions from nonrelatives. “The people who work in your back office may be scared to death when they see little Johnny coming to take over the business.” Encourage them to say, “You may love little Johnny, but he’s not that good.”

3.? Movin’ Out: Peggy Coleman, of Nelson Coleman Jewelers in Towson, Md., doesn’t buy any new product unless associates sign off on it. “That empowers them,” she explained. As a result, “they feel connected to that product and want to sell it.” Coleman ruthlessly purges stale inventory under her “spiff program”—the staff receive bonuses if they sell inventory that’s more than 500 days old at full retail. The rest goes in “non-cheesy” silver baskets on her counter marked “50% off.” 

4.? Be on Alert: Younger consumers often blog about their shopping experiences, said George Whalin of Retail Management Consultants, who suggested retailers sign up for Google Alerts to be notified when people on the Internet write about their stores. “You need to know what is said about you,” he explained. 

5.? Make New Friends: Social media isn’t a “fad, but a fundamental change in the way we communicate,” said Megan Meinerding of Fruchtman Marketing. But users don’t want to see a lot of advertising content, so keep communications “60 percent editorial, 40 percent advertorial.” Respond to “fans” who post on your wall: “It needs to be a dialogue, not a monologue.” And make Facebook friends feel special by offering site-only promotions.