OK, Now What?

The result: Consumer sentiment is in the tank. Politicians exacerbate the problems by pointing fingers at the other party, while news anchors rattle the bars of the recession cage to drum up ratings.

None of that means you won’t be open for business tomorrow, next month, or next quarter. But will you stick your head in the sand and ignore the problems—real and imagined—or cinch up your belt and do something about it?

Now is the time to meet face-to-face with your key jewelry sales reps or the leaders of the companies you source from to discuss your issues and learn what they’re doing about their own businesses. These meetings are not just about adjusting your credit terms. Seek common ground and find a mutual vision for your business relationship. The sooner you have these discussions, the better you’ll feel every morning as you get up to go to work. This process is designed to reduce uncertainty and provide an action plan that you and your suppliers can agree on. They don’t want to see you struggle. You have a common interest, and knowing their position makes it easier for you to plan your own business’s direction in this period of economic uncertainty.

It’s a good time to recall the famous quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, which took place during the depths of the Great Depression: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

How people perceive you—the owners and managers—in your stores directly affects your success in tough economic times. If you talk about gloom and doom and convey the fearfulness FDR warned against, salespeople and customers will be influenced and reflect your mood on the sales floor. Discouraged sales associates will begin to look for work elsewhere, taking with them all the time and effort you invested in their training. Even if you’re worried about the general mood of consumers and the natural reduction in foot traffic on downtown streets and inside shopping malls, walk with a straight back and speak positive, encouraging words to your sales force. And give them something useful to accomplish.

Now is the time to introduce some in-store promotions. Ask the staff to come up with a new event that needs outreach phone calls and written invitations. Standing around waiting for customers to walk in is an exercise in futility that’s guaranteed to sap morale. Idle hands (and minds) are the devil’s tools. Keep the staff busy and recruit new business, especially when your local jewelry competition is wringing its hands and bemoaning the slow traffic flow.

Talk to your local radio stations and cable television provider and create a series of new spots that they can run, on a remainder basis, when they have gaps in their regular commercial inventory. It’s like flying standby; airlines would rather sell tickets at a discount than let a jet leave the gate with empty seats (and lost revenue). TV and radio stations have empty slots they need to fill, so take advantage. You won’t get prime time, but if the event message is compelling and the proposition fair, these spots can work wonders to perk up slack business, extend your reach beyond the usual customer base, and bring in new customers. These ads often only cost 30 or 40 cents on the dollar.

Make sure you and your staff are too busy to give fear time to take root.

Stock markets are in full-fledged “correction” mode. Credit card debt is at all-time highs. Fourth-quarter retail jewelry sales left much to be desired. The housing market has cratered. Consumers are feeling the pinch of expensive gas in their fuel-devouring SUVs.