Retail Details: Hands Jewelers’ Bill Nusser

Diamond sleuth/salesman Bill Nusser proves that nice guys finish first

1. What form of advertising has elicited the best response for you?

For the past 12 to 13 years, I’ve been part of a panel for an intro to marketing class and upper-level marketing class at University of Iowa’s business school, speaking to nearly 400 students each semester. A lot of them have provided incredible insights and suggestions that I’ve put into action. Not a month goes by that one doesn’t come to the store. These students spend anywhere from $8,000 to $25,000 and have brought in several hundreds of thousands of dollars in bridal business over the past decade.

2. What was your finest hour in customer service?

A valued and wealthy client had two daughters, one of whom shared her mother’s taste in fine jewelry. When the mother died, the daughter wanted her son to have his grandmother’s signature diamond, so she had it set in a men’s ring. The son was robbed, and his mother asked me to help find the ring. On the advice of a nearby coin dealer, I took down the names of three pawnshops that might not ask too many questions when taking in merchandise. I explained to the first pawnbroker what we were after, and he let me inspect his men’s diamond-ring inventory. The search yielded nothing—then I spotted parcel paper with a diamond in it. It was the heirloom diamond. I then helped the police catch the thief, and even assisted authorities with the pretrial investigation. News of the diamond recovery spread like wildfire, and suddenly people from all over were asking me to help them find lost or stolen ­jewelry. I felt like the Diamond Whisperer. And she’s a loyal customer to this day.

3. What nightmare scenario did you turn around to save the day?

A friend of the same woman was shopping at a competitor when the sales­person told the friend how much our customer paid for a piece from our store. News of this confidentiality breach got to our customer. When I found out it was my chief designer who told a competitor’s sales associate about the sale, I called our customer to ask what course of action she would like to take. She instructed me to melt down every last piece our designer had created for her, and she told the designer: “This is how much I value your work.” I sent her a letter commending her poignant and quick response; she then asked me to add the value of the scrapped ­jewelry to her store account. I was still left with the dilemma of what to do about the designer. She saw the writing on the wall, I guess, and left nine weeks later.

4. What advice have you received from a fellow retailer that changed the way you run your store?

When I started in the family store as a teenager, I parked down the block. Each day, I walked by our competitor and saw the same sign in their window: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.” That stuck with me and has shaped my business philosophy.

5. How do you differentiate your store from the competition?

We’re very dedicated to selling high-quality jewelry. Studies have shown that customers are willing to spend extra money on luxury products. Our mission is to educate them on why our ­jewelry costs a little more. The return they get from owning jewelry that costs 20 to 30 percent more provides 100 percent–plus in satisfaction.

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