“Secrets?” Lane Schiffman pauses, mulling the question. “The fact is,” he says, “I don’t think we have any secrets.”?
The fourth-generation jeweler is sitting in his office at Schiffman’s, a downtown fixture in Greensboro, N.C., since 1893. While he chats with a reporter on the phone, he’s got one eye on the front door the other on the sales floor. If any shopper has a sudden desire for that special Schiffman touch, he’ll have to call back.
The conversation continues, but Schiffman has made his point. He and his brothers, Vance and Arnold Schiffman, pride themselves on their transparency and availability—not to mention their congeniality, which can turn strangers into friends the moment they walk through the door.
All hold the title of vice president. Lane focuses on sales and marketing, Vance is the diamond buyer, and Arnold is chief financial officer. They oversee 11 stores comprising five brands: Schiffman’s, Shreve & Co., Keller & George, Schwarzschild, and Sylvan’s. (The youngest, Sylvan’s, dates from 1897.) Except for a few updates and merchandise additions, the venerable stores have maintained their original character along with their names. “We acquire brands similar to ours,” Lane says.
The brothers are the stewards of a business started by their great-grandfather, Simon Schiffman. “He was a little old German watchmaker and tradesman,” Lane Schiffman says. After Arnold Schiffman Sr. came Arnold Schiffman Jr., also known as Tony, who still works for the family enterprise. “We haven’t paid him in several years,” says his son, with a hearty chuckle. Between the three brothers, there are eight kids. Rest assured: The ones who show real passion for the jewelry business will be recruited by their dads.
As for the key to a successful year-end sales season, Lane says what happens on April 2, July 18, Oct. 30, or any other day of the year contributes to the company’s success during the holiday shopping season. “We basically strategize all year-round,” he says.
Much of it boils down to data and metrics. At each store, every staff member carries an iPad. The purpose is to have product information at hand to better serve clients and to input data about the clients themselves: anniversaries, birthdays, ring sizes, likes, dislikes, and wish lists.
“We built our own dashboard with all the things we need to serve clients better,” says Lane, adding that the company’s in-house information technology guy set up their unique system. “We can search by vendor, style number, SKU, client information, suppliers, reports. All our repairs, service info, and client info are at our fingertips.”
Analyzing the data and building metrics helps Schiffman’s evaluate performance and ascertain where additional staff training might be required. The company has its own training system, administered by the vice president of operations, who, along with the three Schiffman brothers, travels frequently to all 11 stores. At any given moment you might spot a Schiffman at the namesake store in North Carolina, at Sylvan’s in South Carolina, at Schwarzschild or Keller & George in Virginia, or at Shreve & Co. in California and Oregon.
The system is designed to make any customer a successful gift-giver. As the holidays approach, the stores will be presenting themselves to customers as a destination, where top brands such as Patek Philippe, John Hardy, and Forevermark (whose new Fire & Ice cut diamond collection is debuting this month at all 11 stores) can be found under one roof. Thanks to the company’s remarkable database, the sales team will be able to make the best gift suggestions.
Lane Schiffman imagines what a last-minute shopper might say when he or she realizes that Schiffman’s (or any of the company’s other brands) can save the day: “Hey, they make it easy. I’ve got a nice little wish list sitting over there. I can’t screw this up!”