The Right Way to Be Late

Ah, Christmas—that time when traditional holiday sounds ring out in jewelry stores across America: “Send me this right away! I’ve got to make this sale!” Those last-minute orders by jewelers—via phone, fax, or e-mail—are as much a part of the holiday sales season as greeting cards … and a good thing, too, say suppliers. “It means they’re doing business and selling my product,” says Stephen Dann, vice president of Asch-Grossbardt jewelry. And suppliers are prepared. Leslie’s, a leading importer of fine Italian gold chain, begins stocking up in July in anticipation of jewelers’ holiday orders, while Color Story jewelry “keeps hundreds of ready-to-set mountings in house to service them quickly,” says owner Robert Leser. As one supplier told JCK, “We’ll bend over backwards to help a store make a last-minute sale.”

But there are right ways and wrong ways to place last-minute orders—and doing it wrong can delay an order, sour relations with a supplier, or even lose a sale. So here’s a different kind of “last-minute” holiday list: Check it twice, so you won’t be naughty but nice to your suppliers—and get the last-minute orders you want when you want them.

  • Be prepared. Lack of information is a big problem in late orders. “Retailers don’t provide enough details or they forget [them] and must call back,” says Ramona Marshall, marketing manager for Stuller Inc.’s diamond and gemstone division. “That starts the ordering process over, making their wait time at the holidays longer.”

Lisa Huczko, executive assistant at Superfit, maker of custom-fit ring shanks, agrees. During the holiday season, “jewelers are rushed and more inclined to guess customers’ ring sizes,” she says. “That results in a lot of overnight shipping to correct the size and still have pieces in time for the holiday. Whether a jeweler places a phone order or sends a job for an installation, we need complete information [e.g., correct finger size, requested metal, or karat] to eliminate delays due to excessive phone calls and to give an honest assessment of when the job will be completed.”

“Have the facts at your fingertips—style number, stone colors, price paid last time, size, or any changes—so you don’t waste time going back and checking invoices,” urges Stephen Dann. Remember, “the more detailed the order, the lower the chance of mistakes,” notes Jack Abramov, executive vice president, Mirabelle 18K.

  • Be flexible. Although suppliers try for inventory depth, items can go out of stock. Be ready with a similar backup choice or a substitute.

  • Make realistic demands. “Jewelers must realize not all items are mass-produced, and those requiring handcraftsmanship—like platinum jewelry—require time to be produced in the quantity and quality they expect,” says Bill Gould, director of marketing for Kwiat jewelry. Angela Karaguezian, marketing manager for Kirk Kara, agrees: “We need three weeks to guarantee an outstanding piece and prefer last-minute orders be faxed or e-mailed to guarantee precision.”

  • Plan ahead. Anticipate what to restock or order later, based on experience, advises Andrew Ban, owner of Leslie’s. “Give suppliers an idea in September of items you’ll most likely need large amounts of in December.”

Lorraine Garvey, spokeswoman of Stahl Design says, “If an item is selling well, and the jeweler knows he’ll sell it through the holidays, [he should] discuss that with us, and we’ll work with him to cover last-minute requests.” That’s true for “trendy merchandise,” adds Ban. “Those sell quicker, so ordering them at the last minute is riskier because the supplier may not have them or be able to get them in time.”

“People don’t necessarily reorder when they sell something, but they should, immediately,” says Bill Gould. “Jewelers should stay in contact with their salespeople and in-house support staff so they can talk to suppliers about products that are proven winners. Suppliers need some lead time in producing best sellers.”

  • Be efficient. Be sure fax machines work properly, and check orders before faxing says Ray Stroup, Stuller’s executive vice president of marketing. Illegibility or incomplete information can result in call-backs and delivery delays. Abramov also notes that “more organized retailers phone us before faxing orders to ensure proper delivery.” E-mailed orders have few problems, but be sure to get an e-mail reply confirming their receipt.

  • Be an early bird. Most suppliers have deadlines for pre-Christmas deliveries. Be aware of them. Be smart, too, about the time of day you place last-minute orders. “Phone orders before noon or overnight faxes waiting for us in the morning get processed first and go out that day,” notes Ban. “But the closer we get to Christmas, the more likely people are to call at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. saying they want their order sent that day. We try to accommodate, but it’s better to order early in the day rather than late.”

  • Be patient. “Retailers who order late generally expect you to drop everything and give them super-fast service,” says another supplier. Instead, show some holiday good will and be patient if, for example, you’re put on hold with a phone order or don’t get quick responses to faxes or e-mail. Remember, suppliers are handling everyone’s last-minute orders, not just yours.

  • Be considerate. If suppliers go out of their way to help you, don’t use it against them. “One problem, when we fill a client’s order in time, is that if their customer returns it after the holidays, the client feels entitled to return it to us! We don’t want the responsibility for their fickle customer,” says Patti Oshiro, spokeswoman for DK Finds.

Also annoying, says Lorraine Garvey, is when “the supplier gets a product to the jeweler, who sells it at a good margin—and then makes the supplier wait for payment. Memos and extended credit terms don’t make for good business. Suppliers aren’t banks; they, too, have employees to pay to keep their businesses moving.”

Stephen Dann cites another annoyance: Jewelers who want something sent on memo overnight on the supplier’s FedEx account. “It would be good if the jeweler offered his UPS or FedEx number. Spending $25 or $30 to send something on memo and get it back two days later is an expense we don’t need.”

  • Good advice. To reduce frustrations with late orders, “jewelers need to work closely with their suppliers and build a relationship that works back and forth. After all, we’re all in business to be successful,” says Lorraine Garvey. And, adds Andrew Ban, order items as soon as you need them, “rather waiting until the very last minute.”

For a list of last-minute suppliers, visit jckmagazine.com.