Columnists Chuck Koehler The Retailer’s Perspective: A trip down memory lane

The Retailer’s Perspective: A trip down memory lane

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I recently went to my 30th high school class reunion and gave the keynote address at the big formal event Saturday night. My presentation was supposed to rattle some long dormant memories, bring a smile to your face, and help you remember “the good ole days”. I had so much fun putting that together I thought I’d do the same thing with my column this month. Since I started in the jewelry business while I was a junior in high school, the two pieces kept overlapping so here we go.

“Okay, who reading this grew up here in Carrollton, Texas?”

“Who here attended all your high school years at Newman Smith High School?”

“Who can remember the first movie you saw at the Plaza Theatre?”

Oops, wrong speech, hang on... okay, now, here we go...

“Who reading this has grown up in the jewelry business and spent the better part of your life in the jewelry industry?”

For me, the year was 1978, Dallas, TX, 16 years old, when I got my first job in the jewelry business working at a Best Products catalog showroom in the jewelry warehouse. That was the year the quartz watch hit the big time. There had been a few variations on electronic watches before this, but when the quartz movement hit the market it dominated from the start and has never lost any steam. At that time I prided myself on being able to set any watch on the market. My how things change because now, unless I can just pull out the stem and move the hands, I don’t even try anymore. I just change the battery and tell my customer they are on their own for figuring out how to set it.

In 1978, everything came by truck. We didn’t have readily available overnight delivery yet. Fed Ex, while offering very expensive overnight delivery, only serviced 25 cities. UPS didn’t offer 2nd day service till 1982. The post office had never even considered overnight delivery at this time.

So... how did we buy our stuff? Road salesmen, that’s how. Every day, every jewelry store in America had one or two salesmen come in and show their lines. Everything that we bought we bought from a salesman sitting in the store with an appointment that had been made months in advance. They would hand write the orders on carbon paper forms and then call in the order to the home office. NCR paper hadn’t been invented yet.

In 1978 when someone paid with a credit card, we had to call an 800 number (877 hadn’t been invented yet) and verbally tell a human operator on the other end the card number, amount, expiration date, and such (push ‘1’ for English was still years away). Then, we would write the approval code on a form that we would manually run through an imprint machine. Then, we took the slip to the bank like a check and deposited it. One time, the operator told us to call the police and we had to look up the phone number to the police station because 911 wasn’t available yet.

Speaking of banks and checks, we actually took our paychecks to the bank. Automatic payroll deposits were still way in the future. Everyone (and I mean everyone) carried a checkbook and could write a check about as fast as most people can now swipe a debit card... which was also years into the future.

Back then, almost every jewelry store had a watchmaker on premises. Mechanical watches needed to be serviced once or twice a year, and if you owned a jewelry store, you had a watchmaker on staff. When the quartz watch came out, the industry buzz was all about the art of watchmaking becoming a thing of the past and young people stopped going to watchmakers school. Thirty plus years later, watchmakers are still in high demand. Just goes to show you can’t always trust the industry buzz.

Back in 1978 we didn’t go online to order parts. We just went to the local supply house and picked them up. Most cities had at least one findings and watch supply house in town. We haven’t had a local supply house in Nashville in almost 20 years. Back in 1978, in Dallas, we went to Swest (out of business), or Gould’s (out of business), or Roseco (still going strong after all these years). On my first trip ever to a findings house in 1978 (Gould’s), I met Ken Harrison who has now managed the tool department at Roseco for decades. Some things do remain the same.

When I bought my store in 1993, it was still on a pulse tone phone. I changed it to a tone phone and the original owner almost reneged on the sale because he thought I was just foolish and liked to waste money (it was $2 a month). By 1993, “push 1 for sales, push 2 for accounts payable” was all the rage and I needed a touch tone phone. Oops, I’ve zoomed ahead 15 years.

In 1978, triple key was a reality. Really. I swear. Sometimes we even got a 4 or 5 time markup on fast sellers. Back then, when people would say; “There’s a really high mark-up on jewelry.” I would just think to myself; “You are SO right about that one mister.” Nowadays when I hear people talking about the high mark ups in jewelry I just tell them, “That was 1978, this is 2010.” Which brings up the Internet.

I don’t think I logged onto the Internet until 1999... a mere 11 years ago. As much as our industry has changed in the last 30 years, I think more has changed in the last 11 than the other 19 combined.

In 1978, diamonds were bought in jewelry stores, period. If there was another option I sure don’t remember it. If you wanted a diamond, you went to a jewelry store. Actually you went to about a half a dozen or so until you made your deal.

In 1978, you didn’t shop for diamonds while on the phone at work and pay for them with a credit card via the Internet and have them shipped via FedEx overnight right to your office. Although one thing hasn’t changed; Once those people get their diamond, they always show up at a brick and mortar jewelry store to get our free “verbal” approval of their purchase. But, one thing that HAS changed... I don’t do verbal appraisals anymore. You want my opinion it’s gonna cost you about $100 and it will be in writing.

In 1978, when we typed those appraisals we typed them on a manual typewriter and we didn’t use three color appraisal forms. Does anyone remember why we only used white paper? Because ‘white-out’ only came in one color - white.

When someone called the store and you were on the phone, the light for line two would start blinking on those big phones with a row of 10 push buttons across the top that we all had on our desks. And when the phone rang, we went to it, it didn’t come to us. Cordless phones were still just a ways out in the future for business. Remember the big long silver metal antennas on the first cordless phones?

When we needed to fax someone a copy of something, we addressed an envelope, put a stamp on it, and sent it to them through the mail. Fax machines didn’t come out till the mid ‘80s.

When we would weigh diamonds and gemstones, we would actually “weigh” them using a series of counter weights and a balance beam scale and it took about 10 minutes per stone.

When we would use a set of “color masters” for diamond grading, they were actual diamonds because CZs hadn’t been invented yet.

And finally, when we were ready to total up your purchase, we used a pencil and math skills because the calculator didn’t come out until 1979.

All, in all though, as I looked back and remembered the good old days, there’s not much I would really want to keep. I like my fax machine. I like my Internet access. I like my electronic scales and testers. I like my cordless blue tooth phone. Yep, I’m happy with the way things turned out.

Okay, there is one thing I’d really like to bring back... THE TRIPLE KEY MARKUP!

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
 
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