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Bench Wars

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Bench jewelers spend years learning the technical and artistic skills needed to repair and create jewelry, yet few understand the nuances of retail operations, or how pivotal their role can be in day to day store operations. There are enormous difference between the objectives of the bench jeweler and the objectives of the store owner/manager. This gap is where Bench Wars are born.

On a daily basis, jewelry retailers oversee a wide array of details that must be continually prioritized and reprioritized including inventory control, staffing, marketing and sales management. Another key detail, one often a sore spot, is management of the repair department.

Repair department issues fall into one of two categories; profitability issues and delivery issues. Profitability issues can be solved by: a) establishing a concise retail fee schedule, b) ensuring all associates charge accordingly, c) routinely monitoring bench jeweler charges.

The second categories, delivery issues, generally result from poor quality work or failure of the bench jeweler to return repairs on time. Delivery issues keep you up nights, cost you money, and damage your reputation. These problems occur when the working relationship between you and your bench jeweler breaks down, which is almost always the result of poor communication. If these issues go unresolved you will soon find yourself in the middle of a bench war, a battle between management and your bench jeweler.

Are you regularly experiencing any of the following?

  • Poorly finished repair work
  • Incomplete or incorrect repairs
  • Repairs returned late
  • Personality clashes between staff and bench jeweler
  • A bench jeweler who is unconcerned with your business needs

If so, it may be time to re-evaluate your effectiveness at managing your jeweler.

Effective communication is the linchpin of a successful partnership. If you are experiencing consistent repair department issues, excluding incompetence, there is an 80% chance that communication issues are at the heart of the problems.

Bench jewelers are renowned for their lack of communication skills, for their tendency to maintain their distance, to operate in a sphere that seems to have nothing to do with your retail business. Many, if allowed, will dodge, weave, bully, yell, disregard constructive criticism, and basically blame you or your staff for any difficulties, but a good jeweler understands he is a partner in your success. Problems occur when managers fail to communicate expectations clearly, or are unwilling to tackle problems directly. As a business owner/manager the responsibility for communicating and managing expectations falls to you.

Let’s examine some frequently encountered problem types, and a few suggestions for communicating clear expectations:

Quality Issues

Thin-Shank Thad: Thad does good work and delivers all jobs as promised. His repairs are clean and accurate, except that you receive regular complaints from your customers that their shanks have been thinned out. Proposed Solution:  At the time of take-in, accurately measure each shank for thickness and note-it on the repair ticket. When repairs are returned, re-measure each one and refer back to the repair ticket. Immediately bring any thickness issues to your jeweler’s attention and clearly explain what you expect going forward. If the work does not improve it’s time to discuss consequences.

Loose-Diamond Linda: Loose Diamond Linda does not always inspect for loose stones before returning her work. This does not happen on every job, but it does occur often enough to create problems. Linda does great work but for this exception. Proposed Solution: Approaching your jeweler with specific examples of shoddy work is usually all that is needed to eradicate issues. If, however, the problem persists, inform Linda that going forward you expect her to remain until you have inspected each repair. Be clear that any item deemed unsatisfactory will be returned for completion before she leaves for the day. Knowing that she will be expected to stay and re-do less than satisfactory work will entice Linda to take more time checking work quality. If this does not solve the problem it may be time to have a frank discussion about the future of this employee in your business.

Inconsistent Ike: Ike is all over the map. One job is well done, with an excellent finish. The next two are returned with polishing compound on the inside of the shank. The next three are fine. The one after that is the wrong size. Proposed Solution: The solution for this issue depends on whether the inconsistency is a new occurrence or if it is an ongoing pattern. If the issues are a relatively new occurrence you will want to discover what has sparked the change. Personal problems or illness can interfere with work quality. These issues are usually corrected as soon as they are brought to the jeweler’s attention. In many cases, the jeweler is not aware that their quality and consistency has slipped. Be compassionate but firm in the communication of your expectations that he refocus and deliver consistent work. If the pattern is ongoing you will need to be more firm, and detail the consequences for continued sloppy work. If consistency doesn’t improve almost immediately it may be time to part ways.

Procrastinating Paul: Paul drags his feet every chance he gets. He holds on to the most difficult repairs, not starting them until the date they are due and then is unable to complete them by the promise date. He forgets to order stones or findings, causing promise dates to be changed at the inconvenience of your customer. Proposed Solution: You must first determine whether the issue is one of will or of skill, or even something in between. If the issue is will, and the jeweler simply doesn’t care enough about your business priorities, find yourself a new jeweler, one who understands their role as a success partner in your business. If the issue is skill, and he struggles with the fundamentals of jewelry repair, the answer is probably the same. You need a bench jeweler who is both skilled and confident, as well as one who cares about your customer’s expectations. Anything less hurts your business and cannot be allowed to continue. If you feel the issue is merely a lack of urgency you may be able to have a very clear conversation about expectations with regard to promise dates. End the conversation by asking for, and getting, a commitment to complete all work as agreed. If the commitment is broken it is time to re-evaluate their role on your team.

These were just a few of the correctable issues you might encounter with your jeweler. There are several others not mentioned which you will no doubt recognize; the Bully, the Complainer, the Know-it-all, and the Human-Train-Wreck. If your jeweler fits into one of these difficult, and often disruptive, personality traits, they are probably not worth the time, turmoil and constant distraction they bring to your operation. Say goodbye.

Communication and a working partnership can bridge most gaps. In every retail establishment someone holds the reins, manages the team, sets the standard, and ensures that things get done. Too often, jewelers fall through the cracks; they are not managed, not held to standards, as are other employees in a retail establishment. Successful managers know that the best sales associates are those who buy into the shared goal of success. A good jeweler is no different. Find one who sees himself as part of your team. Communicate clearly, concisely, and often. Say what needs to be said, when it needs saying, and every once-in-a while, say thank you.

Do you have a BENCH WARS story? If so, I’d like to hear it, along with how you approached and resolved it. I am also interested in hearing which best practices you believe are essential for all bench jewelers to know. (i.e.: patience, promptness, attention to detail) Please send your replies to:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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