You know, I’ve been doing this self-employed thing for decades now. I’ve had my successes and I’ve had my failures. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’ve gained a tremendous amount of experience along the way. Yet, it still amazes me to this day how people, with little or no entrepreneurial experience, try to tell me what I’m doing wrong. And it usually takes the form of this phrase;
“Their money is as green as everyone else’s money.”
I disagree. In my opinion, there are lots of shades of green. Let me explain.
My job requires me to do a lot of math, and fortunately, I’m good at math... so let’s do some. I own a piece of inventory at $500. I put it in the showcase for $1,250. Sure, I’d love to get full price, but I know I won’t. But, I’ve got to put something on the price tag, so I put $1,250. Realistically, I’d like to get $1,000 for the item and realize a $500 profit. That’s a shade of green I can live with. But, it doesn’t always work out like that. A lot of times it goes like this...
A customer comes in and wants to look at, and try on, every piece in the store. I usually don’t mind these people until they smile at the end, all giddy with excitement from trying on jewelry for the last hour and leave without buying anything. What shade of green is that? It looks more like a shade of red if you ask me.
Recently, a lady came in, just killing time while her husband was shopping next door. I did the old, “Hello. How are you doing today?” and asked if I could help her. She said she was just looking, so I let her look. Then she started asking questions.
“Why are these earrings so much?” she asked.
I was thinking, ‘What in the hell are you talking about lady? That pair of earrings is on consignment and I sell all consignment pieces at half price.’ I could already see where this was going.
“I’d never pay that much for those earrings. I can get them a lot cheaper online. Can I try them on?”
Geez. Really? Why is she about to waste my life right now on something she has no intention of buying. Then she says, “I don’t think the diamonds match very well. Do you have a loupe?”
I lied and said, “I can’t find my loupe. I was just looking for it when you walked in.”
“Well, I’ve got one in my purse somewhere.”
She then proceeded to scrounge around in her oversized purse, dumping the contents on my counter until she found her loupe and started examining the earrings.
“Yes. I was right. These diamonds are not that nice. I think you’re asking too much for them.”
I could go on and on about everything else she said, but she’s been in your store too and you know the rest of the story. Finally, her husband finishes shopping next door and comes in tells her he was ready to leave and she put her loupe away and left. So, tell me, what shade of green was her money?
Another ‘gem’ of a customer was looking at a piece I had on consignment for $1,000. Since I charge a 20% commission on these pieces, I’m only going to make $200 when it sells. That being said, I’m only going to go so far to work a deal with one of these pieces. She asked if I’d take $600. I said no. I told her it was on consignment, it was already half price, and we had no room to negotiate. So, she said if I’d take $800 she would take it. I told her I’d have to get with my customer (who placed it on consignment) and see if she would take less.
We played phone tag for a few days and she agreed on $800 to make the sale happen. I then called the lady who had made the offer and told her to bring me $800. She said, “Well, let me think about it,” and I’ve never heard from her again. Anyone know what you call that shade of green?
And of course, we’ve all heard about the guy in the dirty coveralls that couldn’t get any service in a store because of how he looked, and went to their competitor and pulled out thousands and thousands in cash. Well, my dirty overalls story went something like this...
I had a spectacular 38 carat single stone blue topaz necklace, that was once owned by a Hollywood starlet, in the case for $2,800. A guy comes in and asked what I’d take for it. I told him $2,800. He asked if I’d take $2,500. I said no. He asked if he bought it, could I ship it out of state to avoid taxes. I said no, Tennessee needs the money.
He started making this offer, and that offer. This deal, and that deal, and on and on and on and on. You know the type because he’s been in your store too. He wasn’t serious so who really cares. Finally, he says, “Would you take $2,500 cash money?”
By now, I’m tired of this guy so I said, “Listen. There’s a difference between talking hypothetically about what I’d take, and hundred dollar bills laying on the counter. But yes, I’d sell it for $2,500 cash.” He said he understood and left. Whew!
About 45 seconds later he comes back in. I’m thinking, what now? He pulls out 25 one hundred dollar bills and puts 20 of them on the counter. I shook my head no. He puts three more down on the counter and I said, “Dude, I can see the other two in your hand. Our agreement was 25, one hundred dollar bills.”
He gave up and handed them over and walked out happy with his purchase, which he later told me his wife absolutely loved. See, that’s the shade of green I’m talking about.
I know a bunch of people out there don’t agree with my philosophy, but I didn’t become self-employed to let people just walk over me. I became self-employed because I’m genetically wired to do things exactly opposite of what most people say and do. And damnit... my bank balance reflects that attitude!
Okay, now I’d like to change the subject for a second. I discovered something really cool that I’d like to pass on. Blaine Lewis, who runs the New Approach School for Jewelers, recently moved his entire operation from Virginia Beach, VA, to the Nashville, TN area. I’ve known about Blaine’s school for the last 20 years or so, but didn’t know much about it. Since I live in Nashville, I had an opportunity a few weeks ago to drive down and take a firsthand look for myself. I was impressed.
Me and my buddy, and fellow bench jeweler, Scott Isaacs, went down on a Sunday afternoon and Blaine gave us a tour of the facility and explained his method of teaching. He was showing me intricate stone setting projects that his students were doing in week 5 of a 12 week program. I almost wanted to call him out on it. There was no way, someone who’s never sat at a jeweler’s bench in their life, could be doing work at this level in 5 weeks. He told me he’s been hearing that for years, but he’s been turning out fully trained, ready for the shop, bench jewelers at this rate for years. I decided I have to see this in action for myself.
A few days later, I drove down and sat in on a stone setting lesson where his students were setting princess cut eternity bands (something I can’t do with 35 years’ experience) and saw it for myself. I interviewed the students, and, for the most part, none of them had ever sat at a jeweler’s bench before starting the class 5 weeks ago. While I was there, I watched every one of them do a high precision, damned near perfect job of setting the stones. Maybe I need to take Blaine’s class.
I have to admit; if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would have never thought it possible to achieve that level of skill in that short of a time frame. I guess that’s why he calls it ‘New Approach’, because he does it differently, and he does it right.
If you’ve ever wanted to become a bench jeweler but couldn’t afford the years of training, call Blaine. Also, if you’re in the market for a bench jeweler, call Blaine because he’s turning out some mighty fine craftsmen right here in my city.
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.