I recently spoke at the SJTA Show in Atlanta about dealing with trade shops in the jewelry business. Afterwards, I had several people ask me to write about the topic in my column. So, here we go...
This will be my 34th Christmas season to work in the jewelry industry, my 29th to work as a bench jeweler, and my 19th Christmas to own a retail jewelry store. I’ve seen a few things in my career and here’s my take on dealing with your shop during December which you need to implement now.
During the Christmas season, I hear the same things from store owners and managers about the problems they are having with their jeweler or their trade shop. Store owners and managers think they’re going through this alone.... but you’re not. Lots of your peers are thinking about the same thing - you’re thinking about firing your jeweler and/or your trade shop after Christmas.
Being as I’ve been through 29 of them as a bench jeweler/trade shop, I’ve had plenty of people want to fire me (and some did) in January. And you want to know something? The problem occurred in the showroom, not in the shop.
The cause of most problems between the showroom and the shop in December is too much work! Sounds simple doesn’t it? Since its December, it’s supposed to be busy. That’s what makes this whole jewelry store merry-go-round function. But that’s the reality in the showroom. That’s not the reality in the shop.
What I see happen over and over is the sales staff taking in non-Christmas related repair work and promising it like it’s a hot and sunny afternoon on the 17th of August. Here’s a visual for you:
Place your hands in front of you on a table about 18 inches apart, like you’re showing someone how big the fish that got away was. That represents the number of days between a job coming in and a job being delivered back to your customer. Imagine that your left hand is on Monday and your right hand is on Monday one week in the future. When you take in jobs today (your left hand) they will be ready for pick up in one week (your right hand). Now, pick up both hands and move them to the right about an inch or so and that’s Tuesday. Things coming in this Tuesday will be ready next Tuesday. Move them one inch to the right again and that’s Wednesday. The same applies for Thursday and so on. But, since this is December, things have to operate differently. During the month of December, your right hand is going to stop moving because that’s Christmas Eve and everything is promised around that day. Your left hand is still moving because the work is still coming in in droves, AND, you’re still promising it like this is the second week of June. So when your jeweler can’t keep up and misses a deadline, and you lose a sale, you get mad and want to fire him or her. Sound familiar?
On January 2nd, your hands will move 18” apart again and the whole normal cycle of life will begin again. But now, you want to fire your shop that cost you a huge sale because they weren’t good enough or fast enough to do the work. OR, maybe you screwed up and bogged your shop down with a bunch of work that you shouldn’t have promised would be ready before Christmas.
So who’s really at fault here? Is it possible that you sold your most valuable asset (available bench time in December) for pennies on the dollar when you could have sold it for thousands? Believe me, I’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirts - both hero and zero - and now I’ve got a much better plan.
During December, your customer count coming through your front door is off the chart. Since customers are coming to see you anyway, why not drop off those 5-6 things they’ve been meaning to drop off since August, but never seemed to find the time. As an owner, manager, or sales associate, you want to provide fabulous customer service and you gladly take in all of the repairs (even though there are two customers standing at the diamond counter acting impatient while you’re taking in the repairs).
Now don’t forget that each repair has a story that you’re going to have to suffer through and that takes time too. Unfortunately, the man at the diamond counter didn’t have time because he just left. But, those repairs that you just spent fifteen minutes taking in and promising for next week, will eat up about 4 hours of shop time. You just sold 4 hours of your most valuable asset, ‘December shop time’ on something that someone has been carrying around in their purse for 4 or 5 months. Why did you do that?
Okay, everything is written up, you’ve suffered through the stories, and you finally break away to help the other customer who is still there and wants to buy something expensive for his wife... Yeah, that’s the spirit of the season. But, there’s a problem. This customer has selected a ring with a 2 carat center diamond that he thinks it’s too small. He asks if it’s possible to put a 3 carat diamond in its place. You tell him you’ll have to check with your jeweler to see if it’s possible (knowing full well it’s possible because it’s a huge sale $$$$ and your jeweler will just have to make the 3 carat fit) and you’ll call him as soon as you hear back from your jeweler.
Well, guess what? It’s not possible for a very simple reason; your jeweler is bogged down with at least 40 non-Christmas repairs that you took in last week and promised for today that need to be finished before he or she can even think about looking at the situation with your new sale.
Yes, those 40 repairs are important to the big picture, but that 3 carat diamond sale is way more important to the here and now - Christmas! So now what are you going to do? Are you going to call 40 customers and tell them that their repairs will not be ready till tomorrow? NO. You’ve got a showroom full of people wanting to buy right now. You don’t have time to call 40 repair customers. And remember, you’ve already sold out tomorrow’s shop time with another bunch of non-Christmas repairs so those 40 customers can’t get their items tomorrow either. Or the next day, or the next, or the next. And what about that next big sale that needs to be sized or set to close the deal? It can’t happen because you’ve already sold out all of your shop time on the wrong thing. So, how are we going to fix this?
First off, remember that ‘34 Christmases’ thing I mentioned earlier? When I say this, I speak from experience:
Any non-Christmas repair that you take in and promise to deliver in the month of December won’t be picked up until January.
Who has the time to go back during the holidays? Who has time to fight the traffic and fight the crowds? There’s still more shopping to do... gifts to wrap... parties to attend... cookies to bake (send some to me too!)... travel... guests... the list goes on.
For at least 15 years now, I’ve had a strict Christmas season policy that I will not do any non-Christmas related work between Thanksgiving and January 1st. Even though I may lie and say, “If I get some time I’ll try to knock it out,” I won’t. I’d rather be fresh, clear headed, non-stressed, happy, relaxed, and well rested during December because I know you’re going to come to me and ask: “Chuck, can you pull this 2 carat diamond and set a 3 carat that I just sold?” And you know what I’m going to say?
“Sure. I’ve got time. I’m not too busy. I hope it‘s a big sale for you!”
Just because a customer dropped something off in December because they were going to be in your store anyway, doesn’t mean you have to promise a one week turn around like you normally do the other 11 months of the year.
Yes, I’ve butted heads with store owners about forcing them to deviate from their normal policy, but I’ve also never dropped a big job during December because I was too busy with the wrong thing. And seriously, do you really want a bench jeweler operating on 4 hours sleep to set a $20,000 diamond in a complicated setting?
Also, consider this. What is guaranteed other than death and taxes? Give up? It’s a guarantee that we’re all going to have an after Christmas sale in January. What better way to get customers in after Christmas than to call them and tell them their repairs are ready to be picked up?
Yes, I’m aware that this isn’t how a lot of people do it, but I promise you it works. A well-rested bench jeweler, with available time, is the most important asset you can own during the month of December. And only you, the front of the house peeps, can make that happen. Try it, it works. I hope everyone has a great holiday selling season!