Okay, just one more column about trade shops and I’ll return to my normal, hard hitting journalistic self.
Trade shops are a funny animal and nothing like a jewelry store. A jewelry store is a clean, well lit, well organized, shiny, sparkly space where everyone dresses nice and smiles a lot. A trade shop on the other hand is a well-lit, dirty, unorganized, cluttered, cramped space where people wear grungy clothes and cuss with impunity. Plus, trade shops are a very stressful place to work.
WHAT??? You thought trade shops were these laid back, creative, come and go as you please kind of place? Nope. Not hardly.
Now, I know that not everyone agrees with me when I say this, but the in-house jeweler is on the endangered species list and has been for quite a while. Yes, there are a few exceptions like The Gem Lab up there in Rochester, NY, that has 8 full time bench jewelers servicing just their clients (no trade work), but they are the exception, not the rule.
I’ve owned a trade shop since 1983, so I’ve been studying this trend for almost 30 years. The days of every jewelry store having two in-house jewelers, a watchmaker, and a dedicated jewelry appraiser are long gone. Nowadays, most jewelry stores take in the work (be it jewelry, watches, or appraisals), send it to a specialty shop for service, and then mark up the charges and call the customer and tell them their jewelry is ready to be picked up. All the while, the customer probably never even knew it left the store.
Is it more expensive this way? Yes and no. In the long run it probably evens out, but Gary Wesdorp of JewelCraft said it best; “When you send your work to a trade shop, whether by their price list or an estimate, you know the exact cost of the repair.”
So, here are a few tips I’d like to offer to make your relationship with your trade shop a little smoother.
Deliveries: There is no bigger money loser in the trade shop industry than making deliveries. Most trade shops out there are one man operations. A few have an employee or two, but most are single person shops that work out of their house or a small rented commercial space. In order to make a delivery, the shop owner has to put everything away in the safe, turn off a lot of equipment, set the alarm, and then get in their car and spend an hour or two driving around at ZERO dollars an hour.
Then, when they get back to their shop, they have to turn off the alarm, open the safe, get everything back out again, turn on all of the equipment they turned off two hours ago and get everything set up again. It’s a real production killer, believe me. But, think about this; the average jewelry store has 3-5 people on staff. Why don’t you start sending one of your staff to your trade shop and make the deliveries.
What? That’s crazy talk!
Uh, no it isn’t. I stopped making local deliveries several years ago and now it’s usually the store owner that handles the deliveries just to get out of the store for a little while.
Another of the most common frustrations between a store and a trade shop is over quality control issues. Yes, things get overlooked sometimes. But, what I find the problem usually boils down to is this; I’m not the first person who’s worked on this piece of cra....errrr....jewelry.
It’s a universal truth that a customer is going to scrutinize every aspect of their jewelry when it comes back from the shop to make sure no one switched their diamonds. And, it’s during this inspection, that they are going to see the 8 seams from previous repairs, a crooked stone, or a worn bail... all caused by your trade shop since they just did an $8 re-tip.
Retail store personnel need to realize that most of the time you’re not sending us brand new pieces. Most of the time you’re sending us a piece that’s twenty years old that has been worked on, and pieced back together, by lots of other jewelers through the years - commonly referred to as a ‘Frankenstein.’
As a professional in the jewelry business, you - the retail store - need to inspect your customer’s jewelry with the same level of scrutiny while you’re taking it in that they’re going utilize when they pick it up. You need to do this for two reasons. One, to make this job a more profitable sale. And secondly, so you don’t have to have the uncomfortable ‘they ruined my ring’ conversation when the customer picks up their piece and asks for a loupe to start their inspection.
Quality control goes both ways though. As a trade shop, we’re trying to make you, and your customer, happy. But, we’re assuming you’ve already looked at the piece as a professional and had that conversation with your customer who elected to just do the basic re-tip, so that’s all we’re going to do. If we think something was overlooked, we’re going to call you and talk to you about it before we work on it. But, if it’s just normal wear and tear on an inexpensive piece of jewelry someone bought off of the home shopping channel, most shops are going to do the listed work, clean and polish it, make it pretty, and send it back to you. If you want to be a hero to your shop though, a little note on the ticket that states your customer is aware of the condition of the piece will go a long way towards making everyone happy.
Through the years, I’ve had hundreds of discussions with in-store jewelers and trade shop jewelers about the differences. The biggest difference is most retail stores have a ‘known’ clientele. If you work at a guild store, then most of your day is going to be spent working on guild type merchandise... with the occasional piece of junk thrown in there. If you work in the back room of a pawn shop, then most of your day is going to be spent working on pieces of junk... with the occasional guild piece thrown in there. A bench jeweler in a trade shop will work on all of the above... all day, every day.
I once had an account where the store owner would ask me how much I charged to do a certain repair. I’d tell him $8. He would say (I kid you not), “Well; only do $4 worth of work on it and quit. That’s all my customer can afford.” Of course, I didn’t know exactly where the $4 mark was, but needless to say, I didn’t do a museum quality repair, but it still looked better than when it came in.
But that brings up another major point in dealing with a trade shop; not every store is interested in museum quality repairs. The old saying, ‘Speed, Quality, Price... you can have 2 out of 3’ is soooo true. Some stores want their shop to ‘finish as new’ (which is more expensive), and some want the shop to do it the cheapest possible way to keep their cost down.
Sometimes it’s complicated remembering what level of service every account expects, but once you and your shop get in a groove, it becomes seamless. Sometimes it just takes a little while to find that groove. But, as long as your shop knows your expectations, they’ll live up to it... but make your expectations known. Since most shops run the gamut of different types of work and different types of stores, you can never be too specific about what level of service you’d like to pay for, which reminds me:
You can never pay your shop too early.
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.