Saturday, 31 March 2012

Saturday Story Time – On-time delivery

As I have mentioned before, I spent a few of my years in the jewellery biz doing insurance estimates and replacements.  It was a difficult endeavor, and I admire those who do it well.

Not everyone was happy to have their insurance adjuster refer them to some jewellery store they’d never heard of, but in this instance I was well received.  I worked on 109th St. and Jasper Avenue in Edmonton about 2 blocks away from the General Hospital.  As if suffering a home invasion wasn’t bad enough, this happened to a family whose mom was fighting a losing battle to cancer.  She had just been moved from the Cross Cancer Institute to the palliative care ward at the General Hospital.

She attended the appointment to evaluate the lost jewellery, and subsequently participated in the selection of new jewellery.  In this case; she chose to replace one lost ring with a ring for each daughter.  I still recall the exact designs.  They were Master Design diagonally channel-set bands; one with diamonds and the other with rubies.

When the rings arrived, I called the husband.  He told me that he couldn’t leave the hospital, as his wife was getting much worse.  I offered to bring them to him at the General.  I wrapped them beautifully, and ran straight over.

It was the next day that he called to let me know that she had passed during the night.  The family was grateful that they were able to say their goodbyes, and she was most pleased that she was able to personally give those rings to her daughters.

Something really hit home to me that day.  Gifts of jewellery are so much more than something we buy-low and sell-high to make money.  They’re more than silver, gold and the 4 C’s.  They’re durable symbols of honor and affection. Tokens immemorial. They’re gifts of love.  Heirlooms.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Remember the Glory Days

Driving through a blizzard just East of Prince Rupert a few weeks ago, the Bruce Springstein song Glory Days came on the radio.  The Boss sang about the highschool baseball hero who has nothing to talk about but the old days when he could “blow that speed-ball by you; make you look like a fool…”

In our spare time, my wife Jana and I have invested in real estate.  There were a few years there where everything we did made money, despite any mistakes we made.  Those were the glory days.  In mid-2008, the surging market came to a halt, but for a great few years before, retail sales were quite robust.  Maybe those were the glory days.  Actually, when my dad was in the oil industry through the 70s, things were pretty good.  I recall the bumper-sticker that came out in the early 80s after the National Energy Program destroyed the Alberta advantage; it said “Lord give us another oil-boom, we promise not to piss it away this time.”  The 70s were definitely the glory days!  Or were they?  What will they say about 2012?  Was the “Pandora era” the glory days of the early 20-teens?  For me, 2011 was the best year ever for jewellery sales.  Am I in the middle of my glory days?

I never want to be like the high school baseball star whose best days are behind him.  I’m grateful for the glory days of the past, but I truly believe that there are many glorious days in my future.  There have been days in the jewellery business when we had less competition, when margins were better, when we only had to worry about stocking one metal -- yellow gold -- and when the internet wasn’t siphoning sales from us respectable bricks-and-mortar full service jewellers.

The world is moving fast, and if you believe that the glory days are past, just stop trying new things.  Stock your store with yellow gold clusters, herringbone chains, Zoppini charms, tie-clips, stairway-to-heaven rings and Gucci bezel watches.  Just wait for the glory days to return, and you’ll be ready for it!  Good luck with that.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Custom Jewellery

When I began in the jewellery business in 1987, I was fascinated by the infinite design possibilities which could be made in a space less than an inch-square.  That volume is the envelope within a jewellery designs works in to create new ring designs.  Thousands of goldsmiths for hundreds of years have yet to exhaust the permutations of metals, gemstones and contours possible within this space.

The journey that has led to my abilities in jewellery design are as follows.  While working for Forest of Jewels in Heritage Mall, Edmonton, I witnessed some of the senior staff working with goldsmiths to personalize existing designs in order to fulfill specific client needs.  I wanted to have that ability, because I knew it would lead to more sales.  If I couldn’t sell what was in the showcase, it would be nice to have other options.

While working (briefly) for Mappins, I was frustrated that special orders and custom work were almost completely discouraged.  I supposed if would have been okay if the inventory had any level of imagination, but everything was so “mass-market” that I knew there were many people we’d never be able to sell to.  Moving back to Edmonton and working alongside a talented custom goldsmith, I got to learn how waxes were carved, what a casting looked-like, how the jewellery was finished and set, and I studied gemology to learn more about the properties of gemstones.  I took a GIA counter sketching course, and developed my own methods of “drafting” jewellery which took into account the methods my goldsmith used to block-out and carve waxes.  Recreating lost jewellery for insurance claims gave me a lot of experience at working from verbal descriptions to two-dimensional sketches to architectural drawings and then to three-dimensional jewellery.

Working with Lilian and the skilled craftsmen at Customgold has added creativity and dimension to my jewellery design skills.  I continue to learn new things daily from my clients and their clients.  Jewellery design is more art than science, however you can’t have one without the other.

I would encourage anyone interested in jewellery design to take a counter-sketching course.  This is a vital tool and an essential medium to bridge the gap between conceptualization and craftsmanship.  An aspiring designer should avidly watch what other jewellery designers.  You know how they say, “the more you know, the less you know?”  Well by discovering the rich variety of designs out there, it will open your mind to new heights, widths, shapes, contours, materials and inspirations.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Iconic Imagery

Iconic Imagery

When you visit Vancouver Island, one of the must-see attractions is the famous Old Country Market at Coombs.  The market features local and imported foods, a bakery, fantastic ice cream shop and a really hip giftware section.  One of the quirky & fun things about Coombs Market are the goats on the roof.  Live goats.  Seriously.  The roof of the market is sod-covered and inhabited by goats.  People come to the market to do some grocery shopping, and maybe have a coffee, ice cream cone or a bite of lunch and stroll the other shops. 

The Old Country Market has come to be known as “Goats on Roof.”  The image on their bumber-stickers and t-shirts resembles a cautionary road-sign with the silhouette of a goat pooping off the edge of the roof.  This doesn’t have a thing to do with the commerce they are trying to encourage.  Why is this worth commenting about?  Because, this is a golden example of successful branding.

One simple symbol is enough for people to think fondly about the experience of visiting the Old Country Market.  The symbol has nothing to do with what the market wants to sell!  Do you feel the need to have diamonds and jewellery in every advertisement you do?  It should be your aim to burn a singular image into your customers’ minds that reminds them of the prestige, amusement, enjoyment, thrill or excitement of visiting your store.  For many it will be a logo, for some it might be a person’s face, for others it might be a building or locale.  For the Old Country Market, it’s a defecating horned beast. 

If there is no single image that comes to mind that symbolizes your customer experience, don’t worry.  It takes time.  Pay attention to the things that you have and the things that you do, and look for something that could grow into your very own iconic image.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Video Blog - Do we Have Too Many Clarity Grades?

Welcome to the Toddwaz Report video edition, coming to you from the Travelodge television studio.

Take shifting standards as to what constitutes a SI2 and multiply them by the inconsistency in so-called “professional” grading labs, and we’ve got too many clarity grades.  It’s way too confusing for the public.  I think we should have only 3 clarity grades.  It would make it so much simpler.  Let’s divide diamonds into categories that make sense to consumers, and give power back to the people. 

We’re already splitting hairs within grades aren’t we?  “Hey, is this a 1990s GIA SI2, an AGS 4, an EGL VS1 or a modern day GIA SI1?”  How about this: we’ll continue to buy and sell diamonds according to the Rappaport grading categories, but we’ll promote them in three categories: Value, Eye-Clean and Collector.

Value diamonds would include everything that has eye-visible inclusions.  You’ll charge more for what might be called an “SI2” than you would for “I2s.”  Eye-Clean diamonds would range from old school SI2s to VS1s.  Again, you’d charge more for the cleaner and rarer ones.  Collector clarities will obviously include VVS2 and better.

Why bother doing this if we’re still going to charge according to the traditional grading incriments?  I’ll tell you why.  Because this allows the client to know what the hell they’re looking for!  Your customer who is considering a “Value” diamond knows that inclusions are visible to the naked eye.  If they remain in this category, they will select a diamond whose eye-visible inclusions are the most tolerable for the price.  Your Eye-Clean customer will spend a bit of time looking at diamonds with their naked eye, a loupe and maybe a microscope.  They will reject any diamonds whose inclusions they can see with their naked eye.  This takes SI3 right off the table!!!  The collector will inspect their prestigious specimen under the microscope and can nit-pick them all they want.

You know what else this is going to do?  It’s going to make people want to look before they buy.  Can they do that on the internet?  I don’t think so!  So in stead of having 13 grading categories … or is it 14 … or is it 17?  Let’s have three and be done with it!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

What’s in a number?

When I worked for Canadian National Sportsmen’s Shows, I was “selling space” in the BC Great Outdoors Show.  One of my clients was a new business who had recently left the old established retail outlet to open a similar business.  He saw the writing on the wall, and the old established business had one foot in the grave.  By taking some of the clientele with him and doing some aggressive marketing, he helped complete the defeat of his past employer. 

He told me that after the business folded, he used contacts at B.C. Tel to take-over their now defunct phone number.  People continued to call the old business, and he would direct them to his shiny new shop.  He attributed tens of thousands of dollars in business to that phone number.

Fast forward a number of years and I’m closing down my small jewellery store to manage a new high-end jewellery boutique.  The decision was made to use my old phone number for the new store.  We had our share of clients who did not fit the profile of the new store, but one day I got a call from a client of the old store who I had never even met.  I directed him to the new boutique and he came-in and spent $17,000.  That was just the first visit.  At that time the Oilers had just been purchased by the Edmonton Oilers Ownership Group, and I found-out he was one of them.  He had some fantastic referrals for me.

Keep in mind these two things: whenever you answer the phone, it may be someone who has called because your phone number is the only thing they know about you.  The fact that you were in their rolodex, they assume you were worth trusting more than a stranger.  In other words, they’re fully prepared to put their trust in you; even though the only connection they have with you is a phone number and a vague recollection of having dealt with your store.  My advice?  Welcome them back like an old friend and tell them all of the things that are new about your store and then engage them in a conversation about their current need.

The second idea worth noting is that if a nearby store is going out of business, don’t underestimate the potential value of their phone number.  You may not be able to bribe someone at Telus, Sask tel or whatever you have in Manatoba to forward that number to yours, but you could offer a little something to the outgoing business for the rights to use that phone number.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Saturday Story Time - Are you a J.P.?

Today’s story takes place back in the days when I sold jewellery out of a 10th floor suite in a run-down Downtown Edmonton office building.  I was concluding the sale of some jewellery to a customer who was fast becoming a loyal client.  Obviously pleased with her new purchase, she told me, “you’re not so much of a jeweller as you are my jewellery practitioner. 

I’d never thought of myself as a J.P. before, but I guess the way we did business lent itself well to that description.  You see, like a medical practitioner, we didn’t advertise, we had a little waiting room, we only saw people by appointment, and we really did seek to help our narrow list of clients (patients?) develop healthy long-term jewellery wardrobes.

Like a doctor, you and I know secret things that a client is unlikely to have accurate knowledge of.  We know about synthetic diamonds, HTHP treatments, fracture filling, diamong grading, the lost-wax casting process, the culturing of pearls, variations in gold alloys, jewellery design, the varieties of gemstones, and on and on. 

Point #1:  It’s up to us to have the bedside manner to deliver this information simply and appropriately when relevant to our “patient’s” condition.

Point #2:  Don’t ever give-up trying to defeat the internet for accurate information.  Our clients can get a lot of material on the internet, but it isn’t always 100% accurate, and they may not apply it appropriately to their circumstance.  If you are a jewellery practitioner, you not only know the true information, you can apply it appropriately.

One of the most effective direct marketing strategies is scaring someone into thinking that conventional retailers have been pulling-one-over on the market for years.  An internet retailer will say, “Here are the 7 dirty little secrets that your jeweller doesn’t want you to know.”  Then they give the consumer enough half-truths to make them doubt what you tell them.

We have to take-back that authority.  We have to become jewellery practitioners.  Who the heck wants to have an internet doctor look down their throat through a web-cam?  Nobody I know!

I’ll say it again.  If you want to excel in the information age, you’ve got to put the truth down on paper or on an iPad, and be able to show it to the person across the showcase from you.  They’ve become so attuned to having that information at their fingertips that seeing it in black and white (or L.E.D. display) adds a lot of weight to your assertions.

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Blue Man Group

It was either the second or third time I went down to JCK Las Vegas that my wife Jana and I went to see The Blue Man Group at the Luxor.  We had seen these funky dudes on television commercials and had been intrigued by the massive billboards at McCarran Airport.  We didn’t really know what we exactly were getting into.

Once seated, I was sitting there thinking, “man this had better be worth $80 per ticket.”  I was thinking about what row we were in, the cost of the drinks in the lobby and how much the front row tickets must have been worth.  I was operating exclusively in my left brain.  The left brain is the half of our minds which process logical thought.  Our right brain is the seat of creativity and imagination.

Before the show began ushers ran through the audience and handed-out narrow strips of white paper about 2-3 feet long.  No explanation, and nothing written on them.  Pretty soon though, you noticed some people tying them into bows, and others turning them into neckties.  Some brought out pens and drew on them or ripped them into finer strips or shapes.  So began a collective migration from our left-brains to our right brains.  The audience member who was fully operating out of their right brain enjoyed the show immensely.  My wife’s uncle, the math professor, who doesn’t seem to have a left-brain probably would have been analyzing the number of rotations per minute required to create the visual effect of the dancing statues.  I was entranced.  I forgot about the $160, and what row we were in, what time it was and even where I was.  I was in another world.  If you’ve never seen the Blue Man Group, I would obviously highly recommend it.

Your best jewellery sales will happen when the right brain is fully engaged and telling the left brain, “don’t worry about the cost – this thing is gorgeous and we’ve got to have it!!!”  Never forget this.  If you allow your clients to make their purchases while using their rational minds, you’ll spend all of your time calculating discounts, price-per-carat, and time-frames.

Let’s say you’re faced with a gentleman buying an engagement ring.  Men have a hard time processing from both sides of the brain at once.  In order to move the discussion to the right brain, ask qualitative questions.  Make sure you know the girlfriend’s name, and then begin asking about her.  What kinds of activities she enjoys, what kind of clothing fashions she wears and what jewellery designers she’s pointed to in the pages of wedding magazines.  When showing designs, talk about their contours and the visual impact.  Talk about how this will fit into her lifestyle and her wardrobe.  Talk about what her friend might say if they saw her wearing such a stunning ring.  Once you’ve established a right-brain desire for a certain design, then and only then should you begin to talk about price, alteration options and delivery-time.  Sell the right brain, and then bring the decision-making left-brain on board to negotiate the close.

Once the Blue Man Group show was complete, they unfurled giant rolls of white paper over the audience, which we had to tear-through in order to leave the theatre.  It was symbolic that we had begun with a small effort toward creativity and then finished with our imaginations expanded to massive proportions.  Once the sale is complete, go back to the right-brain and remind your young groom-to-be what a great job he did at finding the right ring that will not only symbolize their commitment to each other, but fit her lifestyle to a tee.