Wednesday, 19 November 2014

When Style Counts

Sorry for the length of this article.  It was written for a magazine submission, but this message couldn't wait.  Focus on this during the coming holidays and then build your future business on these key principles!!!

I was walking through the mall the other day and I spotted a bar fridge in a music store.  It looked exactly like a Marshall stacked amplifier set.  The knobs even turned.  For someone who plays guitar or who is into hard-core rock’n’roll, this would be the ultimate fridge.  I remember shopping for the bar-fridge in our basement.  We looked at how many cubic feet it was, what the Energy-Guide rating was, how the interior was organized and how much it cost.  We compared at a couple of places and found one that suited our criteria for $179.  Had I seen the Marshall Stack bar fridge for $299, I would have bought it without even opening it up.
Further back, when I worked in retail jewellery, I had a young man come to me with a problem.  Despite his Mom’s recommendation to buy from me, he bought an engagement ring elsewhere.  When the engagement went South he needed advice as to what might be a fair return/exchange practice with the vending jeweller.  I gave him some guidance, and he pledged then and there to buy his next engagement ring from me.
A couple of years later it (almost) happened.  He came to me having found a new love and was ready to buy that engagement ring.  In their travels she had found a style that we would not agree to replicate; therefore, he ended up having to break his pledge to me.  The style was billed as a nouveau tension-style ring; essentially a ring within a ring, with a girdle-sized hole at the top of the outer band pressing the diamond’s pavilion against the inner band.  I explained the risk of such a setting, and politely suggested that if no other ring would do, they had best get it from the other jeweller. 
All was not lost.  This young man referred a friend to me for an engagement ring, who referred two other friends, and I ultimately received a lot of business from his recommendations.  The point is; style counted for a lot.  On that day, style was more important than his pledge or my ability to provide the professionalism he was looking for; and it superseded any thoughts of diamond quality, warranty, or even durability. 
There are two times when style counts for a lot.  The first is when you have a style that nobody else can or will supply, and the client falls deeply, madly, passionately in LOVE with that style.  That’s why it’s important to have your client try-on all kinds of diverse styles to see if something that was off-the-radar catches their fancy.  If you have distinctive and exclusive product, then you should romance the matchlessness of it and you should be able to captivate them with the fascinating story of the designer.  Here’s why: if they fall in love with something unique then you’ve eliminated a lot of your competition, and margins go WAAAAY up!
The second way in which style counts is when you’re working with styles that are popular.  Back in the 80s it might have been the 17-stone diamond cluster ring with ski-tip shoulders.  Today it’s the white gold halo-style with micro-set shoulders.  Style counts here because every manufacturer offers something of this description, and the consumer can’t tell one from another.  Because it’s hard to compare across the mall or across the city, your best business strategy is to have the least expensive of this look.  As the consumer begins shopping this style to see who has the lowest price, it drives quality and margin WAAAAY down. 
I still see some very beautiful and well-made 17-stone cluster rings, but they are likely the early models when VS diamonds were abundant and the claw-work was impeccable.  As the race to the bottom ensued the gold became thinner, the setting work more perfunctory and with diamonds diving ever lower in quality.
On the sales floor, there are often designs that are easy-to-sell, and those which are more suited to the jewellery connoisseur.  If you only ever sell the former, you can easily be replaced.  If you can sell to the aficionado, and turn a portion of bargain-shoppers into more sophisticated clients, then you’re worth more and you’ll surely earn more.   Let’s stop being lazy!  Todays bridal shopper comes in with pictures off of Instagram of the same things over and over again.  Those are the popular designs, and if you don’t have the cheapest one of those, you’ll lose.
Here are six keys to selling better, more valuable jewellery which fetch higher margins:
  • Show clients exquisite design alternatives at every opportunity – even if they’re coming in for a watch battery or some other product. 
  • Research and then talk-up the merits of the designers you have chosen to carry in your store. 
  • Never miss a chance to tell them about the advantages of buying from your store.
  • Get to know them and their lifestyle.  Then as their friend, guide them toward designs will compliment their stated preferences and lifestyle.  By listening to their story and then repeating back aspects of designs that relate to them, you’ll blow them away because very sales associates truly listen!
  • Focus on style rather than diamond size/quality – remember if they love the style, you might not even need to talk about the 4-Cs.
  • If all of that fails, then sell them what’s easy to sell.  You may have expanded their horizons for future purchases anyway.
One last story:  Lilian Jensen and I were at a restyle show in Kamloops about 10 years ago.  A couple in their late 30s to early 40s came looking for an engagement ring.  This was to be his first marriage so he was really quite excited.  While looking at designs we talked about how they met and soon discovered that they were a match made in heaven.  Once a design was found that put a huge sparkle in her eye, Lilian pulled out a suitable sized loose diamond and floated it over-top the design to dazzle the giddy couple.  With a perfunctory pause to ask about the final price, they eagerly asked when it would be ready; then proceeded to plunk down the plastic.  After they left, we were thrilled for them, and I stood amazed that they left without knowing the size or quality of the diamond that Lil selected for them.  It wasn’t an issue.  They wanted THAT fantastic design and the designer had endorsed the selection of the feature diamond.  Done, and done!
That’s the power of a personal connection and winning style.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Let's Get Frank!

It's time to stop pussy-footing around important issues in our industry.

The world has become increasingly open to talking about things that were in the past considered indelicate.  Feminine hygiene, bladder leaks, bum-wiping and impotence are all boldly addressed during prime-time commercial breaks.  The world seems willing and even eager to brashly dive-in head-first to tackle problems formerly hidden in closets, and buried under mattresses.

Is the jewellery industry keeping up with the times?  Are we brashly standing up for our industry and our businesses?  Why do we pull punches.  Are we the embodiment of the polite Canadian stereotype?  Are we afraid of getting sued?  Do we have too much respect for our competition to somehow maliciously degrade them?  We probably don’t want to appear negative by putting someone else down.  Maybe we just don’t have good answers to some of our more embarrassing problems.

I enjoyed hearing about how a jeweller in Ontario posts a sign in his store titled “travellers alert.”  This sign points-out the real risks of buying jewellery while on vacation.  We can all testify about friends and clients who bought ridiculous jewellery while under the influence of margaritas, sunscreen or whatever it is that causes the irresistible urge to buy stupid things.  Independent jewellers can do a better job of warning our clients of the risks.  At the same-time you can also coach them on what kinds of things they should feel free to buy while on vacation.  How many times have I sold someone a $1,000 or $2,000 setting for a  $25 gemstone they bought on a cruise?  You’ll have a hard time competing with the experience of picking-out an opal in Australia, but if you tell them what kind of opal to look for, and then help them create a setting for their precious souvenir, you can be a hero and make a few bucks yourself.

Internet retailers are slamming you every chance they get.  They’re not afraid of telling your clients how inconvenient it is that you’re not open 24 hours, how much pressure it is shopping with you and how much you overcharge for your jewellery.  Are you just going to just take that lying down?  How about reminding your clients that you offer 60 more hours per week of opportunities to see, touch and feel real live jewellery (before they buy) than internet retailers?  You can stand-up for yourself, and say, “we who live in, work and support this community appreciate and need you shopping local.”  Spend time, effort and money reinforcing the value of hand-selected quality designs that are waaay more sought-after than the photo-shopped trashy leftovers available 24/7 on the worldwide dumping ground.

If you’ve invested the time actually looking at jewellery sold by volume retailers you might just be appalled enough to begin calling a spade a spade (or a F---ing shovel).  There’s so much frozen spit, misrepresentation, tinfoil-thin settings, rejection quality gemstones and truly impractical designs out there that you should be indignant, insistant and assertive when it comes to blowing your own horn!

Do you believe that you can’t compete against the volume buying of chain stores?  If you do, give up.  Do you think the industry will eventually get swallowed-up completely by the interweb?  Might as well pull the plug right now.  If you are convicted that as an independent retailer you have unique and high-quality jewellery, and that your delivery provides clients with unparalleled benefits, then I think you just might go somewhere in this business.  Don’t be shy.  Stand up for yourself!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


It's a big leap from credible to "incredible."

The English language is full of words where prefixes and suffixes can adjust the meaning 180 degrees, turn it sideways, hyperspace it into superlativity (I made that one up!) or completely change the intent.  “Hospitable” and “inhospitable” are opposites, but what about “credible” and  “incredible?”

In the jewellery business credibility is a huge asset.  How will consumers buy something so easily fudged from us without trust?  We want to be perceived as “credible.”  So do cruise ship jewellers, Caribbean port shops, internet retailers, home shopping channels, chain stores and the dishonest jeweller right down the street from you.  They all want to make sales, and they all know that credibility, or the appearance thereof is the key.

What do our competitors do to build credibility?  Cruise ships spend time educating passengers about jewellery while building rapport.  Port shops bribe port lecturers,  boast of their New York head office and international warranties.  Internet retailers build credibility through transparency of information and no hassle return policies.  The chain stores take advantage of their long histories to leverage lifetime trade-ups and long-lasting warranties.  The television vendors have extensive “risk reversal” policies to assert “we’re so sure you’ll love it, we’ll pay double the return postage if you’re not happy.”  The dishonest guy down the street peddles half-truths and lacklustre promises.

I still visit perfectly honest retailers who have no BBB, Chamber of Commerce nor CJA stickers on their doors.  Their hand-written signs behind the counter that say “NO REFUNDS, EXCHANGE ONLY,” make me think that numerous clients have desired refunds for suspicious reasons.  When asked about warranties, trade-ups and exchange policies there’s no document to clearly state the expectations.  “We’ll take care of you,” sometimes will lose to the chain store’s clearly stated documentation.  I love to see cork-boards full of thank-you notes and wedding photos of happy couples.  They confidently assert “others have tried us and appreciated the service, so you should too.”

Here’s the thing.  If your customer comes to you and says, “Peoples will give me my original cost towards something of double the value…” you might choose to match that deal in order to gain the sale, and the trade-in of something that might actually have some value to you.  If your customer says, “I think this was a manufacturer’s defect,” you often give them the benefit of the doubt and cover it anyway.  For ALL of those benefits you give to your clients after the fact, you could formalize them (to protect you against abuse) and use them as a selling feature to make more sales.

You need to prove your credibility in your long-term actions, but you also need to be able to articulate your credibility in a short sales presentation.  If you A) have credibility, B) clearly communicate how you back-up your claims of  credibility, and C) live it and prove it every day of your life, then you will surely achieve the status of “incredible.”

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The 2014 WCJE

It's a whole new ballgame without DiGem and The Martin Ross Group

WCJE 2014

Well another show is in the books.  How was the show you ask?  Let me tell ya.  The big buzz was about the pending closure of the Martin Ross Group.  When A&A closed down it was big news in the industry, but Libman and Master Design both at the same time?  Monumental!  The void was already felt with their absence as exhibitors.  They weren’t the only ones missing, and the show was noticeably smaller than last year.  Without those two suppliers, this show offered their dealers a chance to source alternatives, but more on that later…

The Canadian Jewellers Association, JVC and the “Connect for Success” committee produced an educational day on Thursday ahead of the show.  Due to set-up I couldn’t attend the whole thing, but it was very well-received by those who took the time.  I will do what I can to encourage and promote this effort in upcoming years.  Increased show participation depends on the value and excitement that this show provides to retailers.  An engaged and successful retailer will do their Fall buying at the show, offering value to the exhibitors.  And truthfully, waiting for the sales reps to come see you will NEVER give you the front-of-the-line selection, networking opportunities and one-stop shopping that the WCJE offers.

I haven’t heard any official numbers, but I’m pretty sure attendance by retailers was down.  Without the annual general meeting and festivities surrounding the disbanded DiGem buying group, their members had one less reason to make the trip.  Some have joined the CJG, and attended the buying show the previous week in Toronto.  But little of the drop in attendance can be blamed on buying groups as there were quite a few former DiGemmers in attendance, including my good friend Connie Kitigawa.  We will always welcome her participation in the industry and our lives due to the contributions she’s made to Digem, the industry and her friends.  Over the past 5 years, DiGem raised over $75,000 for charity through their “Digem Decadence” dinners and the Edmonton show, and even though the event was missed, the amazing impact on those charities endures as a legacy of the group!

…back to the Martin Ross thing.  Corona put on a very impressive 55th anniversary show of their own with a large addition to their usual space, including diamond cutting demos and a luxurious hospitality lounge.  While they stand to gain a lot of business from Libman and Master Design faithfuls, there will be circumstances where exclusivities, loyalties, flier program conflicts and capacity issues will have to be weighed-out.  It’s going to be a busy season for Corona and other suppliers (including myself) trying to adjust to these new realities!

I hope that it’s a long time before we forget the innovation, inspiration and enrichment that Mark Libman and the late Varouj Arkarakas (Master Design) contributed to our industry.  They were only successful because they helped so many retailers enjoy their own success.

Okay, so this turned into a sort of obituary for Martin Ross Group and DiGem.  On the bright side, those who came were upbeat about their prospects for a robust Fall season.  We sold some pretty amazing one-of-a-kind delivery pieces, leaving us working hard to assemble like-product for me to show you if I’m coming to see you soon.

Monday, 4 August 2014


Why some attend every motivational talks and others give up on life...

I recently attended a one-day conference for keynote speakers, teaching us how to develop multiple streams of income from the basis of a platform presenter.  My eyes were opened to a whole world of professionals who do nothing but go from corporate retreats to business conventions to trade shows and motivate people to excel in their businesses and in their personal lives.  What I discovered is that they cater to the millions of people who are pushing to do better.
I recently acquired a dilapidated property at foreclosure court.  It is a half-duplex which was an absolute mess.  There were holes in, and graffiti on the walls.  Mounds of clothing, fast-food boxes and bags, dishes and drug paraphernalia were in every room.  The yard was unkempt, the dryer vent wasn’t hooked-up and patchwork caulking of windows and doors only served to worsen the water infiltration problems.  What I discovered is that there are millions of people who don’t push to do better at all.
If the world’s wealth was redistributed evenly on January 1, 2015 with a capitalist system still in place, then the wealthy would have their mega-fortunes back by Christmas and the unmotivated would have squandered their increase by mid-summer.
I don’t seek wealth itself.  I motivate myself so that I can bring a better me to the table to serve my clients, my family and my neighbors.  If I am a good servant to these, I stand to gain respect, lasting friendships and possibly wealth. 
This reminds me of the biblical parable of the talents (or bags of gold.)  The master before embarking on a journey gave 5 talents to one servant, 2 talents to another and 1 talent to a third.  The first two invested their lot and earned a 100% return and the third buried his in a hole, and then returned only the principle.  The master upon returning rewarded the first two, and scorned and cast-out the latter.  He then gave the one who had doubled his 5 talents the 1 talent that the unsuccessful servant had hidden.  The conclusion is that those who are faithful when trusted with little things will be entrusted with more. 
If you are entrusted with a business, look upon your clients as talents.  Your sacred quest is to double the number of clients you serve.  By increasing your capabilities to handle twice as many clients, your labor will be rewarded with more opportunity. 
There is choice in this world.  You can position yourself anywhere along the spectrum between the seminar-gobbling masses who want to take over the world and the lazy bums who inhabited our dilapidated abode (which due to Mrs. Toddwaz’ and my effort is now a beautifully renovated rental suite.)
If it’s a matter of balance between business achievement and personal growth or recreation, it takes thought, effort and some degree of motivation to get there.  Take a moment today to reflect on where you are in your career or business and make a commitment.  Do you want to strive to do better?  Is your career or business satisfactory and you need to commit yourself to improving your health, relationships or recreational persuits?  Have you lost your motivation?  If you are currently executing a plan to achieve your goals, then good for you!  If not, you may want to clean up a few messes in your life, or seek some coaching to help you along.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Simplify for Success

Some of the most successful songs are very simple, so why do we try to over-complicate our sales pitches?  

Simplify for Success

This past week, I planned and participated in a workshop for Church worship bands.  It’s surprising how many times I though “Wow, being in a band is just like being part of a sales team!”  The facilitator Corey, is an accomplished guitarist and singer, and has led many bands.  He shared with us the ironic fact that the better he gets at playing the guitar, the more he simplifies what he plays and the better he sounds.  Hmmm

Corey got me to thinking, “isn’t that the way it progressed when I was working in jewellery stores?”  I began not knowing much, so I didn’t have much to say.  Then I learned about gemology, custom design, watch functions, industry news and jewellery history.  I had tons of things to say.  I could (and did) regurgitate jewellery-talk on command – boring the heck out of my prospects, and missing opportunities to build relationships and close sales.

The better way is to have a million things to say, but keep each in your back-pocket until just the right moment.  A great song usually has a memorable guitar solo, piano riff, or drum solo.  The only way for these to be memorable is for the song to lead-up to it, so that the listener eagerly anticipates it.

If you talk peoples’ ears off, they’ll divide their attention according to the number of words you speak.  The longer you drone-on, the less impact each word has.  If you ration your words, those fantastic value-added statements and closes that you have in your repertoire will be well received when the time comes.

Prepare professionally then apportion your words at just the right time.  It will be music to your client’s ears!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Trend Spotting

Design Trends to be Revealed at Western Canadian Jewellery Expo

The summer jewellery shows are fast approaching.  Among the many important functions of attending trade-shows is seeking-out new trends.  You don’t want to miss-out on the latest and greatest.

What will be the trends for Fall 2014?  What is a trend?  How long does its’ popularity have to endure in order to be considered “trendy.”  Is it nothing more than something popular?  If that’s the case then aren’t boring run-of-the-mill designs that appeal to a broad audience trendy?  Is it important to carry trendy designs, or can you distinguish yourself in your marketplace by promoting counter-trends?  What does it take to start your own trend?

These questions and more will be discussed at the Western Canadian Jewellery Expo’s Connect for Success seminars on Thursday August 14th – the day before the show starts.  Yours truly will be moderating a panel that includes Lilian Jensen from Customgold, Irina Lychak of Canadian Jeweller Magazine and Montreal based jewellery designer, Claire Vessot.

Other speakers will address “Top 10 Mistakes in Jewellery Display,” “Understanding Jewellery Crime Trends in Canada” and “Social Media Marketing.”  Rumor has it that there may be a round-table discussion after the seminars where you can corner the speakers and discuss hot-button issues.  Visit for more information about the show.

I hope to see you there!