Merrick, NY—Our Jewelers Getting Back To Normal series wraps up with a look at how jewelers are addressing employees' concerns, missing hugs, and keeping customers happy. Missed any of the series? Click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three.
Panelists for this discussion (image) were jewelers Ronda Daily of Bremer Jewelry, Bloomington and Peoria, IL, and Cathy Eastham of Midland, TX. They chatted with vendors Frances and Charlotte Gadbois of Sloane Street, Newport Beach, CA, and Sam Sandberg, chairman of New York-based A. Jaffe. Centurion president Howard Hauben moderated.
Howard Hauben: How do employees feel about coming to work? Are they comfortable with it?
Cathy Eastham: My staff has really been very ready to come back. They weren’t hesitant at all. We have face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and we’re constantly taking care of cases. My store is designed where we can stay six feet apart pretty easily. I’ve had clients come in and ask if they have to wear a mask, and I said no, but for me it’s tough because I like to hug people. One fellow came in yesterday and said ‘I’m ok if you are,’ so we gave each other a big hug.
Ronda Daily: We’ve got masks for everyone, we’ve got gallons of hand sanitizer and all that, but we have made the decision we’re not going to wear gloves. In Illinois, our staff is required to wear masks so we’re going to hold to that but if our guests don’t want to they don’t have to. When we’re across the counter, we’re at two feet, so one of us has to wear a mask. Obviously, I prefer we both did.
People are scared. Mostly my younger employees are afraid. We’re making them a little less fearful by the PPE and by how we handle things. You have to tell them what you are going to do for them but if they don’t want to come back you can’t make them. Most of my people do want to come back, so if we can figure out child care we’re going to be in great shape.
My daughter got on Facebook asking consumers what will make them feel comfortable. The answers we got were very interesting. Mainly it was, “if you have hand sanitizer and you guys are wearing masks, we’re good.” We asked if we should put markers on the floor like Lowe’s does, and people said, “no please don’t do that, we can figure out how far six feet is!” So we have a sign that says, “We’re love to hug you but we can’t.”
Sam Sandberg: My team is raring to leave the house and come back to work. Their spouses are even more anxious to have them leave the house and come back!
We’re in a state-of-the-art building and we got an email about all the requirements for entry and managing elevators and so forth. Internally we’re in good shape. We are keeping our customer service and finance and compliance people at home. We have a pretty spacious facility and we can keep people six feet apart if not more, we have lots of disposable masks and gloves, and have a strong ultraviolet light that we were using even before corona [to sterilize] rings. We never ship a ring that can be contaminated in any way.
We’ll help people any way we can with transportation, covering children, whatever. Again, I feel very dependent on my team and my retailers, so whatever we need to do to protect and support that team we will. We’ve been together through thick and thin for a very long time.
Frances Gadbois: We have a big space, so we have enough for everybody to be social distanced. We had a great conversation with one of our key employees, Danielle, who’s been home with a five-year-old and our conversation is how do we work through that. She’s worried about child care, and we’re completely open to working around these things. She’s been great working from home so she can do that—but if she needs to bring him to the office we have the office completely sanitized every single day even when it’s just me and Charlotte.
We purchased ultraviolet scanners so any time jewelry goes out it’s completely sanitized, and we have hand sanitizer everywhere. Because we’re vendors and not retailers, we don’t have so many people coming in, mainly just FedEx and UPS and Brinks. Obviously when it’s just me and Charlotte we don’t wear masks but we will with employees and encourage them to.
Charlotte Gadbois: It’s a little bit of a blessing that we have already had it. There are a lot of theories right now around antibodies, but it gives a little extra reassurance especially to employees and vendors, and we’re doing all the necessary precautions that we can. Also Frances and I have been living together, so we’re ok together.
F. Gadbois: We want to be aware of how our customers feel. In different areas, not everybody is ready to have a trunk show or different vendors in the store. What we ask of our retailers is transparency and to keep communication open. We can come different times, we can do Zoom, do remote shows. It’s a little silver lining that we can do things differently and it’ll be ok.
Hauben: Do you think the products or price points people want will change?
Daily: I think it’ll change. I’m not going to venture a guess whether it’ll go all silver or whatever, but I think it’ll be by area of the country. I will meet guests where they need to be. If they want to buy a little silver chain, we’ll do that. If they want big diamond studs or custom, we’ll do that.
C. Gadbois: What we’ve noticed as things started ramping up is a shift to more classic styles. We’re still getting orders for things that are more impressive but not crazy out of the box.
Hauben: What about cleaning jewelry after a customer tries it on, besides regular jewelry cleaners?
Eastham: I have to admit we’re not. We probably should be. But we’re taking every precaution, so if someone has tried on several rings we take extra precautions to make sure they’re clean, but probably something we should be doing with every ring.
Daily: We purchased little small bottles filled with 70% alcohol—or Everclear, which you can always use to drink! So when you pull out a ring, you spray it and hand it to them. Then when they hand back you spray. You spray everything on the tray and wipe. Whether you need to or not the guest sees you do it and feels, “oh, good, they’re clean.”
Everclear grain alcohol serves a dual purpose. It can be used as hand sanitizer or it can be used to make a cocktail.
Hauben: Cathy what have you been doing about security cameras and masks?
Eastham: Gee, we haven’t even though about that! But I have to say one of our favorite clients came in with a big black mask on and I [thought] we were getting robbed. He looked spooky. That’s just an issue I haven’t even thought about.
Hauben: As a vendor, what is the most important thing you can do to help retailers get geared back up? And retailers, what is most important for vendors to do to help you?
Sandberg: As Charlotte mentioned in seeing demand for classic jewelry, we’re seeing that too, especially in the eternity category. Stores that did sales during lockdown did higher tickets. One of the responsibilities of the designer is to provide product that’s on trend and appealing but also that’s going to turn, is easy to customize, and has margin. We rely on retailer feedback an awful lot.
F. Gadbois: I totally agree with Sam. Just being there for them, the customer service, to bend over backwards, whatever retailers need, even graphics for marketing. A lot of times we were shipping directly to clients and writing the note as if from the retailer. Whatever they need. whatever you need.
Eastham: I agree with Sam. We’ve had higher ticket sales. That’s been a little bit shocking for us, but exciting. Most of our vendors have been lovely in checking and shipping for us.
I do think one of the things we’ve done that has helped a lot is we’ve always done 20% off for their birthday month, but now we dropped off little boxes of candy, flowers, and really focused on clients. I think goodwill has really helped a lot. In last few months we’ve given $10,000 to a food bank with percentages [of sales] and so on. It’s ultra-important for a retailer to stay involved in community and the needs of the community. That comes back triple-fold.
Daily: Just continue to communicate. Talk to your vendors. Vendors, talk to your retailers, and we will survive. We will get done with this together. Nobody’s an island.
Hauben: Do you have any final words of wisdom?
Eastham: When I talk to people, I say don’t forget to laugh today. We’ve got to keep spirits up, and even in sadness keep a happy atmosphere. Pray for those who are ill, but keep a happy atmosphere.
Sandberg: We are in a great industry and have a lot going for us that a lot of people don’t. Have a sense of appreciation and listen and listen and listen.
C. Gadbois: Through this whole thing it’s easy to fall into a rut. There are days we walk into the office and we’re just in a funk. But what has helped us is a little bit of meditation, about 10 minutes, and reminding ourselves how blessed we are.