A Little Reminder

One of my primary roles here at work is to manage the inventory: accurate entry, tags, pricing, photographs, re-orders, show orders, invoice processing, etc. It’s a job that can be tedious from time to time (ahem, the Popular Bead Bracelet Brand era) but is usually rather interesting because it appeals to my inquisitive, detail-oriented brain and allows me to get my hands on every single piece of merchandise in the store as it arrives.

I also attempt what I call a self-inventory every so often, taking stock of my life and its various components and running down a list of places to improve, discard, or enhance. Recently my mind has been occupied with family, health, summer plans (golf lessons, new hiking boots), and of course my gemological studies. I tend to continue mulling over my educational material long after I’ve put it away for the day, which causes a disproportionate mental emphasis on the very technical details I’m currently learning. I end up totally engulfed in the bloodless and unromantic side of this industry, focusing all of my energy on numbers and figures and diagrams.

That’s great for test-taking and fundamental progress, but is ultimately useless in my day-to-day job until I work to distill it down into something I can use on the sales floor. I’ve been feeling waterlogged with minutiae, unable to climb onto solid ground from the watery bog of information overload.

So it was with genuine pleasure that I found myself on the business end of a diamond engagement ring sale just this week — and not a moment too soon.

The gentleman was polite and earnest; his female “helper” lived up to her job and was supportive but not pushy. We discussed settings & styles, diamond sizes & qualities, and priced out a few options. A brief lunch break on the sunny restaurant decks (them, not me) later, and a ring was born. Hooray!

This was not a “big” sale, or a tough one, or a thank-goodness-that’s-over interaction. The clean simplicity of selling a meaningful object to a happy and eager buyer was exactly the refreshing reminder I needed when terra firma seemed very far away. Clearly I required this experience in order to remember what we really do, what the purpose is behind all the numbers and calculations:

Joy. Happiness. Excitement. Love. Hope.

That’s our real business, our own small contribution to the betterment of the world. I am a facilitator, nothing more, as I gently nudge people toward an object that stands to represent all the best emotions we could ever want. And amidst the structure of carbon atoms and lengthy history of mining, I needed a little reminder about why I do it at all.

The Business of Business

In my line of work, the face the consumer sees is often very different from the reality behind-the-scenes. The client receives calm and unwavering patience, forever a smile, as much romance as they can stomach, and a general sense that the world is full of beautiful things that they (obviously) should want to buy and give and wear.

And why shouldn’t they? The role of consumer in the luxury market is to enjoy everything — service, gracious transaction, the piece itself, admiration from peers — as a complete package. It’s my job to figure out how to deliver that experience in such a way that will impress and retain that client, but also maintain best business practices that allow equal attention to future clients. As my grandmother used to say, it ain’t worth anything if you give it away.

I will confess that I’m far more a novice of business than I am of creating that customer experience. I have been in some form of sales for many years, but have begun to participate in the business side relatively recently. Thanks in large part to the small business environment and wonderful owners of the store, I have been introduced to the inner workings of this industry and am just as hooked on the finer details of number-crunching and term negotiation as I ever was on closing the sale.

To that end, I’ll be diving head first into analysis and data processing, product and vendor assessment, supplier strategies, and a host of other topics in order to assist in balancing performance in the store. Translation: training in business stuff should lead to better business.

On a personal level, I admit to a little apprehension. This is not only a new field of interest but an entirely new facet of the industry, and I’m determined to acquire as much knowledge for practical application as I can get my little paws on. Between this, my already personally-driven sales goals, some additional business courses I’m taking outside of work, and the general day-to-day operations already in place, I feel I’m in for an exciting period of growth. Maybe if spring pokes its nose out from whatever hole it’s hibernating in someday soon, I’ll really feel ready to face it all.

Take Me Back: Job Training

My collective retail experience prior to my current position can be neatly summarized in one word: corporate. I enjoyed my time working for the Big Guys, especially as I was lucky enough to be a member of not one, but TWO grand opening teams for two different locations. The corporate approach to many operating procedures revolves around standardization, and with a pretty fabulous management team around me, I learned to take meticulous care of even the most insignificant details. When inspection time came and deadlines loomed, it was a comfort to know precisely where we stood as a store. Everything was quantifiable. We passed or we failed, and we always knew why and by how much.

A small business still runs on numbers, of course — without data, progress can’t be measured — but around this time last year, I acquired a deeper understanding of the fine balancing act that comes with a single store, constantly-varying inventory, and costs that change on a daily basis.

My training centered on the day-to-day functions related to store inventory: re-orders, special orders, entering new product, tracking item sales and pricing, quality control, order checking, and so on. I fell in love with the numbers, markup figures, ROI, and every incalculable iteration of figuring out what each piece of jewelry means to the store. This went beyond mere precision, it rolled right over into intuition. Clearly, I had a lot to learn.

Among my many lessons, I acquired an understanding of the many ways life can be made easier (or, of course, more difficult) in very tangible ways. For example, I learned…

… a new appreciation for vendors that list their gemstone count on the invoice. I spent one notable afternoon with a loupe pressed to my eye socket, counting and recounting diamond pavé and never coming up with the same number twice in a row. The final count was determined only after a lengthy game of telephone tag with the vendor and a very nice rep who seemed utterly baffled by my question.

… some vendors adore consistency, and others eschew it for no obvious reason. Why did the style number change? Why doesn’t this wedding band have a number related to, but unique from, its matching engagement ring? Why do you offer a special diamond quality for these earrings, but no corresponding identifier in the style number? Why are these pendants listed separately from the chains they come with? Why aren’t you returning my phonecalls so I can finish this tray of new product and let people buy it?

… to throttle down the jolt of fear that shoots through my body if I accidentally jostle an entire tray full of white pearl stud earrings that haven’t been tagged yet. In my tired mind, the pearls all look exactly the same and I would never, ever be able to separate them back into their appropriate pairs. Never. Ever.

… that I can memorize an insane amount of detailed information about hundreds of individual pieces, but am occasionally rendered incapable of entering a 9-character style number into the database without looking back at the invoice a dozen times.

… afternoon Starbucks runs are a gift from the gods, and are worth braving the heat/rain/snow in order to receive their life-giving contents.

Speaking of afternoon pick-me-ups, it’s my day off and I’m overdue for my date with some cookies and Trader Joe’s pumpkin coffee in my French press. Plenty more on my plate to do tomorrow!