A Conversation With Two Ladies

I had a conversation with two lovely ladies just the other day. It had been about a year since I last saw one, and the other it’s been around 12 years. We’ll call the first “N” and the second “G.” Here’s how our conversation went.

Me: Hi! I guess it’s been a while. I’m sorry about that, I’ve certainly missed you both.

G: That’s all right, I’ve been getting updates every now and then. You’ve grown up!

N: You’ve been busy.

Me: I’ve definitely been busy. I also have a new job!

G: That’s wonderful, I’m so proud of you! You’re such a hard worker.

N: Oh? A new job? And what are you doing?

Me: Well, I guess it’s a little hard to explain. I work for a company that’s bringing  a special kind of new technology called 3D printing to the market. It’s a way for people to create things using a particular type of machine. My job is to market it and sell it, especially to the jewelry industry.

G: Sounds exciting! I’m sure you’re great at it. You always loved talking to people.

N: Is it expensive? Do they make you travel a lot?

Me: It’s not expensive relative to other machines that do a similar thing. Yes, I do get to talk to a lot of people and travel quite a bit, but I love it!

N: What about your husband? You need to make sure you’re spending enough time with him. That’s really important.

Me: Yes, it is. We try to spend time with each other, and our families too.

G: I’m sure you do. Your mother and father miss you a lot, you know.

N: Well, she can’t be everywhere at once. But as long as you’re happy and doing a good job, it will be good for you.

Imagine having these ladies perched on your shoulders, whispering questions and comments! One is an eternal optimist, reminding me to be kind and thoughtful whenever possible (or even when it’s not); the other is a consummate realist, insisting that I keep a watchful eye on my own words and actions, not to mention the habits of everyone around me. Both continue to guide me with the occasional tug on my ears to correct my course.

Chanel perfume, hand-knitted blankets. Grace and poise, kindness and gentility.

We lost Nana and Grandma in April, just over a decade apart. Both were cornerstones of their respective families, and represented two very different but equally important styles of living: the homemaker and the working woman.

I imagine the conversations I’d have with each of them now, as a woman and wife and worker. They might ask about my marriage and job, the details of my latest vacation or recently read novel, or if I’m keeping up with my studies. In their own special ways, they would ultimately be asking one simple question: are you happy? Because despite their differences, that’s what always mattered most. And that’s the greatest lesson I could ever hope to learn.


Why Not: The Rhetorical Question

Like every other (good) retailer, we aim to please. From goods to services, providing the very best we can to every customer is what keeps us in business.

Go ahead, say it. Duh. Of course that’s what keeps the doors open!

But what happens when we can’t — for whatever reason — satisfy a customer?

It seems to me that in an increasingly instant-gratification-focused consumer world, the inability to meet an immediate demand is an automatic black mark. Regardless of how difficult, unrealistic, or downright impossible the request may be, the potential provider’s perceived lack of ability becomes an issue.

It so happens that occasionally a customer comes in and asks for something we don’t have. We’ve never had it. It’s possible — though unlikely — we’ve never even heard of it. We can probably get it, or our fabulous designer/goldsmith can make it, but none of that is going to happen in the next 10 to 15 seconds. The customer huffs something to the effect of “Everywhere I go, they say the same thing. You don’t have it. Well, why not?”

There’s a brief pause, and a moment of silent mutual understanding arrives: they already know the answer. We know the answer, and they know we know. We don’t have it because the buyer(s) for the store didn’t buy it. The reasoning behind that decision is moot, because it won’t change the status of this customer’s elusive desire.

I was totally bewildered by my first Rhetorical Encounter. Did that customer really just get upset that I couldn’t show those white gold earrings in yellow, rose, and two-tone? Is she seriously asking for a reason why we don’t carry her favorite XYZ designer?

I’ve learned a few things since then, thank goodness. I learned that sometimes a customer has an objection or just wants an easy “out” of the sale or store, and isn’t capable of saying “no, thank you.” I had to learn that a customer insisting on one specific item is well aware that we won’t have it, and they really want some alternatives. I also figured out that some customers take pleasure in name-dropping to employees of stores that aren’t Big Names, either as a test (yes, we’ve heard of that Big Name) or to impress (yes, your Big Name watch is lovely).

I used to feel like a failure when I couldn’t produce, magician-like**, the exact white (gold) rabbit each customer wanted. Thankfully, through careful observation and a deeper understanding of the consumer, I have managed to overcome that feeling and learned to confidently represent the products and capabilities we do have. It’s a necessary skill in an on-demand world, and one I’m happy to say only improves with every Rhetorical Encounter I have.

** Okay, occasionally we’re like real magicians, coming up with brilliant plans with perfect execution for last-minute, do-or-die situations. That’s called… hard work and getting lucky.

Decked Out

Well folks, there’s no escaping it now: the calender has changed, snow has fallen, and summer’s golden tan has faded away. The holidays are here!

I always wonder what will be the surprise hit of the holidays. Rubies the color of candy apples, emeralds set in halos of gold, sapphires that rival a winter dusk and the starlike diamonds that surround them… how will people deck the halls and deck themselves out in the jewels that shine just as bright as the twinkle in old St. Nick’s eye?

I posses a somewhat unique viewpoint on the season as a whole, stemming from a very culturally mixed childhood and my own approach as an adult. Fortunately, I ended up mostly on the ho-ho-ho side of celebrating, rather than the humbug.

My family is a religious mixed bag, which has made for some fascinating dinner table conversations and not a few weddings. I was raised in a very secular household, but spent a few formative years going to temple, Sunday school, and becoming b’nai mitzvot, We always had a tree and a menorah, Purim costumes and Easter candy. In my heart. I have always known that life is better for everyone when we coexist with peace, love, fellowship, kindness, and a general will to follow the Golden Rule — everything else is just a different verse in the same song.

(Speaking of music, I am unapologetic when it comes to my devotion to the sounds of the season. My mid-2000s-era iPod carries a pretty hefty mix of both secular and sacred holiday music, and you can bet your bells it’s been set on shuffle since yesterday.)

You already know that a mention of food is inevitable around here, so I’ll spare you some of the gooey, sugary, spicy, scrumptious details of the planned goodies for now (but only for now). Baking the yummy stuff is never a chore at this time of year, as my family and co-workers (my best victims testers of all) will tell you.

Wait a second — isn’t this a jewelry blog? Don’t worry, you’re still reading the right page. I wanted to share a taste of how I approach this time of year because it forms a solid foundation for how I try to remain true to myself and my family’s happiness even as I work longer and longer hours and the stress levels rise as we inch closer to the single digits of the shopping countdown I keep on my home screen.

Holidays and retail are all but inseparable in this modern age, and we can probably agree that’s not for the better. But I choose to spread goodwill and cheer by helping the excited, nervous, happy revelers who become my clients to celebrate the special events in their lives. Every person who receives something chosen with care and love, wrapped up and shiny and so perfectly hidden until the big reveal, is a way for me to put a little sparkle back in my own life. If giving is receiving, then I have wonderful people to thank for sharing their joys with me.

Ducky Weather

Blech. Ick. Blah. How many onomatopoeic words can I find that accurately describe this week’s weather? Rain, a chill wind, and wet leaves all mix together to create general misery for anyone unfortunate enough to be outside. Even my umbrella seems to have given up — I felt a distinct lack of enthusiasm as I tried to snap it open this morning.

I once read an article written for salespeople and retail workers that cautioned against using the weather as a talking point with customers. The author claimed that discussing something as banal and commonplace as the weather was uninteresting, unoriginal, and ultimately a huge turn-off for consumers who are already overloaded with extraneous information. Why waste one more precious second of their day?

On the surface, I agree with his premise. Why bore your customer with a useless conversation that distracts them from their real purpose — hopefully, of course, buying something. (I would probably get a little annoyed if my barista attempted a full-fledged conversation about the heat index if it delayed my iced coffee for the duration of our talk.)

On the other hand, I have a feeling that author is not a resident — or even frequent visitor — to New England. Around here, the weather as a subject of conversation can lead to very serious (and interesting) revelations about your customer. We have Weather with a capital “W” that can change in an instant, and it influences everything from what we wear and how we drive to whom we vote for (really).

When working for my former Big Guys company — a purveyor of outdoor gear/clothing and very well known around here — the weather was prime material for figuring out just what a customer needed and wanted. In jewelry retail, I would argue that the weather shapes the type of jewelry we wear and sell. Short chains and chokers do well when the weather is warm enough to warrant an appropriate neckline for them, but long dangly earrings are likely to get caught in scarves and hoods. A bracelet is a beautiful accessory at any time of year, but perhaps the one with the dainty clasp should be left at home when jackets and gloves are removed all day long. And I defy anyone to sell an anklet, no matter how beautiful, in the middle of winter.**

I helped a customer select a chain for her new pendant just a few weeks ago, and one of my first questions was, “do you plan to wear this necklace with a turtleneck?” The woman paused for a moment and said, “you know, I was planning to wear it for my niece’s wedding next month with a dress I love, but I do normally wear high-neck shirts and sweaters when it’s cold out. What should I do?”

Simple solution: 16″-18″ adjustable chain. Sold!

If I hadn’t considered the weather and how a customer might dress for it, her original choice might just have ended up back in our stock. I’ve lost count of how many potential returns we’ve avoided just by asking whether the recipient has long or short hair — it matters, gents! — and showing merchandise accordingly.

It’s chilly and rainy out there today, but I have high hopes for tomorrow (music cue…).

**Okay, if that person is lucky enough to be headed for a tropical island, MAYBE they’d buy an anklet. But I still doubt it.