Love in Three Countries

Berlin, Madrid, Paris.

Three unique cities in very different countries, each borrowing a border and crossing a few spice palates but somehow remaining totally distinct.

I admit that I had originally anticipated feeling more out of place at a foreign trade show, but after the first day everything felt familiar (except, y’know, in Spanish). It was wonderful to interact with more members of the international community, and while Europe certainly faces many of the same issues we see here at home, they do so from a rather different perspective.

The brief exposure I had to Berlin leads me to believe that innovation will come there, fast and hard, but that the culture will struggle to embrace it. Germany has an austere, rougher style of living that felt difficult to penetrate. I will need more time and thought to sort out my feelings about this place.

Madrid was a classic dichotomy of old and new: the under-35 crowd spoke English, dressed with an international flair, ate and drank merrily, and seems to embrace the new waves of technology and openness that are becoming the hallmarks of that generation. Their older counterparts have elected to remain single-language speakers, and as a group tended to distrust the progressive and ignore the innovative. This made for some interesting conversations about jewelry and 3D printing, let me tell you!

I was in Paris for pleasure and not for work, but even as a consumer I’m never really off the clock. My husband and I were both pleasantly surprised by our preferential treatment — wonderful and attentive service, friendly conversation, pleasant bi-lingual interactions — and utterly sickened by the blatant racism displayed toward members of minority groups.

Travel serves to inspire and educate, and I felt the impact of both on this little adventure. The international jewelry community (and larger luxury group) is in desperate need of some unification in order to strengthen the message that we are a cultural and economic force for positive change. We can have such a profound influence on the future of our environment, and by definition our massive reach across so many cultures and countries should mean that we can collectively shun the isolationist policies that are howling at the door to civilization.

This may all sound heavy-handed, but it’s hard not to wax eloquent after such a broadening experience. I certainly consumed my share of German Rieslings, Spanish Cavas, and French Champagnes (all of which I’m happy to chat about, should you ever be interested) but the important takeaways from this trip will remain long after the last taste of chocolate and bubbles have faded.



Yes, I think some visceral awareness of the calendar changing over to fall still lingers in me, triggering a kind of atavistic reaction born of decades (centuries?) of educational clockwork.

I vividly recall the first August I spent completely outside of the school system, neither student nor teacher for the first time. I couldn’t sleep, had trouble concentrating, and was snappish and stressed… for absolutely no reason. My mother was the one to finally solve the problem, pointing out that I had been anticipating the start of the school year for the overwhelming majority of my life at that point.

For a few precious years I was able to lose most of that embarrassingly painful reaction, blissfully unconcerned, only noticing the season change by falling leaves and early evening chill.

But now, it comes again.

I’m not heading back to school full time, or taking up teaching again. Instead, I’m heading off to Europe on a multi-week journey that will land me on a total of 5 flights and 3 major cities (not including layovers and day trips) and only one country in which I’ll be able to converse somewhat fluently.

Berlin. Madrid. Paris. I’m coming for you!

The first two cities are specifically work-related, which makes them doubly exciting. Our EU HQ is in Berlin, and I’ll be visiting very briefly to train my sales counterparts in the finer points of selling to the jewelry industry.

That will be followed by a tradeshow adventure in Madrid — my first international show! — to train a Spanish reseller on… the finer points of selling to the jewelry industry.

The remaining portion of my time abroad is to be spent avec mon mari, wining and dining and reveling in a city I have dreamed about living in visiting for my entire life.

To say that this is an incredible opportunity would be an understatement, but that doesn’t remove the tiny bit of anticipation I’m feeling as I make my packing lists and take care of all the pre-travel details. It’s the old butterflies-in-the-stomach, fingers crossed I picked a cute outfit, ohmygodwhereismypencilcase feeling rearing its obnoxious head.

I can safely say that facing down this beast as a confident and capable adult is making it much easier. But I’m open to any advice my more experienced readers might care to offer, and I don’t just mean the reminder to buy and pack a converter that works in all 3 countries (check!). How did you manage your first solo travels abroad, and what did you do to make a great first impression? What should I bring with me or leave at home? Did you survive on a single carry-on and laptop bag, as I intend to do?

Feature photo courtesy of mon père, who will certainly remind me to take my own version when I get there!

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!