Transforming the Jewelry Industry for the 21st Century
Welcome to my Jewelry Industry blog. This is the place for all of our industry comrades to come forth with questions, with new ideas and plans for our future. All of your constructive comments are welcome.
I reserve the right however, to edit, or delete any comment post that I find objectionable, spam-like or just inappropriate.
OK, one of my long standing customers called and asked me to come show her new merchandise face to face instead of over V-By technology. Recognizing that she had (thankfully) purchased jewelry from me using V-By for three years, I decided once again to hit the road by myself and offer a face to face, hands on jewelry sales experience.
And, after having traveled with the rep on the east coast without much success, I wanted the chance to see what I could do by myself. Was the road really that different? And there started plans for my trip to New Mexico. I was a bit worried about carrying two bags and began by consolidating my merchandise into only one. My concern was having both hands compromised while pulling the bags in and out of the trunk and the stores. New Mexico is known for a fair amount of security issues with gangs kidnapping reps and stealing their lines (I know a guy that was thrown into a van with his line by four guys in ski masks. He was only carrying shanks of pearls!) and it felt safer to have one hand free for emergencies, should they arise. Looking back on the trip, one bag might have been heavy, but was a wise call from both a physical standpoint as well as piece of mind. Knowing that it only works to make calls one week in advance, I started by making my plane reservations and tentative hotel schedule. Then one week before take off, the "smiling& dialing" (making phone calls) began. The A call list consisted of the customers I used to visit and then those unknown JBT, decently rated stores I felt could pay their bill if they decided to purchase. Because I do have decent phone skills, their reception was warm, but not too promising. And, after speaking directly to 15-20 store buyers in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, I was able to confirm only 2 appointments with stores I had sold in the past. Before freaking out, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that this was how it always went. So I wasn't too worried...after all I had done this for 20+ years. I knew that things would start cooking once I hit the ground. When scheduling appointments I try to fill from the beginning of the week. I find that it builds a momentum for the rest of the week. So my 2 scheduled appointments were Monday and Tuesday mornings. After each appointment I asked to leave the line (which makes the stores feel like you're not selling every where in town.) That gave me a breather from the line as well as making room to walk around and check out the changes in the town, its current foot traffic and other possible stores to sell.
I want to mention that I have always been careful not to over sell a city just for the initial business. Repping is all about the relationships you build with your clients. My initial conversation over the phone always includes a comment like "I'm looking for a home for this line." or "I'm about long term relationships, not one time sales." If you over sell a market, your reputation can get tarnished and cause your relationships to eventually shrink and disappear. After first being discouraged about doing much business at all, I was able to place non competing merchandise in five different stores (2 standing customers and three new ones) with the possibility of a new sixth for holiday! This trip was successful for several reasons. (First and foremost I had no security issues, phew!) I also went into it with a positive attitude, good product, a logical strategy and used good phone skills in advance. Even though Willy Loman is dead...a good old fashioned road trip can still be alive!
I used to be a traveling road rep selling merchandise door to door through out the 11 western states for many years. Three years ago, due to cost and danger, I transferred my business from the road onto my computer screen.
Last week I was given the opportunity to revisit that “road” experience. I went for a 3 day ride alongside one of the few veteran road reps still turning the key in his ignition to make a buck. He picked me up in his work car and was ready to visit 15-20 stores in a 3 hour driving radius.
His back seat was stocked with everything you would need to stay alive for 5 days after the apocalypse (let alone a sales road trip!): Bottled water, an ice chest filled with snacks, well ironed shirts, sales brochures and small plastic bottles of red wine for day's end at the local Comfort Inn.
It only took a minute for me to fall back in the mindset needed when carrying valuable merchandise. Remember to watch behind you at all times! We both know several road warriors who’d been held up, stabbed, tied and shot doing just what we planned to do; Drive door to door showing & selling merchandise to retail stores.
The first thing I noticed was that some technology had changed. He wasn't using a paper map but instead OnStar technology. Every time he wanted to drive to a store he’d phone a live service who would feed directions to his car’s GPS system. That service costs him $365/year. I suppose if you didn't have a set route of stores to visit regularly, this system would be of use. But, once familiar with the territory, it may not be necessary… and would cut one of the many costs he incurs.
Most everything else about his traveling business was the same as mine had been for more than 20 years. He had his obsolete red book (with store names and old credit ratings), his telephone & his company’s lists of current and past customers to call.
The biggest problem I found with this particular rep’s MO is that he wouldn't use the phone to call before dropping in on a potential client. More often than not, the drop-ins we did created zero sales…And I'm not sure they were great relationship builders either. Personally, I have always felt that walking in unannounced is both ineffective and a bit rude (not to mention a waste of my time & money!) When I was on the road I found that owners/buyers liked that I called first. That way I wasn't saying “Stop what you’re doing because I've arrived.” When I questioned his “drop in” methods, he said “I don’t call ahead because they always say they won’t see me.” There it is, the reason he won’t get on the phone first is because he was never taught successful phone etiquette!
Again, in my opinion, it is no longer possible for a road rep to drive and stop without making money. When I was out on the road, my sales had to make me a living! Every drop of gas I burned, every dollar I spent on hotel and food had to more than cover my sales. As an independent sales rep, I no longer had the luxury of driving around and visiting stores who didn't buy from me. My customers did look forward to my calls. Partly because they made money with my merchandise and partly because they liked me. Both important elements to the repping life. And, it wasn't just one phone call that made the difference. Over time, I trained my stores/customers to expect my call and make an appointment (most of the time any way), review the merchandise and then write an order. It took time to develop this understanding, but that was my job!
While riding shotgun with my traveling rep, I began to make those very calls and did find some buyers receptive. He even commented on my phone skills. It took several years to make those calls effective! I told him that every call I make had a strategy connected to it. I had a plan of action (POA) each time I picked up the phone. I call it "smiling & dialing." (To learn more about cold calls refer to my earlier post at: http://www.jewelersfastforward.com/2013/08/do-i-still-have-to-make-cold-calls.html ) In my opinion, it does make a difference! Over those three days, there were a couple of important lessons learned. 1) Planning in advance can be the difference between wasting gas and making money. 2) Sometimes you do need to show the merchandise on more than one occasion to build the relationship and make the sale.
I'm noticing that it doesn't matter what business you're in, there are always going to life occurrences that will interfere. Sometimes those things are simple and can be handled simultaneously with your business and then there are those whoppers that halt all business no matter what. Recently I had one of those whoppers fall squarely into my lap. My mother, age 85, was diagnosed with brain cancer (after contracting lung cancer last spring.) I knew that I was going to spend as much time with her as I could til the day she died. I needed and wanted to do that. Therefore, my business took a back seat and I'm so glad it did. It was the right choice for me. My Mom took facing her end with an open and peaceful mind. Thankfully she was not in any pain up until the day she passed. She was so clear about what was happening that her view gave me a new respect about facing my own demise. During the very private times I got to spend with my Mom, I came to appreciate the process of moving on from this life. And what ever was going on in my business just didn't hold a candle to that realization. All I really want to say is that relationships are what makes up our lives. Remember that and take advantage of every moment you have with those important to you. They really are all we've got. Take the break from work to see what's going on around you. We never know what time we have left... I love you Mom...
95% of my work experience has been as an entrepreneur working for myself. So far this year, not including my V-By business, I've contracted with one company and am in conversation with 3 others to do a variety of jobs. My work has never come from the traditional method of job searching with a resume. But something feels different to me this year. Like there are more possibilities. So, I've decided to do something different and hired a professional resume writer! Julie Walraven is a Certified Professional Resume Writer at Design Resumes, http://designresumes.com/. She was referred by reliable sources and after speaking to her the first time, I knew that I wanted Julie to assist in the writing of my resume. Since hiring Julie, we have spent several appointments working together over video conferencing technology tweaking what is now a ready to print resume.
It was an eye opener to see how much my additional skills with technology added to my resume. The past 6 years spent reading, learning and experimenting with whatever technology offered has given me a leg up on information and how to move with the pace of its growth. These new skill sets and the fact that I am a "mature" woman places me in an unusual category. So, I've got to admit that this new approach (for me :) of putting out a resume has got me excited at the possibilities ahead. Once again, opening those new opportunities for myself trumps staying in one place!
OK, the year is coming to an end (again!) and it's time to begin gathering information so we can review what happened. Not always an easy or comfortable task. But, if we want next year to be better, we have to know what happened this year. Starting with the numbers...
My brother-in-law who manages a sales team says (besides the fact that the numbers don't lie) "If you can stay detached from the numbers and just look at them they'll give you a whole lot of good information. Like what's working and what isn't."
When you do examine the numbers, there can actually be some relief in knowing them and the truth they tell. Like how are you going to know if you're ahead or behind last year? Where was the growth? Where wasn't there growth and what stayed the same? What changed and why? What made parts of your business grow and others not so much? Was is due to the inventory selection, the staff or the economy? All of these questions and their numbers need to be asked and answered in order to make a plan for 2014.
I tell you what. You do your analyzing and I'll do mine. I'll meet you back here early next year and we'll compare!
Have a healthy New Year!
As a progressive thinker, I created V-By, an online method that provides a buyer direct access to a seller (the expert) along with showing detailed merchandise "live & in HD!" (SKYPE on steroids!) Its purpose is to make appointments between buyer and seller comfortable, convenient and safe. You set the time to meet from any devise!
The writing is on the wall... It's time to change how we do what we do. It's time to reinvent ourselves. If you look deep enough aren't you able to envision that change? Don't you want to? It might be hard to face and even uncomfortable all alone, but if we do it as a united force within the jewelry industry I believe it can be done. One step at a time. Remember, you invented yourself once...You can do it again. After all, "Aren't you still that diamond in the rough."