THE FUTURE SUCCESS of the jewelry industry calls for empowering more female leaders and connecting with the women who wear our products. As executive director of the Women’s Jewelry Association, the premier empowerment organization for women in the jewelry and watch industries over the past three decades, I see women striving for opportunities to lead each day.

Next month, the Women’s Jewelry Association is launching the March is Me Month campaign, a consumer-marketing initiative developed by over 30 women executives in the industry to empower female consumers to self-purchase. Women designing for women and women marketing to women makes sense. We are bringing together retailers, manufacturers and brands across many segments of our industry to participate in an industry-wide self-purchase campaign.

At its core, the Women’s Jewelry Association’s mission is to grow and cultivate women leaders. We believe education is the most powerful tool to boost confidence and professional success, and we have robust programming that caters to our members’ needs coast to coast. In 2020, we will launch a new strategic plan focused on building a pipeline of diverse talent, enabling more women to become successful in business and continuing our strong mentorship program. We also offer training to our chapter leaders on how to run effective boards and provide members the opportunity to take ownership of complex projects.

Our members are present and future leaders. Some members are already tasked with making critical decisions in their professional lives that affect hundreds, if not thousands, of employees, suppliers, miners, manufacturers and consumers. Other members are students and recent graduates preparing to embark on their careers in jewelry design, gemology and retail. Still others are trying to maintain a work-life balance while managing high-performing teams inside corporate companies and brands. The industry needs to continue cultivating a culture of opportunity and inclusion for women.

The Women’s Jewelry Association is proud to welcome both men and women into its membership. We embrace our male members because connecting with them means we are building stronger bonds and business relationships. Working toward equality in the workplace in our industry is no small feat. It cannot be done without the mentorship and advocacy of our male colleagues. We need to continue harnessing their support so that we can level the field when it comes to more women in the boardroom, more money in our paychecks, and greater access to capital to grow our businesses.

There’s still much to be done, but the Women’s Jewelry Association is excited to work with our sponsors, our partners and other associations in 2020 to continue advancing women and creating more opportunities for them to lead and succeed.

Deb Schulman says once she and her husband, Ron, decided to retire, she could feel “the stress start to leave.” The owners of B. Alsohns Jewelers in Palm Desert, California, the Schulmans had heard about Wilkerson over the years and contacted them when the time was right. Wilkerson provided the personalized service, experience and manpower it took to organize their GOB sale. “We are so impressed with the way Wilkerson performed for us,” says Ron Schulman, “I’d send high accolades to anyone who was interested.”

TWENTY YEARS AGO, as I was in the process of building out my second store, I remember my plumber saying: “I see what you are fixin’ to do here — you want people to relax, so’s you can get at their wallet.”

Thankfully, my introduction to the jewelry industry started at a small store during my college years in Gainesville, FL, called The Quarry. It was located in a charming old cottage. I would have to describe it as upscale-hippie with a low-key vibe, the kind of place where you just wanted to hang out, which the owners were kind enough to let me do. Interestingly, I was never monetarily compensated, nor did I ever set out to be a jeweler, but this little store evidently had a big impact on what I would do.

After that, however, every store that I was employed in felt stiff and uncomfortable. These were not environments I enjoyed, much less places I would want to spend most of my waking hours. I wanted a store that not only suited my sensibilities, but one that made all feel welcome. Somehow, I wanted my store to communicate my dedication when it comes to execution.  Let’s face it, in this industry, the devil is in the details.

I remember how excited I was when I won INSTORE’s first America’s Coolest Stores Award in 2002. But I also got to thinking, the magazine was pretty thin with hardly any advertising. I was kind of afraid that it would go the way of so many publications and leave me with a meaningless award. That was certainly not the case, as INSTORE became the powerhouse of the industry and the award quite highly regarded. I like to say that having a “Cool Store” is something you can never take away from me.

There are evidently many takes on what makes a “Cool Store” cool. Cool stores exude an ambience that makes it obvious that the customer’s experience is of key importance. The one thing they all seem to have in common is the ability to represent to the customer that this is not going to be just a typical retail transaction. A store does not have to be lavish; however, it should be able to demonstrate a commitment to your standards.

At the end of the day (pun intended), nobody spends more time in my store than I do, and I love it here. However, it is always very gratifying to me when someone comments on the vibe my store emanates. It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to be able to serve my time here. How lucky am I?  Imagine, having a job where you just want to go hang out.

LET’S TALK ABOUT the basics. Pure and simple, that means providing kind customer service while keeping your ego in check when it threatens to walk all over your common sense.

How do you react when a customer expects you to just drop everything to fix her costume pendant that she bought somewhere else when you have a store full of bonafide customers who want real jewelry? Every one of those customers will notice how you treat the simplest of us. You must learn that you are on a stage of sorts — so smile, be patient, be kind, be genuine and, if not, at least fake it ‘til you make it through the day.

People come to us with misinformation, stupid requests, etc., but they come to us, the professionals of the industry. Each of you holds a place of power. I often preach that we have to be sensitive to what it is like to approach us. How do you feel when you aren’t waited on promptly and recognized, but rather talked over or ignored? Or worse, pounced on the moment you enter the door? Now imagine a recent widow, divorcee or survivor coming into your store and not being waited on promptly or even recognized, but instead ignored. It’s intimidating.

Translate that thought into your greeting protocol. Your customers should be greeted inside the door within 15 seconds of arrival. Have your staff close their eyes and count 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, until 15 one thousand. It’s a long time, isn’t it? Are you greeting them promptly and in an engaging manner? If not, why not? Are you practicing active listening and asking open-ended questions?

People stop buying when you stop selling! Are you doing add-on sales? Are you requesting return visits for jewelry check-ups, positive reviews or recommendations to friends?

Of course my favorite topic for ABC sales is The Yes Train. You wanted white gold, yes. You wanted a halo with vintage accents, yes. You wanted a size 6 with euro shank, yes. You were looking for larger diamonds in the shoulders and some sparkles in the gallery, big smile, yes. This will make a sensational ring all of your friends will envy, yes. Let’s get your deposit taken care of so I can get started on this beauty right away! That active listening “yes” train is headed straight to the bank.

You must build confidence, inspire cooperation and invite rapport with each customer, every time. Check your ego at the door, Fancy Jewelry Store Owner. How you treat customers, how you respond to challenges, how you handle a serious crisis is reflected in how you treat your employees and how they will treat your customers.

What will you change tomorrow and the next day? Because it is a process to become an owner (meaning manager, goldsmith, appraiser, bookkeeper, psychiatrist, repairman, event manager, cupid and of course, housekeeper).

IT STARTED WITH beads and a spool of fishing line. I had always been creative and loved anything artistic, but nothing grabbed my attention quite like jewelry.

Beading in my bedroom on the weekends quickly led to jewelry-fabrication classes in high school, and by the time I graduated a hobby had turned into a passion and a dream of a life-long career.

In college, I majored in retail merchandising, but knew I wanted to keep my focus on jewelry. I became connected with my local Art Guild, and when I wasn’t in class I was in the studio taking every jewelry fabrication class I could get my hands on. In 2007, I began working at Kevin Kelly Jewelers, a local family-operated jewelry store. There they taught me the basics of repair work, custom work and selling. I was a sponge and wanted to learn everything they were willing to teach me.

Upon graduating college in 2009, I knew I wanted to keep going and to learn more, and found myself asking “What next?”

I quickly discovered GIA and started on my Graduate Gemology degree. By the beginning of 2010 I started working at Jones Bros. Jewelers part-time changing watch batteries and cleaning jewelry. Again, I said yes to anything they were willing to teach me. Now, fast forward nine years later, and I’m a full-time sales associate with a million dollars sold in 2018.

Selling full-time was not necessarily something I thought I’d ever do, but I quickly fell in love with the personal connections I was able to make with clients. Once I started, selling a million dollars in a year became a professional and personal goal. A goal that I added to my other goals that I never forgot about and slowly kept working toward.

With the help of GIA’s Distance Education Program, I was able to continue taking classes while working, and travel to Wisconsin for lab courses. And I’ll admit I put it on the back burner for a while, but creating my own jewelry line was something I’d dreamt about for years, and so I made sure to never lose sight of the initial driving force for my passion for this industry.

Year after year I came close, but never quite hit that million dollar mark. By 2018 I wasn’t ready to give up, but knew it was time to broaden my focus.

I dove headfirst into the rest of my Graduate Gemology training, became a brand ambassador for Tacori, and finally created Emerald May, my own jewelry line. I traveled more than ever before – Wisconsin for labs, Vegas for trade shows, and California for Tacori and had my hands in more and more projects.

Ironically, with my focus on other things I had wanted for so long, my sales continued to grow, and by the end of 2018 I was one class away from becoming a Graduate Gemologist, my own line was officially started with several pieces sold, and I had reached my goal of selling a million dollars in a year.

It’s a surreal feeling to look back on everything that’s happened over the years to get to where I am now. Something that started as a hobby has turned into a career, a career that drives me to do better every day. The million dollars became so much more than a sales goal. It was something to strive for, something to push me, and once achieved served as a symbol that with enough determination and pursuit anything is possible. It’s given me the courage to keep pursuing other goals and dreams I’ve set for myself.

Looking back on all of the hard work, education, and incredible amount of support I know that dreams don’t always have to stay dreams, they truly can become your reality.

So if you’ve taken the time to read this, I hope above anything else you feel inspired. It doesn’t matter if your dreams or aspirations are the same. It’s about finding that thing that drives you day after day that leaves you wanting more. It’s about pushing yourself to go after the things you’ve always dreamed of. It’s about starting somewhere, anywhere, and never giving up or losing sight of what you want and what you’ve worked so hard for. Start at the bottom if you must, just start.

Be open to every opportunity thrown your way, because you never know where that may lead you. I could have said no to selling because it wasn’t something I thought I’d want to do, but years later it’s become one of my absolute favorite things to do. You never know where something may lead, so take it all in, learn as much as you can, and never lose sight of your dreams – they could be your reality someday.

Bracelets Bangles

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