How about 2008? That wasn't a lot of fun was it? In my three decades in this industry, that was probably the hardest year I've seen... period.
I was recently asked to speak by the Minnesota/North Dakota Jewelers Association. I had several topics in mind before the economy melted and discussing that took up most of my allotted time. This was something I had planned to talk about and have decided to do it here instead. So, if you missed me in Minneapolis, here's what I meant to say....
What is it we all have, we all pay for, and we all hope to never use? No, I'm not talking about insurance. I'm talking about your holdup button. But, are you really getting what you pay for?
When you had your alarm system installed it would have been crazy not to add a silent holdup alarm button. The basics are simple. You push the button and about a minute later the police show up locked and loaded and ready for business. But, is that what will really happen?
Everyone in America is constantly bombarded with ads for $9.95 a month alarm monitoring. Sign a three year contract and the equipment and installation are free with a $29.95 a month monitoring agreement. Let us take over your monitoring and we'll pay you $50. I've seen a million of them. So beyond the equipment in your store and the monthly fee, have you ever given it another thought? Let's look a little closer at the monitoring industry.
Everyone in business knows that to grow you've got to sell to more customers. In the alarm business that means selling more monitoring contracts. If you own an alarm company this means the more people you can get to sign monitoring contracts the faster you can get rich and live happily ever after. The company that is monitoring your alarm system is probably trying to sell more contracts right now to grow their business. But it's what goes on behind the scenes that scares me.
Just because a company is selling more contracts and expanding their business doesn't mean they are hiring additional personnel behind the scenes to monitor those contracts. Have you ever asked your alarm company how many operators are on duty at any given time? Have you ever asked their company policy about the ratio of operators on duty to the number of systems being monitored? Have you ever wondered how those companies can sell alarm monitoring for $9.95 a month? Simple. Don't increase the operators, just increase the number of contracts. If the company needs employees they usually hire salespeople, not operators.
Have you ever thought about what would happen if you had to push your panic button... really thought about it? With a lot of alarm companies, just because you pushed your panic button doesn't mean the monitoring station is going to respond immediately. It's possible that you could be tenth or more in line before an operator finally gets to your emergency. Pretty scary, huh? So what are you going to do about it then?
For as long as I can remember I've been using something called Level One monitoring (L1). All United States nuclear facilities and federal treasuries have L1. Here's the basics. L1 is regulated by the federal government about how they do business. There is a federally mandated ratio of systems being monitored to operators on duty. All companies selling L1 know the exact point where, when they sell the next contract, that they have to add another operator, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
To be rated L1 you must be UL-Listed for Protective Signaling Services (i.e. Fire Alarm Systems) and UL-Listed for Defense Industrial Security. These are the certifications which tell them how much redundant equipment they must have, what type of back up generators are used, how often they are tested, and how much fuel they have on site.
There must be two redundant tandem central stations operating in separate states, with both having the ability to handle everything if the other suffers a catastrophic failure from a natural disaster, explosion or fire. They would need to call in additional staff to maintain their operator ratio, but there would be zero down time. If one failed, the other is already on line and receiving signals. The equipment would automatically sense a failure and begin processing all of station one's signals at station two.
Another advantage of L1 is the monitoring station itself. The monitoring facilities are a secure facility in and of themselves with armed guards 24/7 and the locations are a closely guarded secret. I'd tell you where mine is, but I don't know. The only thing I do know is it's a long way away in another state... or maybe not. So, how does this apply to you?
Let's say someone wanted to rob your store in the middle of the night. You've got a sticker on your front door proudly displaying the name of your alarm company. If someone really wanted to get in your store and spend a few hours, all they'd have to do is take over the alarm company which is probably listed in the phone book. What if they sent someone dressed as a pizza delivery person over to the alarm company, with a convincing story about a wrong address, and take over the station for a couple of hours. Who's gonna call the police to report your alarm going off? No one... that's who.
With L1 monitoring you have just spread a robbery attempt over several states which lessens the likelihood of an attempt like the one described above. If a robbery attempt such as the one discussed above was to be attempted it would probably fail. I don't think the fake pizza guy is going to be able to talk his way into an armed, secure facility, that monitors the nations nukes, and take it over.
Because of this, I know for a fact that if I ever need to ‘push the button,' the response will be exactly the response I expect and demand. And as far as cost, it's not really any more expensive than most commercial alarm contracts. You just have to know what to ask for. Call your alarm company and ask them their company policy on the ratio of operators on duty and the number of systems being monitored. You need to ask these questions now because if you have to push the button for real, you need to know that someone is coming and someone is coming NOW!
Now, speaking of the panic button, here's a new technological development that should be fully up and running in my store by the time you're reading this. I've been fortunate in my career to never have needed to push the button, or ever really been in a situation where I almost pushed it but didn't. It's got to be a scary thing debating in your mind whether to push it or not. You know something's wrong, but is it wrong enough to push the button and activate the system and have a dozen police cars cordon off the street in front of your store and come in with guns drawn only to find out you were wrong? Well, that's not the case anymore. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you the "Suspicion Alert" system. This is sooo cool.
The suspicion alert was originally developed for the convenience store industry. If it's the middle of a hot July day and three people come in a convenience store wearing long coats, the clerk instantly knows something is terribly wrong with this picture. But since a crime has not been committed, pushing the holdup button is not really an option yet, but in about 30 seconds that's probably gonna change. This is exactly the scenario that the suspicion alert was made for. The clerk, sensing danger, discreetly pushes the button sending a message to the L1 monitoring station that the hair on the back of her neck is standing straight up and she needs some help - NOW! Here's what happens at a local convenience store in my area when the Suspicion Alert button is activated:
BEEP BEEP BEEP comes loudly over the store speaker system:
"This is store security calling in for your weekly security check. Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't check to see if you had customers first. I'll wait until the three gentlemen have finished their business then we'll get started with your weekly system check. Oh, by the way, Go Titans. They're going to go all the way to the Superbowl this year don't you think? I'll just wait here till you're finished ma'am."
What just happened was all of the cameras, speakers, microphones in the store were activated and are being viewed by one or more operators at a L1 facility hundreds of miles away. The operators follow a script that the company wrote pretending to be calling for a standard security check, and actually told the clerk how many customers they were seeing in the store. Then made a statement about something specific - one of the suspicious persons was wearing, in this case, a Titans hat. The operators have made it crystal clear to the clerk that they are watching everything and the bad guys are now fully aware they are being watched, but don't suspect the clerk had anything to do with it. Just bad timing. And damnit if that stupid beeping sound didn't make all three of them look directly into the camera. Sweet!
So now what do you think the bad guys are going to do? They haven't committed a crime yet, and probably won't because they know they are on camera being watched. So they are going to leave without incident and the clerk is safe. All of this without involving the police and all that follows from activating your panic button. Had the incident escalated the monitoring station would be sending live video feeds to the SWAT command truck who could look right into your building. Pretty cool, huh?
While you're asking your alarm company about their operator ratio, ask about this too. I'm excited to have it installed. If your store is in the middle Tennessee/Southern Kentucky area, the company that does my security is Provident Security Services, 615-736-5981.
Now as for the jewelry business, it's okay to sell all of the jewelry you have in stock this Christmas...we can make more.
Have a great holiday everyone and remember you can order a copy of my book "It's Supposed to be Funny" which is a compilation of every column I've written to date at www.Lulu.com. Just type my last name in the search box. Let's go get 'em in 2009!
Earlier this year I wrote an article about the relationship between retail stores and trade shops. I got quite a bit of feedback from both sides of the equation and decided that right before Christmas would be a good time to revisit the topic.
As a retail store owner with a bench jeweler on premises (me), I know how fortunate I am. But, as the owner of a trade shop as well, I find that jewelry stores fit into two categories: 1.) I’ve never had a bench jeweler on premises and have always used trade shops. 2.) I’ve had a bench jeweler on premises for 30 years but once she retired I haven’t been able to find a replacement so I am forced to use a trade shop.
Let me tell you, there is a huge difference between a trade shop and an ‘on-premises shop’ that only does their own store’s work. If you have a jeweler on your premises, you make the decisions about how much non-revenue producing work you want your jeweler to do on each job. I talk to a lot of bench jewelers that tell me their store’s policy is every ring is to be ‘refinished as new’ after every repair. I think that’s a great policy, but...if you put ‘refinish as new’ on an envelope and send it to a trade shop you’re gonna get charged for the original repair and around $18 for the additional finish out.
If a store has never had a jeweler, then they don’t expect the trade shop to spend an extra 30 minutes on something they’re not paying for. An $8 sizing is just that, an $8 sizing with a quick thorough cleaning and polishing. Not an $8 sizing (6 minutes tops) plus 30 free, un-billed minutes to just touch up some other stuff while it’s in the shop. Stores that have never had a jeweler know that if they want any additional work done, all they have to do is write it on the ticket and it’ll get done... just with an added charge $$$.
Trade shop jewelers also have the burden of remembering what level of service each individual store wants and expects. Case in point: Fifteen years ago I had a Bailey Banks and Biddle account (before the corporate price list and contract era) that was one of the highest grossing stores in the chain. The manager and I had an agreement that if something needed to be done to a ring they sold, just do it and charge her for it. Don’t call her and discuss it. At the very same time I had an account where the owner would ask me the cost of a repair. If I said $9.00, he’d tell me to only do $6 worth of work and stop. (Little did he know I would stop after $5 worth of work and bill him $6 anyway... Hah!) But all trade shops have accounts on both ends of the spectrum that we’re juggling daily.
Now store owners and managers fall into two mindsets when it comes to the shop: 1.) You think of your shop as an asset to your business. 2.) You think of your shop as a liability that sucks away at your life, your livelihood, your profit, and your soul.
I work with both types, but mostly I work with the stores that think of the shop as a profit center and an asset. Because these stores are charging their customers triple key for the work, they usually have a pretty good idea how much their bill is going to be when they send the work out, because they priced it to the customer based on their cost. But, the #2 group is alive and well out there. This group doesn’t add a mark-up to their trade bill. They do it at-cost as a customer service and usually guess at the price. This group is always shocked and surprised every time they get their bill. Anyone that uses a trade shop knows those bills can add up in a hurry. Okay, that’s the retail stores. How about the trade shop jewelers?
Trade shop jewelers fall into any combination of these categories (usually changing several times over the course of a day): Busy, harried, rushed, pissed, irritated, hung over, weird, cranky, finicky, anti-social, extremely talented, extreme self control, extreme lack of self control, and downright friggin’ awesome. And that’s all before lunch.
Store owners and managers on the other hand are: Confident, always in control, smart, goal oriented, social, engaging, driven, team players, counselors, confidants and well dressed.
So now I ask you... how in the hell did we ever meet in the first place? We have nothing in common. We don’t like the same people. We don’t hang out at the same places. Hell, we don’t even like each other. What’s the attraction? Oh yeah... we need each other.
I write this for one reason. As the ‘in-store jeweler’ becomes harder to find (Joe Cassarino quit hogging those 6 bench jewelers for yourself up there in Rochester, NY), more and more stores are being forced to use trade shops. And, more often than not, that trade shop will be in another state. I’ve never met the bulk of my trade accounts face to face, but we manage to get the work done to everyone’s satisfaction somehow, so it does work.
If you have a trade shop in your area that picks up and delivers to your store, I want you to think about this. The number one complaint I hear from bench jewelers that do trade work is the rising cost of fuel that they have to absorb driving all the way to your store to pick up a sterling silver bracelet that needs one charm soldered on. Now if it’s for a birthday present this weekend and you really do need it, that’s one thing. If the customer was just in the area and dropped it off and said no hurry, then call your jeweler and tell him to not come by today. It used to just be a hit on your billable hours driving all over town doing deliveries. Now with $4 a gallon gas, all the trade shops out there are taking a beating. Throw an extra $20 in the plate for gas once in a while.
With Christmas right around the corner, I’ve posted on my website my article from last Christmas about my shop policy for Christmas orders and repairs. Please take a look. You’d be doing your shop, your jeweler, and yourself a favor by reading it and thinking about implementing those policies in your store over the Christmas season. You can read it at www.CMKCompany.com. Good luck... sell a bunch... and try to have fun in these crazy times.
Oh yeah, I was just kidding. We really do like you retail folks. We just can’t let the other bench jewelers know cause they’ll make fun of us.
The driver gets out of the car wearing a 20 year old shirt with a 19 year old food stain on it, and he was looking right at me kinda funny. Maybe he thought I was goofier looking than him with my optivisor, my store phone, my cell phone, my pager, my blue tooth, my 7 pairs of tweezers, my 6 pens and 2 pencils all clipped to my ears or my apron. Wait... maybe I was goofier looking than him?