I don’t often eat fast food, but when I do, I prefer McDonald’s. So, after a couple of hours on I-95, when I saw a sign for a MickieD’s at the next exit, I figured, why not? It must have been a long time since I’ve eaten under the golden arches, because I barely recognized the place. Yes, the usual signs were there for the order-by-number selections, but behind the counter, there were no order-takers/cashiers! Just a row of computer terminals for you to enter your order and pay!
So, I keyed in my order on the touch screen, swiped my card, picked up my food at the end of the counter, and sat down to enjoy my #1. As I was “dining”, the manager walked by and I asked if he could join me for a moment. After explaining my surprise at the customer-order-entry system, he gave me a quick education in labor economics.
“My labor costs run about 40% of sales,” he began. “And, if a $15 minimum wage becomes effective, it will go up even higher! We don’t have much room to raise prices or reduce other expenses, so to remain profitable, we need to reduce labor costs by eliminating positions. The counter staff was the first to go. And, once we automate more of the kitchen, we’ll be able to eliminate even more staff.”
I thanked the manager for his insight, finished my not so happy anymore meal, and headed back to the car. Across the lot I saw a DSW, the discount shoe store. I needed a new pair of shoes for an up-coming event, and headed over.
DSW has an interesting business model: They don’t have sales help. Basically, a sample of the shoe is on the top of the shelf, and if you like it, you rummage through the shelves to see if they have it in your size. I was looking for a dressy brown loafer, and not finding it, or anyone to help me, I went over to the cashier to see if someone could assist me.
“Yeah, we don’t do that here,” was her reply. Not finding what I wanted, I was at least hopeful to find a manager to get some explanation of this unique sales technique. I couldn’t find one, I guess they are saving money on managers, too.
Jewelry stores, thankfully, are different. Because of the unique nature of jewelry, the high price, the need to differentiate between similar looking pieces, you would think jewelry retailers will always need sales professionals behind the counter. But don’t get too comfortable just yet.
Jewelry retailers have been good about accepting new technology like CounterSketch and CAD/CAM. And, while it’s not likely that technology will be replacing jewelry salespeople any time soon, it may lead you to wonder if perhaps someday you too could be dispensable.
So, how do you make yourself irreplaceable? The best way may be to have an ever increasing set of skills that are valuable to your employer and customers. Already a pro at CounterSketch and CAD/CAM? Then how about your merchandising skills, employee management skills, or graphic arts ability? Add some of these talents to your resume every year and you’ll be harder and harder to replace as time goes by.
To help defray the costs of acquiring the skills that will truly make you irreplaceable, The 24 Karat Club offers a variety of scholarships for just this purpose. If you or someone you know would benefit from a 24 Karat Club scholarship, ask your favorite 24 Karat Club member to consider nominating you for the appropriate scholarship. You can find a list of 24 Karat Club members at www.the24KaratClub.org. Funds are limited, and the process is very competitive, but if you qualify and are awarded a scholarship, it just might make you irreplaceable.
If the jewelry business is to become the last great bastion of customer service, then its going to take well-trained, multi-talented professional sales people to do it. I hope you take this opportunity to become irreplaceable, as I never want to see the day when a jewelry customer has to key in on a terminal, “I’ll have the number two!”
Howard Kelrick is President of Finger Mate and a board member of The 24 Karat Club, SEUS. Finger Mate manufactures and installs expandable ring shanks and sells to retail jewelers throughout North America. Contact Howard at 954-458-2700 or e-mail Howard@FingerMate.com.