I was captivated by a juxtaposition the other day that still intrigues me. I was listening to the business news on the car radio as I was driving to see a friend who owns a very successful, family-owned jewelry store just outside of Atlanta.
The news story was about The Campbell Soup Company. It seems that this 149 year old company has fallen on hard times, because, of all things, canned soup sales have lately been lukewarm (hey, let’s face it, when was the last time you bought a can of soup?). So, even though this iconic American brand still occupies the center aisle of most major super-markets, it seems that consumers are gravitating to the perimeter of the store where they find fresher options with fewer preservatives and less salt.
It got me to wonder if Joseph A. Campbell’s descendants, who still control and run the company, ever saw this coming? You have to imagine that they felt pretty comfortable thinking: “We make canned soup. Everybody loves soup. We’re good. After all, we’ve been doing this for almost 150 years!” Until they weren’t.
The news story ended just as I pulled into my friend’s parking lot. I found her sitting at the end of a showcase, with a fancy pen in her hand and a box of stationary at her side (note to millennials, stationary is what my grandfather used to call ‘fancy writing paper’).
“What are you doing?” I asked as I walked in, as if I’d never seen someone hand writing a letter before.
“When it is quiet in the store, like it is today, it’s a good opportunity for me to catch up on my thank you notes,” came the reply.
“Uh-oh! Did I miss your birthday or something?”
“No, I’ve been writing thank-you notes to customers for years! The computerized nature of today’s retail business has eliminated the element of human contact. The competitive advantage I offer is the personal service, expertise and touch I can provide. You are not going to get that online. If you shop here, you’ll get my personal attention and a hand written, personalized, thank you note to reinforce that connection.”
“That’s quite a job, and a lost art!” I offered with a smile.
“Yes, retail is changing,” she continued, “and it might just take a lost art like hand written thank you notes to help us survive and to remind consumers why we are here.”
I spent a few more minutes with my old friend and headed back to the city. I was struck by how Campbell Soup had been doing the same thing for generations, and now modern tastes are making them reevaluate their core business. And, my friend, who is selling diamonds and gold as old as the earth, but also facing new competitive challenges, is using a simple time honored tradition, the thank you note, to stay relevant.
The Campbell Soup troubles also made me think about my friends who make a living selling diamonds. Many of them are third and fourth generation in businesses that go back a hundred years or more. Could any of them foresee the havoc and the double whammy that the internet and lab grown diamonds would cause on their business? Certainly many of them must of said: “My family has been doing this for years. De Beers will always have my back. People will always get engaged and have birthdays and anniversaries. What could possible go wrong?”
To stay relevant today, whether you are selling soup or jewelry, your skills must be up to date. And, whether that’s at the sales counter or the bench, The 24 Karat Club offers a variety of scholarships to members of the retail jewelry industry to attend seminars, up-grade certifications, learn a new skill, or just go back to school. Ask your favorite 24 Karat Club member to tell you about our many scholarship opportunities and to nominate you for the appropriate one. A list of our members can be found at www.The24KaratClub.org.
I received a couple of thank you notes in the mail recently for wedding gifts and birthday presents, and they made me smile. That lonely can of Campbell’s soup that has been in my cupboard probably for years well past it’s expiration date – not so much.
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.