Saying no is quite easy once you get the hang of it. As front of the house staff, your job is to make the customers happy, and see to it that their ‘customer experience’ is impeccable. As bench jewelers, our job is to make the front of the house look good. But there is much work still to be done here.
As bench jewelers, we often find ourselves being asked to do the impossible, with the most unrepairable pieces imaginable. Do we like it? No. Do we understand that it’s just a part of the job? Yes, of course. But, the front of the house needs to better understand our dilemma.
Bench jewelers, by nature, are not the friendly face of the company. We’re the people that work in the back room and enjoy zero interactions with other humans. What can I say, we’re weird. Bench jewelers just don’t have the where-with-all to express that someone up front made a mistake by even taking it in for repair. We just look at it, shake our head in disgust, and do the best that we can. That’s when the trouble starts.
When something goes wrong with that repair (that should have never been taken in), the front of the house is never the problem, it’s always the shop. But, it’s the folks out front that then have to have ‘that conversation’ with the customer who thinks we ruined their precious bauble. But please don’t blame us. That precious bauble was already on life support when it came in. My go-to conversation, when a customer brings in a nightmare piece, goes something like; “This piece has lived a full life. It’s now time to retire it to your jewelry box. That way you can think happy thoughts every time you see it going forward.”
I have bench jewelers call me constantly about this situation. If it appears that I won’t take in, or work on, ‘economically unfeasible’ repairs, that appearance is incorrect. I will take it in, and I will work on it, with one caveat. My customer and I have already come to an agreement about what they actually have. We also come to an agreement about what I’m actually able to do with the piece that they are trying to have repaired, and what the likely outcome will be. The expectations, high or low (especially low), need to be understood, and agreed to before any work can go forward.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Don’t do it or you’ll be married to it.” Hell, I get divorced dozens of times a year. Well, maybe it’s not divorced, since that would actually require me to get married to that piece of jewelry first. It’s probably more like I break off an engagement a couple of dozen times a year.
In a nutshell, don’t pretend that the ring that someone’s momma bought with the Home Shopping Flex-pay (it’s better than layaway because it can start falling apart earlier) is anything other than a cheap, disposable, piece of garbage. Make sure you get solidly locked in the ‘friendzone’ when taking in these pieces for any type of service or repair. I can count on my fingers the number of times this year alone I’ve said, “We may have to use epoxy to repair this.”
Having owned a trade shop since 1984, I’ve very seldom lost time or money on quality pieces. But, since Home Shopping Network started in 1985, and QVC a year later, bench jewelers have been watching these pieces fall apart, in real time, for over 30 years.
I once had a new trade account that always sent me the dirtiest, nastiest, grossest pieces of jewelry, and they were all junk. I couldn’t even give an estimate until they had been boiled in lye for 2 days just to see what he sent. I asked him once to throw the pieces in his cleaner before he sent them to me to save me some time. He said; “If I do that, and a bunch of stones fall out in my cleaner, I have to pay for you to reset them. If they fall out in YOUR cleaner, you have to reset them for free.”
Oh, and did you notice that I said, I once had a new account, and not, I currently have this one account. Every bench jeweler has had this happen to them countless numbers of times. If every store put their repairs in the ultrasonic for 2 hours before sending them out, you’d understand what I’m talking about.
Every bench jeweler has also had that one person in their life that looks at their work under a microscope when the repair is finished. In all my years, I’ve never known that person to look at the piece under a microscope before they sent it out for repair.
When sending pieces out for repair, there is an inherent understanding about what you’re asking your shop to do, and what you are expecting them to charge you for that specific repair. If there is an expectation that a shop is going to charge $25 for a simple repair, don’t expect a $225 overhaul to show up on your doorstep a week later – for $25.
If you notice the prongs need to be retipped when it comes back from sizing, then they needed to be retipped before you sent it out for sizing. It was just overlooked because the person that took it in didn’t scrutinize it beforehand like they did when it came back from repair. So what’s the answer? Beats me. If anyone actually knows the answer, please tell us all what it is.
About two years ago, I was asked to speak at the Missouri Jewelers Association annual conference. As usual, the conference was split into two halves. At check-in, the front of the house went to the right, and the back of the house went to the left after getting your name badge. Everyone that went left got me, and everyone that went right got Kate Peterson. On the final day, Kate and the association president came up to me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a dual presentation with Kate and I in the same room, at the same time, with all of the attendees in the same room? What? That’s crazy talk! That’s never been done before.
It turned out to be one of the most informative seminars that I’ve ever been a part of. It was the first time I’ve been able to get the front of the house, and the back of the house, in the same room, to discuss the daily struggles and problems associated with all of our various tasks and roles we each have to play. I wish every conference would do that same thing to close out the final presentation of the weekend. I can assure you that most people don’t really understand the pressures associated with the job duties of other employees in other roles, even though everyone works under the same roof.
But, even with the trials and tribulations associated with doing what we do, it beats having a real job any day of the week. Oh look, it’s time for me to catch my flight to Jekyll Island, Georgia to speak at the Georgia Jewelers Association.