Reprinted from May 1998
For some years before RB died, he used to read the paper or some magazine and sigh, “Martha, I’ve lived too long,” not wanting to believe what he was reading. I realized last month when I read an article in another jewelry related publication that I had come to the place RB had been several years ago. Reading that article and realizing it was set forth as the way to do business made me sigh that I must have lived too long.
The article which was partially written by a former GIA instructor dealt with shopping your competitor. I don’t know anything about the co-writer, but knew she has spent the better part of her life not struggling in an independent jewelry store, but working as an educator. As an educator, she was brilliant. I have attended her classes and lectures in the past and she is an outstanding instructor. Somewhere along the line I recall someone said to RB, “Those who can do. Those who can’t teach.” I have thought about this from time to time.
This article instructs a jeweler to pay a visit during business hours to his competitor and rate the following things: compare merchandise selection, the quality, environment, service, selling skills, knowledge and policies. You are supposed to ask about layaway, credit, gift-wrapping, etc. Then you are supposed to take this information back to your store and use it to compete with the store you’ve shopped.
Those of you reading this article will forgive me if I seem a bit thick, doesn’t this constitute theft? If you visit a store and used an employee’s time and expertise, if that employee could be dusting figurines or waiting on a bona fide customer doesn’t this get in the way of that jeweler making an honest living?
What is it the many seminars, conclaves, classes and conventions are supposed to accomplish? Aren’t these supposed to be places where jewelers go to interact and visit with other jewelers who are successful and willing to share their information with one another?
I am quoting from this article, “Yes, shopping your competition is touchy. Some jewelers who read this article will say, ‘How dare you?’ The fact is, we wouldn’t need the process if all of us were willing to share information openly with our competitors on a regular basis. Certainly we’d all benefit from more openness. But most jewelers find such sharing even more objectionable than ‘secret’ shopping.’”
You will forgive my naivety, but how would any sensible jeweler react? Here is some poor fellow who has gone to the gem show, the jewelry show, attended a conclave to learn this or that and he is just going to say “How dare you?” I don’t think so. I would bet on adjectives which could not be printed in this column. Are we living in a world were theft of knowledge is acceptable? What about ethics? Is this a world that is still in our modern dictionaries? Could anyone possibly say this practice of “secret shopping” is ethical?
Perhaps this article wouldn’t hit so hard if I had not been repeatedly shopped. One who shops me pays someone to do market surveys. The name popped up in a two week time period so often it maxed out my caller ID. When I challenged the fellow about this, he told me it was his job to do research for this other jeweler on me and others here in town and his way of doing this was to call repeatedly asking questions posing as a customer.
I thought about this and decided I might check with the Ethics Committee of an organization I belong to, but decided against it as this jeweler is a big wheel on the ethics committee so they must deem this practice fine and dandy.
Another jeweler here has verbally told me they shop me. With so much attention for such a little store, perhaps I should feel flattered, but I only feel resentful. At my age, I have to come to work ill many times as any of you in your own business have done. To think a publication on jewelry and the industry in general thinks this business of calling and bothering your competitor to pick his brain or steal ideas is not only accepted, it is considered a necessary part of doing business.
The truth is most people in business and life are dragging a cross with them. Perhaps you cannot see the cross. Perhaps it is illness or the illness of a family member, financial trouble, drug abuse in the family, etc. This means they already have a strike against them when they come into work.
In the case of the independent jeweler, he already has two strikes having to deal with QVC sales, discount sales and competitors. Now we are being told by the largest jewelry publication it is not only okay, but necessary to do this in this day and age.
RB used to say, “Don’t worry about the competition. Take care of your own store and business.” I wish others would heed this advice. I guess it is a form of flattery to be thought of as competition. In all fairness, I would say from time to time I’ve driven by to look at the outside of a new business or one that has been remodeled. This is a far cry from posing as buyers in order to ‘steal’ the competition’s ideas.
There is one more thing they do not have and cannot steal. It is your good name and reputation in the community. No matter how much these thieves try and imitate you, they are not you. The good idea which went over for you will likely fall short with them.
I get the feeling if this was done in Silicon Valley, they’d be calling it espionage.