Traveling sales reps: if you want to sell the jeweler, you better “woo” the jeweler’s wife
Reprinted from July 1993
When you meet her on the street, you may not immediately notice the distinguishing features that set her apart from other women.
But if you look closely you will notice that she is wearing two watches, one on each wrist. Or maybe it’s a man’s wristwatch with a band that is awkward on her dainty wrist. That should give you a clue that the lady is married to one of those fascinating men – a watchmaker.
The unusual taste in watches is just a reflection of one of her many chores. She is simply checking out a “troublemaker” watch under normal wearing conditions. This and many other such duties may seem menial to many, but don’t you believe for a minute that she isn’t a very important cog in this machinery called the watchmaker trade!
Many a retail jewelry store in this country is operated by the husband jeweler/watchmaker and his wife. So far as we know, statistics are not available, but one could venture to guess that outside the metropolitan areas, at least 75% of the independent jewelry stores in small to medium sized towns and cities are owned and operated by husband-wife teams.
Haven’t you often noticed the pictures in jewelry trade magazines taken at markets and conventions with captions that read, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith inspect merchandise shown by the So-and-So Manufacturing Company at the Fall Jewelry Show”? Apparently, the husband jeweler is accompanied by his spouse on many a buying trip – and chances are Mrs. Jeweler is along for more reasons than just to be Mr. Jeweler’s chaperone.
More and more evidence points to the fact that a wife makes as many decisions on buying merchandise as does her husband, perhaps even more. Actually, both will probably have something to say about the merchandise that the store will gather
Now this fact gives food for thought:
Here is a woman who may not have any formal training in the technical lines of the trade, yet she is interwoven herself into the business to such a degree that her jeweler husband depends on her judgment and respects her opinion.
In their independent jewelry store operation, she will probably act as combination buyer and merchandising expert. She will most likely keep the books, handle the cash register, and in general do anything to allow her watchmaker/jeweler husband to spend his time practicing his profession, which is, after all, the more profitable side of the business.
Depending on her devotion, she may work long hours at a thankless job, polishing cases, fitting crystals, ordering parts and supplies, etc. (At first, she won’t know a stem from a ratchet wheel, but in time she will learn all of this – the hard way.)
I don’t know how other ladies got into this fringe area of the trade, but my own experience was strictly happenstance. I had a nice, soft job at a bank, and my husband repaired watches. Everything was just wonderful – except his help failed to show up time and time again. Sometimes they simply quit, just when they were “broken in” to the job and had started to earn their salaries. At any rate, once during a particularly difficult period when our store was understaffed and my husband was over worked, I quit my nice soft job at the bank to help him out. Just a temporary situation, you understand. I didn’t mind too much because after all, it was to be for just a little while.
I don’t even remember how many years ago that was.
My story is probably similar to that of many, many other watchmaker/jeweler wives. One day they went to work to help out, and they just stayed on. Perhaps they gave up a profitable career of their own. I am sure that the customer gives all the credit to the jeweler for the lovely selection of merchandise which his wife ordered, or perhaps he gets the credit for a satisfactory repair job to which she contributed “small things” like cleaning or racing to the supply house for needed parts.
She doesn’t mind, however, and she is proud that she is able to help her husband enhance his reputation in a difficult vocation. After all, she knows that her efforts make his life a little easier and the business a little better for the both of them.
Women are more important in the jewelry business than many would think. I once read a story about two business executives who wanted to sew up a sale late in the afternoon when businesses were beginning to close for the day. They met the elderly lady secretary just as she was about to leave the building, and they had no way to reach the key man expect except through her and she was under no obligation to help them find the boss since it was after hours.
One man got tough with her, threatening to use his influence to have her fired, etc., etc., but to no avail. She was ready to leave for the day. The other man, however, recognized the secretary’s important role in making or breaking the sale. By being considerate, he easily enlisted her cooperation in locating the executive, and the sale was saved – all because of this little woman whom the first man had judged to be insignificant.
I have used this analogy to make a point: no matter how insignificant a person may seem, sales reps calling on an independent watchmaker/jeweler should realize that the individual they brush off may play an important role in decision making. The salesperson who breezes past the jeweler’s wife is likely to lose himself a sale, so if I were the rep, I’d woo the wife before approaching the husband, because believe me, if she is sold, she will sell the jeweler. You should also remember that in the average independent jewelry store, it is often not possible to show the line to both the husband and the wife at the same time because while one is viewing merchandise, the other is tending the store.
Nevertheless, no matter how much the wife works around the store, or how many important decisions she makes, whom do you think the Simple Simon sales rep calls out for upon entering the store? You guessed it. It’s Mr. Jeweler himself that Simple Simon must talk with. He may come in the store a dozen times and still never realize that some husband-wife teams actually split the ordering. The wife may handle the rings and bands while the husband may order watches and loose goods.
Once a top-notch sales representative of a very reputable company called at our store. He presented himself at the counter and said, “I’m Joe Blow. I’d like to see Mr. Williams,”
I heard the counter girl explain, “Mr. Williams is not here right now, but Mrs. Williams can see you.”
I started to get up when I heard him flatly say,” My business is with Mister Williams.”
So I sat back down. He went on to explain that he would only be in town for the day and that it was very important for him to reach Mr. Williams.
So the girl told him where Mister Williams could be located, and he departed – lugging those huge, heavy cases with him. I understand that he finally located my husband and succeeded in showing him the line, after which my husband informed him: “My wife handles all the orders on this type of merchandise. You’ll have to contact her.”
I’d have given a nickel to have seen the look on that salesman’s face. That afternoon, he was back again, straining under the weight of all those heavy cases, and he asked for me. He looked a little sheepish and inquired, “Why didn’t you tell me you handled orders on this type of merchandise?”
I tried to look as innocent as I knew how and replied, “Well, you didn’t ask the counter girl that. All I heard you say was that you had to see Mister Williams.”
As a happy ending, though, you should know that the fellow finally did get the order. Anyone with so much drive and ambition surely deserves to get ahead. Too bad he didn’t have some finesse to go with his drive.
While this fellow made the mistake of assuming that only one person – the husband – placed all the orders, an equally ignorant blunder is to assume the jeweler’s wife is a “counter girl.” Worse yet is to assume the counter girl is the jeweler’s wife.
Any way you look at it, the jeweler’s wife is a pretty important person. She may not draw a regular salary, nor will she be considered “self-employed,” but don’t be naïve enough to think that she has nothing to say about the business.
The hand that rocks the cradle also signs many an order – and checks – in the independent jewelry store business!