Thursday, January 27, 2022

The cost of indecision



Most of my loyal readers know that I’m primarily a goldsmith, but I am also an entrepreneur and also run a gift and clothing boutique on the island with my wife and there is no more joyful experience than dealing with the public.

Please don’t misunderstand the slight sarcasm. I have worked with the public from the tender age of fourteen in my home town pumping gas, checking the oil and tire pressure, and cleaning the windshield in the dead of winter (when there were full service gas stations!) I also worked two days a week learning the jewelry trade with my two uncles. This involved sweeping floors and cleaning showcases, while also learning at the bench and watching and absorbing my uncle’s sales technique as he stood behind the showcase.  Sales which could involve anything from a $5 silver chain to a $25,000 diamond (a lot of money in the late ‘60s!)

His sales approach was simple—no high pressure or hype. He’d just find out exactly what the customer wanted, educate the customer on choices and costs, and deliver the best quality diamonds and craftsmanship they could afford, and he never forgot personal service before, during and after the sale. These values and techniques are the way I learned to do business. Service the customer! And even today many people compliment me on my rapport and patience with customers.

Is it just me, or do people have a hard time making a decision about anything lately? Hey, I know women have the prerogative to change their minds and I experience it first hand on a daily basis!

At the age of twenty-five I had to make the decision to continue working for my uncle and possibly inherit his business or leave the big city and do my own thing and most likely fail miserably. Most might say stick with a sure thing.

So in late ‘79 I took the big leap, invested all the money I had in the world and built a beautiful jewelry shop in Marblehead, Massachusetts. A quaint high income per capita sailing town—how could I lose? The first year was tough. The next year, the world went crazy and the price of gold went berserk to $850.00 an ounce. Business was not only tough, it was non-existent, there were days when not a soul entered my establishment. I was told more millionaires live in Marblehead than anywhere in the state; I had yet to meet one! In my first year in business there I received more than thirty bounced checks!

I learned that in that town there were more people who wished, acted or pretended they had money than the folks who actually were rich.

Kind of reminds me of a certain island community in the Gulf of Mexico. Any sales I made that year would keep me from sinking or swimming. Sure, I could close the business, take a loss, crawl back to the city, and work for my uncle.  But I was young, cocky, proud and stubborn.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, one sunny Saturday afternoon, in walks Mrs. Emery, a very sweet retired lady who loved fine jewelry. She purchased a very expensive diamond bracelet that she was ecstatic over and paid me by check. Finally, a nice sale! I thanked her and she left.

The first thing Monday morning, in walks Mrs. Emery. She had decided not to keep the bracelet and, if I hadn’t deposited the check yet, she would take it back. “Fine,” I said. Sure, I was disappointed, but that’s the way it goes in biz.

You make a sale, you lose a sale, thank you Mrs. Emery, and enjoy the day!

Not two weeks go by and in walks Mrs. Emery. It’s Saturday afternoon, another large purchase by check—this time, an exquisite necklace—and, guess what? Another early Monday morning return! Now, my Momma didn’t raise any dummies, and I figured out this geriatric hustler’s game.

She figures she can wear my nice jewels for weekend parties, get attention and compliments, return the jewels first thing Monday, get the check and play this young store owner indefinitely. What does she think this is? “Rent a bauble” and for her it’s for free!

Weeks later, same scenario, only this time Mrs. E picked out a fabulous pair of diamond stud earrings to the tune of $4,200 bucks.

Guess who shows up Monday morning? I had a special surprise in store for Mrs. E: In the middle of her indecisive excuse for not keeping them, I explained there was a little Massachusetts state statute prohibiting the return of pierced jewelry which happens to includes earrings. There was no way I was going to give her check back! The color drained from her face and she started shaking and lamenting about what her husband will do to her for such a purchase. (He was oblivious to all this?) I excused myself to wait on a “paying customer” and let her twitch on the hook for a while. And then my conscience got the better of me. She wasn’t handling the shock too well! I made her a deal. While it was against the law for her to return the earrings, I could remove the diamonds, give her cubic zirconias instead, and refund her all but two hundred dollars of her money. That was it. Take it or leave it. She reluctantly agreed and that was the last I saw of Mrs. E.

Today on Marco I have a fabulous clientele, and fortunately I’m doing much better than I did in Marblehead. And I do not have to resort to clandestine sales warfare with little old ladies.

Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith, the owner of The Harbor Goldsmith and Richard’s Reef on Marco island and welcomes your questions about all that glitters.239.394.9275 or

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