An Original Idea

While I have worked in the jewelry industry since 2000, my college degree is actually in Marketing with an emphasis in Consumer Behavior and Psychology. Having that type of background has often helped with jewelry store marketing and especially the concept of how to price merchandise at our store in Crystal Lake, Illinois. However, my education has often made it difficult to accomplish one specific concept at Nelson’s Jewelry… coming up with a completely original idea.

An Original Idea? Never.

To clarify, it is not that everything I ever suggest for marketing at Nelson’s I copied from someone else. Really, it is just that my education has taught me to doubt that any original ideas are actually left in the World. Stop for a second and think about one of your favorite commercials. Maybe go back to last year’s Super Bowl commercials, because really who am I kidding, no one watches regular commercials anymore, and try to remember what your favorite was from that collection of inventive thoughts. By far, my favorite was the Doritos commercial with the little boy. Remember, he talks to his mom’s date for the first time, watches him check her out as she leaves the room and then proceeds to slap him across the face just as he is about to eat one of his Doritos.

“One, keep your hands off my mama. Two, keep your hands off my Doritos.”

Now maybe that was totally an original idea from Doritos. Maybe no one else has ever had a little kid tell an adult to not lay a finger on one of his favorite food products. Or maybe this commercial never really aired during the Super Bowl in 1994.

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure it did.

So, are there really any original ideas left? Part of me hopes so, because otherwise more of my friends in the marketing industry will soon be looking for employment, but part of me is just fine taking an idea and putting my own “original” spin on it like Doritos did last year. For example, I know I did not invent the Thank You card. However, how many people have you sent a thank you note to simply because Martha Stewart told you it was the proper thing to do? Or, how many thank you notes have you received that you were genuinely surprised someone sent you in the first place? Unfortunately, I think too many of the first kind have been sent and not enough of the latter have been received.

In 2011, my first idea of an original nature is to thank my customers for shopping during 2010 with an actual handwritten note of thanks. Seems like a simple concept, but how many of us in retail have forgotten that a little gesture like a handwritten note should mean a lot more to a customer than a huge Cash for Gold billboard? It feels like an awful lot of us retail guys are taking the email way out and I don’t know about you, but I am feeling like the last thing that says “thanks” is an email Constant Contact personalized just for you and 1,000 of your most intimate business friends.

This year, I am not going to copy that ideological trend. Instead, I am originating the thank you note of the future, a simple and genuine handwritten thanks. I will be sure to let you know how my idea works out and, just in case you were wondering, you are more than welcome to copy.

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Musical Memory Lane

Wander down memory lane and I know you will find that music follows. Think about it for a second and you will quickly understand what I mean. Sure you can relate a time in your life to a school subject, like my senior year reminds me of writing.  Or I might relate an everyday item, like a newspaper, to a workplace memory of designing an advertisement at the Kenosha News at 2:00AM. But in reality, life is painted with the stroke of a musical brush, and memories, they are burned into song lyrics like tattooed body art brands the skin.

If you are thirty-two years old or younger, you have a memory of this song. It is guaranteed. You either had your first kiss, discovered your first love, had your first high school or junior high dance or teared up alone in your room dreaming about these lyrics.

I promise you did.

How powerful is music that with one YouTube video I can bring you back twelve years (seriously it was 1998) and you instantly remember a moment in your life-like it happened last Saturday? Name anything else with that type of memorable capability and I promise a song probably helped you think of that idea.

Got engaged or recently get married? What song plays in your mind to help you remember the moment? Watched your team win a Super Bowl? Think about the replays of those games and what song is playing in the background. Does it make it feel like this was yesterday instead of TWENTY-FIVE years ago?

Seriously, music is the best history book available.

Working in jewelry, I am a part of a lot of people’s memories. Really there are few professional that are more involved in the big moments in life than jewelers. We get to help guys make a huge life-changing engaging decision. We get to help couples pick out symbolic bands that they will cherish the rest of their lives. If you are a good husband, we are probably a small part of most of your historical anniversary and birthday gifts. Yet, I would find it odd if every time you replayed a special moment, you visualized me helping you at the microscope while we looked at 1-carat diamonds.

In fact if I am anything but a small part of your engagement memory, you need to turn your radio up a little louder driving home from the jewelry store. I appreciate the thought, but trust me the microscope-viewing is not the highlight of that engagement ring presentation.

Music tracks events like a lyrical archive of life. For example, like most, I love concerts. Especially concerts with artists like Ben Folds.

Real musicians.

Of course the concert is a narrative memory by itself, but what I have found is the music stays with you long after the ticket stub is machine washed and tumble-dried. Why is it that I have a hard time remembering the first ten United States Presidents, but I can remember every lyric to Ice, Ice Baby? Is Vanilla Ice really more influential than Abraham Lincoln? (Lincoln was actually our 16th President, but you get the idea) Also, you are totally welcome to stop singing now, we all know “Ice is back with [his] brand new invention.”

So my question is what does your history sound like? Mine is a variety of the musical beats and totally corny love songs, but the best part is these songs are what help me remember what my life was like at a certain age better than any other memento. Check out these  moments in my life and let me know what musical history you cherish and how it helps you remember the worst and best parts of life.

The early days:

College at its finest:

True Love:

If you need a laugh:

Loyalty Equals Success for Any Organization

Recently one of the employees at Nelson’s Jewelry, the jewelry store I manage in Crystal Lake, Illinois, celebrated her 40th anniversary working for the Nelson’s. The entire staff celebrated with her, including the current owners, who bought the store from their parents about 30 years ago.  As we celebrated this amazing accomplishment, I realized that it really is rare that anyone would work 40 years at one business. Truth is, it is becoming increasing more rare to even have a business last 40 years, and especially in our luxury market, it takes a special business model to remain successful in 2010.

However, more than anything, this event reminded me of how important the idea of loyalty is to the success of an organization. Growing up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, my father and I lived for the Milwaukee Brewers and especially players like Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and Jim Gantner.

Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Jim Gantner

Three of my favorite Brewers

I remember going to County Stadium with my Dad and cheering for Brew Crew like I was actually a member of the team. While Yount was the player I most respected, as he started as an eighteen year old shortstop and eventually won multiple MVP awards, and Gantner was one of my favorite players because he played my position, second base, Molitor was truly the player I admired. Yount, Molitor and Gantner played 15 years together in Milwaukee and I believe they defined the Brewers during my elementary school days and were the main reason the organization had so much success in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

I was such a Molitor fan that I even stuck with him when he left the Brewers in 1992 as a free agent and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. I was so excited when he was the World Series MVP with Toronto, but the funny thing was that my Dad was disappointed. My father always believed if Molitor had remained loyal and stayed in Milwaukee, the team might have had one last shot at a World Series title in 1992 or 1993 before Yount and Gantner retired. He felt like Molitor betrayed the Brewer “family” and he could not bring himself to cheer for him anymore. The same player that my Dad believe in so much that he took me to multiple games in 1987 because he believed we were part of Molitor’s good luck during is his 39 game hitting streak was now just another player in my Dad’s eyes and would never be as important to him again.

That is the thing with loyalty. For someone like the woman I work with at Nelson’s, she believed in the business enough to remain loyal. She has a lot of customers who would only shop with her at our store and a lot of people who purchase our Match-A-Pearl necklace because she helped design the program. She has earned her customer’s trust and for that the business is fortune. It is also why the shortest time a current employee has worked at the jewelry store is three years, as in our business, loyalty is rewarded with customer support and employer benefits. One of the key ingredients to our organization’s success is that we have loyal employees who in return maintain a loyal customer base.

I really think loyalty is often overlooked as a key to a successful future.  Think Lebron James and his saga leaving Cleveland to take his talent to South Beach. While I cannot measure the actual success or failure of this decision directly, as the NBA season is still a few weeks away, I do believe the perception of this decision is one that James has damaged his reputation. As we all are very aware, reputation is very important to succeed in any business. Much like my father felt when Molitor left the Brewers in the early 1990’s, if you abandon your support system, you run the risk of having no one left to help you if you fail.

So, thank you Britt, for working for a company long enough to remind me that remaining loyal to an organization, a business, a sports team, or even a friend has more value than just a dollar sign on a pay check.

The Friendship Business

Hung out with a friend recently who, after successfully graduating from a private college with a degree in education, found himself still searching for a job after the school year started. Thankfully he was diligent enough to pursue available job openings and recently landed a position in a high school nearby.

What I found really interesting during our “beerly” celebration of his new job was that a connection to a principal at another high school in the district paved the way for my friend to get hired. With all his education, classroom experience and qualifications, it was a recommendation from a friend that stood out the most to his employer.

I do understand this concept, since I remember when I started at Nelson’s Jewelry it was hard to break in with the core customers who were used to working with one of the owners, Bob, Rich or Sue Nelson. It seemed that even if I was the expert in the service the customer required, he always wanted to wait for Bob to tell him I was the best person at the jewelry store for this job. After working to get to know a lot of these customers, I finally started to build a rapport, or friendship, with a few of them and thankfully that translated to more people asking for me when they came in the store.

Now that I have worked at Nelson’s Jewelry and lived in Crystal Lake for over six years, I have made a lot of outside friendships that have led to additional business at the store. Sometimes I think in our business we take these friendships for granted and it took my friend’s story over a beer to remind me that my business is also built around customers who enjoy shopping with me because they trust my opinion and judgment when it comes to buying jewelry. Even more telling, his story reminded me that their recommendations pave the way for new business with people who already trust me before we have even met in person.

I like to think of a new person deciding on a jeweler like a high school recruit deciding on what college to attend.  He could select the high profile school, Tiffany’s, and impress everyone with his choice even if he will eat Ramen noodles for the next four years just to afford his brand name school. He could select the state school that many of his high school friends go to, Jared’s, and end up with the same four year experience and education that a state school with get a guy his age. Or he could select his father’s Alma-mater, the family owned-jeweler, and trust that his school experience will be unique and his future bright.

I think in many cases, a family recommendation will lead that recruit to a school that he will be very happy with, just like an endorsement from a friend will lead you to a jeweler who you know you can trust to find you that perfect diamond engagement ring, sapphire pendant, or even a Citizen Eco-Drive watch.

How it works

Citizen Eco-Drive

I hope to continue in the friendship business for a long time and look forward to connecting with all my jewelry friends again soon, because if there is anything I have learned, it is that those customers are the best building blocks to my future in the jewelry industry.

Fantasy football fun

‘Tis the season to study your rankings, make your list and check it twice, and pray you have been a good little boy all year and that Jolly Old Man brings draft day dreams, or Chris Johnson. That’s right, it’s fantasy football season, or for me, Christmas, and guys everywhere are prepping for a season of fantasy fun.

Now one might wonder how I could possibly compare a fantasy sport to the holiday of the year? Well Christmas at Nelson’s Jewelry is the one season when I see all my favorite customers. By comparison, my fantasy football draft is the one time of year when I see a bunch of my buddies at a bar without the distraction of our wives and kids. It is one of the few times of the year where you can just hang out with the guys and talk sports.

Fantasy football also takes preparation like no other fantasy sport. Maybe it is because there are only 17 weeks in a football season, but it seems like every time you select a running back from Detroit in the fourth round, you feel like your fantasy fate may hang on the cleats of a guy with zero NFL experience and team with a combined 2 wins in their list 30 games. (On a side note, seriously, how bad are the Detroit Lions? Following up an 0-16 season with a 2-14 debacle is like sleeping through a collegiate test, begging your professor to let you make it up, and then getting a 7 on it anyway. I mean really should the Lions play in the NFL or CFL?) The draft is like advertising we do at the jewelry store during the fourth quarter. We question whether to go with the standard newspaper advertising we have done for the last ten years, or the Peyton Manning of retail advertising, or whether to branch out and try the much more risky, but less expensive internet advertising, the Joe Flacco marketing, during the holiday season.

So now the question is how is fantasy football not like retail Christmas? From the hours spent scheduling employees to the hours spent scouring the waiver wire for that number three wide receiver with Miles Austin skills, I feel like I am celebrating Christmas in August when I draft my fantasy football squad.

Now if I could just rely on Santa to bring me the perfect running back AND the perfect diamond engagement ring shopper, my life would be a lot like Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, maybe not that sweet.

Saying Goodbye to a Favorite

In early August, with a .246 batting average, 12 home runs and 52 runs batted in, I believe the Chicago Cubs Derrek Lee is probably playing in his last 47 games wearing Cubbie Blue.  Lee has almost always been my favorite Cub, as growing up in Wisconsin, I am a converted Lovable Loser since 2003.

I own his t-shirt jersey, a gift from my friend Adam after I “accidentally” wore a red Cubs t-shirt to a Cubs game that, well really, we just drank at together, and always believed that Lee represented consistency in an organization that is anything but consistent.

 

Cubbie Blues

Cubbie Blues

 

That is why it is so hard to admit that I think it is right for Lee to play in another uniform next season. I know it is hard for someone to say goodbye to a favorite. Whether it be a favorite t-shirt that finally ends in rags, a favorite sports figure lost to the number on his birth certificate, or at Nelson’s Jewelry a favorite sapphire ring too worn to repair, one of the hardest things we face in life is letting go of a sentimental favorite. Still, investing in a favorite when you will not get results is like spending $200 on a Keurig single cup coffee maker for a family that drinks a pot a day, really it is just too costly an investment for the results you need on a regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand sentimental love for a favorite and realize that saying goodbye can be harder than Tiger Woods leaving a single’s bar alone, but I believe you should think of your favorite as a specific moment in time. For example, in October 2003, my friend Chris and I attended one of the most memorable Cubs games of my generation.  We were five outs away, drinking Old Style from a paper cup and ready to celebrate a trip to the Series, when Florida baseball gave us a dose of what it is like to cheer for the Cubs. While drinking literally one section from the Moise Alou incident as we prefer to remember it, and then a few batters later soberly watching Derrek Lee slam a double off the wall to chase my favorite Cub at the time, Mark Prior, from the game, I remember thinking “don’t worry about it Prior, we will get the Marlins tomorrow with Woody going and you will get your ring.” Unfortunately, like an Alex S Gonzalez botched double play, the Cubs blew an easy one and the Florida Marlins went on to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

True to form, I continued to back my favorite Cub until some time in 2006 when I realized that his scapular loading throwing days were over.  Looking back now, I hung on to my first t-shirt jersey favorite for way too long and believe when I finally moved on to Lee and his mostly consistent ways it taught me a valuable lesson in selecting favorites; never be afraid to shed a tear and move on, because as Thomas Fuller said, “we are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed.” I don’t really know who this Fuller character was, but to me it is pretty obvious that even in the 1660’s he was planning on growing up a Cubs fan. Poor guy. Poor Cubs fans. Sure glad we switched to the Rays!

 

Chicago Cubs

 

When your favorite fails – Switch!

My friends and I talk sports almost every day. Most of our time is spent discussing our favorite Chicago sports teams; the Cubs, the Bears and this year especially the Blackhawks and the Bulls.

In 2010 we have enjoyed the taste of a championship with the  Hawks winning the Stanley Cup. We also discussed LeBron James and his chance to play in the House that Jordan built. But as everyone who lives on Planet Earth is aware, LBJ took his talents in a whole different direction. With the Bears, we of course talked about Mike Martz and his crazy offense and what it will mean to our QB Cutler and ultimately success for Chicago in 2010.

Still, since it is August and baseball is the hot topic of the summer, we have spent most of our time suffering through debates about our lowly Chicago Cubs. Whether it is the horrible methodology Jim Hendry used to painfully destroyed our beloved team, or just wincing at another whiff by Fukudome, the Cubs have brought more negative comments from my friends than a bar full of married women watching a Tiger Woods press conference.

So after another pitiful discussion involving Big Z and the anger management we need for dealing with him as fans, my friends and I decided to do something I recommend at the jewelry store all the time – switch teams.

One might now ask how I recommend switching teams at the jewelry store, and I like to think of the analogy that buying jewelry is like signing up for a monthly Bally gym membership. If you have ever tried to leave Bally’s for any reason after signing up, you know what I am talking about. It is like the sole mission of those membership people to keep you as a client even if you have not been to the gym in five years, moved to a city that does not have a Bally Total Fitness location for 40 miles and no longer drive a car. They still want your $19.95 a month and make it very difficult to terminate that contract. With jewelry, once you find a place you think you can trust, you very rarely purchase another piece from someone else. While I obviously love that customer loyalty if I am the jeweler who sold you your initial purchase, it doesn’t always work out for me if I have to swing your thinking later. However, just like the epic battle with Bally Gym Fitness Coach, if you are pleasant and ask nicely, customer’s will usually reward you in the end.

By the way, switching teams was the easiest sports question we have ever discussed. First, we put down some ground rules: The team could not be in the National League to avoid the push-pull of cheering against the Cubs. Also, the team needed to be in competition for a playoff berth. Finally the American League team we selected had to have at least one likable player and zero players that everyone loathed. Since A Rod kills the Yankees, and we are very anti-Boston thanks to the Tom Brady and the Patriots, the AL East was left with the Tampa Bay Rays. Absolutely opposed to south side Chicago baseball and unable to select the Detroit Tigers because of Miguel Cabrera and our certainty that he will soon be linked to steroids, the Minnesota Twins were left to represent the AL Central. Finally, with the Texas Rangers simply running away with the AL West, we decided that selecting a new favorite team would have to come from either the Rays, the Twins or the Rangers.

While new ownership in Texas sounds appealing, especially with Nolan Ryan in the mix, and their head coach survived a positive cocaine test and lived to coach after it, none of my friends love anyone on that roster enough to make a competitive argument for selecting the Rangers.

Surprisingly, I deal with this reasoning process all the time when showing diamonds at Nelson’s Jewelry, as many times we will have three Southern African Diamond brand diamond that all have similar characteristics, but for some reason one of the diamonds just does not have the same sparkle as the other two.  It does not mean it is not a beautiful diamond, it just does not “feel” like the right choice, so you must move on to the other options.

The Twins and Rays are very comparable. Twins have a young superstar in Joe Mauer and Rays have an equally solid option in Evan Longoria. Both teams compete the right way, using a mix of solid starters, good bull pen work and defense to win games. Both teams have a young core of hitters and potential to be solid for next five years and both farm systems have developed MLB quality players over the last ten years. If the two teams were 1-carat diamonds, I would be really happy to sell either of the options to a customer knowing “Yes, I will marry you!” was coming shortly after she opened that little blue box. In other words, picking between the Twins and Rays for our new favorite American League baseball team was a lot like picking between Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jennifer Aniston for your favorite Jennifer. I mean seriously, how can you mess that up?

Democracy finalized our decision, as the vote was 3-1 in favor of the Longoria-led Rays. Too bad it probably means the Rays are now going to miss the playoffs , since everyone knows you can take the fan out of Chicago, but you can’t take the losing out of the fan.

By the way, sorry Tampa, but my friends and I figure it is only fair to bring our losing to your team since  you guys play in a stadium where a ball can hit the roof and still drive in a run. Seriously, an A-ring catwalk in fair play… Tropicana Field, really come on now? You can totally do better than that. I mean at least make the hitter call his bank BEFORE he takes a swing.