Professional Jeweler Archive: Profit Through Passion

October 2001

Professional Bench/Five Steps to Profit


Profit Through Passion

A passionate team effort and a well-designed strategy guides Underwood's to profits from the shop and service department


‘Been there and done that” Tom Weishaar replies when asked why he isn’t self-employed. “I have the opportunity of a lifetime right here at Underwood’s.” Weishaar, a JA® Certified Master Bench Jeweler,™ has been shop manager at legendary Underwood’s Fine Jewelers, Fayetteville, AR, for 12 years. A talented designer and the first person to be certified as a master bench jeweler, Weishaar leads one of the nation’s top shop and service departments. The department employs two other certified bench jewelers he trained and produces everything from world-class, one-of-a-kind jewelry to corporate jewelry and handles basic jewelry repair services.

Weishaar received a bachelor of science degree in education and arts with a minor in metalsmithing at Northern Illinois University. He is married and has two children and enjoys being active in their activities.

Weishaar worked in retail from 1981 to 1984 and then opened his own trade shop to concentrate on his bench skills. His shop provided repair and custom-order services to 55 retail-store clients and employed six bench jewelers. After several frustrating years of ownership, he liquidated his company and went to work for a guild store as lead goldsmith. In 1989 he visited his parents in Fayetteville, AR, and called on Underwood’s Fine Jewelers, where an opportunity for employment emerged. He discussed the opportunity at Underwood’s with his then-employer, who told him, “Tom, this is like going from the minors to the majors. You have only one shot at the show – and this is yours.” Weishaar started with Underwood’s in 1989 and has never looked back. Here is how Weishaar and Underwood’s use the five Ps of pricing, process, promotion, productivity and professionalism to make a difference.

Pricing

Underwood’s created a price book for services, repairs and custom orders. It’s based on labor, material and the store’s mark-up. A separate price list covers projects that involve laser welding, which costs 50%-200% more than services using more traditional methods. The store accepts only projects it can perform completely in-house.

Process

Underwood’s sales professionals perform the take-in for the service department. When questions arise, the jewelry is sent to the shop via a dumbwaiter (the 1,000-sq.-ft. shop is located above the store) for cleaning, inspection and a professional opinion.

Often Weishaar is called down to the sales floor to consult with customers. He views jewelry under a gemscope with a video camera attached, allowing the customers to see the jewelry close-up on a monitor. If the examination reveals faulty workmanship or unrepairable wear or other damage, the shop often completely rebuilds the jewelry.

Promotion

Promoting the shop means highlighting the people who perform the work, not just the work itself, says Craig Underwood, co-owner and chief marketing strategist at Underwood’s. For example, Underwood produced one of the store’s annual video catalogs featuring the shop from his in-store video studio. The video illustrated the staff’s ability to design and produce custom orders.

To accomplish this, the video features 15 minutes of Weishaar performing a variety of details related to custom- designed and manufactured jewelry and 15 minutes of product. The store mailed 6,000 copies of the video in November.

The result: Demand for design and custom orders rose to unprecedented and unexpected levels. For the following 18 months, Underwood’s was swamped with requests, and the wait for a custom piece jumped from 30 to 90 days. In fact, Underwood’s was forced to pull TV commercials promoting design and custom-order services that were running on cable TV at the time.

Productivity

Bill Underwood, the store’s founder and co-owner, has never been afraid to acquire technology for the shop. Tools and equipment for greater productivity include:

  • Laser welder.
  • Midsize machinist’s lathe.
  • Watchmaker’s lathe.
  • Magnetic finisher.
  • Plastiform and the Plastiform holding system from Frei and Borel, Oakland, CA.
  • Rio Grande’s J-2r resistance-heated vacuum casting machine.
  • GRS equipment (including mounting plates at every workstation, bench mates and the Meiji Microscope System at a stand-alone workstation).

The bench jewelers record all labor when completed with a project and compare the work to the store’s expectations – regardless of how it was accomplished. They receive a bonus if they exceed the mutually established goal.

Professionalism

Weishaar has developed an apprenticeship system that facilitates training and advancement for his bench staff, which also includes Cale Whitely and Chip Gregg.

Both were hired after interviews that screened for personality, aptitude and general interest for manual skills. Weishaar’s training objective: Get new staff working and productive as soon as possible, make sure they understand that quality requirements are paramount and encourage career-long learning. Tom uses JA’s four levels of certification as a career-training guide.

As the bench staff develops, members are encouraged to become certified. They pay their own certification test fees and take the bench tests on their own time. Underwood’s provides the facilities and ancillary material for testing. Once certified, the bench jeweler’s salary is adjusted and they receive a bonus and half of the testing fees. After a year of additional employment, the fees are fully reimbursed.

A Challenge

Weishaar was challenged during his first week of employment at Underwood’s. He was given an important Art Nouveau diamond bracelet that had a broken or worn “invisible” spring in the clasp. His job was to repair or replace the spring so the clasp would operate properly.

The bracelet was so well made and the spring so expertly installed that Tom couldn’t figure out how to access the spring. After a few days, he went to the store manager for help. The manager’s response: “If you can’t figure out how to repair that clasp, you’d better turn around and go back to Illinois.” Weishaar finally spotted the access to the spring and made the repair.

Tom Weishaar, in addition to design and bench skills, is well-known for his writing, demonstrations and training of bench jewelers and sales professionals. He’s now writing and producing a guide to gemstone setting.
Tom Weishaar (right) and co-owner Craig Underwood review and discuss several design options for a tanzanite.
Weishaar compares the customer’s jewelry to images in the JA Professional’s Guide to Fine Jewelry Craftsmanship. In this case, he would show the customer what constitutes a good prong. Weishaar made numerous contributions to development of content in the book. For information about the book, call JA at (800) 223-0673.
Craig Underwood has produced over 400 TV commercials and
12 annual video catalogs from his in-store video studio.
Weishaar developed proficient methods for performing laser welding. See the box below for two examples of laser-welded pieces of jewelry.
Weishaar fabricated and assembled these two pieces using the laser welder. There are no solder joints.
Cale Whitely, a four-year Underwood veteran and JA Certified Bench Jeweler (second level).
Chip Gregg, a three-year veteran and JA Certified Bench Jeweler Technician (first level)
“Tom is a huge asset to our store,” says co-owner Bill Underwood. “We appreciate his passion and dedication to his trade and career – his talent and contributions are obvious on a daily basis and in our bottom line.”

By Mark B. Mann, Director of Trade Programs, Jewelers of America
Featuring Tom Weishaar, JA® Certified Master Bench Jeweler™, Shop Manager, Underwood’s Fine Jewelers, Fayetteville, AR

© 2001 Jewelers of America
For information about JA’s Bench Jeweler Certification program, call (800) 223-0673 or visit www.jewelers.org.


Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications