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 isnt self-employed. I have the opportunity of a lifetime right here at Underwoods. Weishaar, a JA® Certified Master Bench Jeweler, has been shop manager at legendary Underwoods 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 nations 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 Underwoods Fine Jewelers, where an opportunity for employment emerged. He discussed the opportunity at Underwoods 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 Underwoods in 1989 and has never looked back. Here is how Weishaar and Underwoods use the five Ps of pricing, process, promotion, productivity and professionalism to make a difference.
Underwoods created a price book for services, repairs and custom orders. Its based on labor, material and the stores 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.
Underwoods 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.
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 Underwoods. For example, Underwood produced one of the stores annual video catalogs featuring the shop from his in-store video studio. The video illustrated the staffs 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, Underwoods was swamped with requests, and the wait for a custom piece jumped from 30 to 90 days. In fact, Underwoods was forced to pull TV commercials promoting design and custom-order services that were running on cable TV at the time.
Bill Underwood, the stores founder and co-owner, has never been afraid to acquire technology for the shop. Tools and equipment for greater productivity include:
- Laser welder.
- Midsize machinists lathe.
- Watchmakers lathe.
- Magnetic finisher.
- Plastiform and the Plastiform holding system from Frei and Borel, Oakland, CA.
- Rio Grandes 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 stores expectations regardless of how it was accomplished. They receive a bonus if they exceed the mutually established goal.
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. Weishaars 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 JAs 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. Underwoods provides the facilities and ancillary material for testing. Once certified, the bench jewelers 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.
Weishaar was challenged during his first week of employment at Underwoods. 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 couldnt figure out how to access the spring. After a few days, he went to the store manager for help. The managers response: If you cant figure out how to repair that clasp, youd better turn around and go back to Illinois. Weishaar finally spotted the access to the spring and made the repair.
By Mark B. Mann, Director of Trade Programs, Jewelers of America
Featuring Tom Weishaar, JA® Certified Master Bench Jeweler, Shop Manager, Underwoods Fine Jewelers, Fayetteville, AR
© 2001 Jewelers of America
For information about JAs Bench Jeweler Certification program, call (800) 223-0673 or visit www.jewelers.org.