Professional Jeweler Archive: Expectations Exceeded

May 2005

The Store | Image

Expectations Exceeded

Harris Jeweler scores through motivated, dynamic employees working in a stunning setting

Store of the Future: The Experience Retailer

Successful jewelry stores in the 21st century will evolve from a careful plan containing several crucial elements:

  • A highly motivated staff that brings to life the thrill of buying fine jewelry.
  • A beautiful store that sets the stage for a dramatic experience.
  • A gorgeous mix of products that delights consumers.

You might be surprised that jewelry is third. While your merchandise is important, a store that doesn’t focus on the other two key elements will founder.

A new kind of consumer is shopping. She wants a truly dramatic store environment and customer service exceeding her wildest dreams. In short, she wants an experience. If you don’t comply, she won’t be your customer – nor will her significant other.

In this and upcoming issues, we’ll profile leading-edge stores that are re-creating their images to meet the new expectations of retail shoppers. Our first stop is Harris Jeweler, an American Gem Society store that transformed itself with the help of consultants and the Diamond Promotion Service. To learn how DPS can help transform your business, call (800) 370-6789 or visit

Mark Harris understands the critical role customer experience plays in today’s retailing success stories. The CEO of Harris Jeweler in Troy, OH, Harris deployed three carefully integrated elements to achieve his vision several years ago: a highly self-empowered, motivated, relationship-oriented staff; a warm, inviting, yet dramatic showcase for this staff to work in; and products of the highest quality and design.

His 21st century vision of excellence is rooted in his heritage. Harris’ parents founded Harris Jeweler in 1946, and his dad was one of the first gemologists certified by and a disciple of Robert M. Shipley, the pioneer who founded the American Gem Society and the Gemological Institute of America. Mark joined the business in 1976 after graduating from GIA and in 1983 bought the company and became CEO.

The Store

In 2001, Harris consolidated three stores into one new one. He hired well-known jewelry store designer Ruth Mellergaard of GRID/3 International in New York City to design and build the store. “Ruth was great,” says Harris. “She listened to what we wanted the store to be and created something that embodied our philosophy and mission.”

Mark and his wife, Linda, wanted an environment that is warm and inviting, but also spacious and elegant. The store features a hand-painted cloud-filled dome over its central island, and dramatic globes are featured throughout, picking up on the store’s slogan “World of Diamonds and Gems.”

A cozy fireplace area with an easy chair and books nearby gives the store a welcoming, homey feel. There’s a children’s play area and a Harris Café, where clients can enjoy treats while they shop. A design studio that’s open to customers features the newest technology for making jewelry. It showcases the work of Brian Joseph, a jeweler with over 13 years of experience, who creates the store’s custom pieces.

The People

Harris sought to establish a core group of employees who believe in the company’s philosophy of striving to exceed the client’s expectations.

Picking the right people is an important part of creating this environment. He looks for people with enthusiasm and great attitude more than technical knowledge. He says knowledge of jewelry products and selling can be taught, but that the right personality is harder to come by.

To help position key associates, he hired Kate Peterson of the jewelry consulting firm Performance Concepts. The first step was finding someone to carry out the vision and values of the company on a day-to-day basis. Ten-year associate Darci Aselage was named general manager and partner because of the rare combination of her expertise and passion for the job, says Harris. Peterson also helped create a compensation formula for every employee that is fair and rewarding.

To establish the environment his work force deserved, Harris changed the company’s hierarchical structure. He says it’s an upside-down pyramid, with front-line associates on top. Information and growth come from associates who interact with clients daily.

To ensure the expertise to offer exceptional service, the entire staff took the AGS certified sales associate course. Harris says he views payroll and training costs not as expenses, but investments. He sends his staff to training seminars, buying shows and the annual AGS Conclave. He also provides them with GIA and AGS self-study courses.

Achieving Their Potentials

Harris also employed Diane Warga-Arias, a nationally known consultant and Diamond Promotion Service educator. He saw her as an “experience coach” more than a sales consultant. He says the difference is profound – she permanently changed the way the staff thinks and communicates with clients and with one another.

Warga-Arias provided a research-based selling and service program that provides effective selling techniques and long-lasting organizational practices and philosophies. These built a foundation from which the company could grow. “I served as their navigator, charting a course for them to define and refine a new Harris shopping experience for their customers,” says Warga-Arias.

The process was based on developing new thinking, standards, skills and service strategies for every employee that ultimately changed behaviors. It works this way: associates are given new information, then asked to make small management-mandated changes. For example, a sales associate must always walk out from behind a showcase to hand a purchase to the customer. Once associates see the benefit of this change (more personal connection with the customer), they become more open to other behavioral changes.

Warga-Arias, Aselage and the staff agreed on other clearly defined changes to transform the way they feel about themselves, each other and their customers. Coming out from behind the showcase led to the requirement that associates walk every customer to the door.

The final result, says Warga-Arias, is a transformation in company-wide competence because of increases in individual competence. It’s not quick or easy. “No one really likes to change – at some point associates in every organization will resist the initiative and want it all to end,” she says. “It takes a committed owner and management team that is willing to stay the course despite the resistance.”

Warga-Arias says DPS supports jewelers open to transforming their businesses because consumers have changed. They will spend more money on luxury products and more time shopping if retailers can make the experience worth it, she says. Consumers seek different and engaging experiences. “We help jewelers define the added value their customers crave,” says Warga-Arias.

DPS Executive Director Lynn Diamond agrees. “The store experience has to enhance the diamond dream,” she says. To make the in-store experience more compelling. DPS offers services and products, including point-of-sale training material and actual training, she says.

You may wonder how successful all this planning and investment has been for Harris Jeweler. Mark Harris says the company has enjoyed double-digit sales increases in each of the past five years and posted a 60% sales increase in 2004.

Harris Jeweler’s slogan, “World of Diamonds and Gems,” informs the store’s decor in the dreamy ceiling and myriad globes.
Darci Aselage, general manager and partner at Harris Jeweler, demonstrates the one-on-one attention that is a hallmark of the staff’s approach to exceptional customer service.
A cozy fireplace area gives Harris Jeweler a homey feel.
Harris Jeweler’s CEO Mark Harris brought in consultants to help permanently change the way his staff thinks and communicates with each other and the public.

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications