Last updateWed, 08 Jul 2020 1pm

Retailer Roundtable: Will you be making any long-term changes in the way you conduct business due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

“It was Thursday March 18th, 2020 and I could see it coming. As the cases continued to build in Washington state and New York City, the hysteria began to trickle down to Main Street USA, and had gripped the attention of the people in Knoxville, TN for sure. March 18th was two days before Tennessee’s official lock down order came down, but business had already ground to a halt, as the parking lots became bare and the normally busy streets ceased to have any traffic. Telling my staff they were going to have to go home from our 40 year old family business, and we’re going to have to close for a while, was the hardest thing I’ve had to do.

RR Mackley

For the next 6 weeks I defied lock down (only traveled in my car from home to work and back) and continued to come in for 2 hours each day and sit at my desk hoping the phone would ring or there would be a voicemail message, just something, anything to do. With each passing day, then week, I kept thinking this thing is going to go away and we’re going to get back to work. But the phone hardly rang at all during those 6 weeks, and no one came by, except the mailman. That was the funny part, the mail never stopped, the rent never stopped, and the bills and payables never stopped. As a business owner, father and husband, the worries began to creep in and take over. I started to get a little mad, and upset that something like this could wipe out my livelihood and the livelihood of my staff. I always thought we had a good business model; low debt, fairly low overhead, with a good business mix of product and services. When the economy is good we sold more new jewelry, custom creations and bridal, in a down economy we purchased more estates and gold, but a virus economy we really had no defense or angle. But I knew one thing, I wasn’t ready to retire and my jeweler, (whom was not able to secure unemployment until the 6th week), was checking in almost daily, as his financial panic was getting bigger by the minute and he was talking about getting a job at FedEx. 

Then entered the SBA PPP loan program. I called my home town bank of 40 years and applied as soon as the application was made available. By the grace of God we received first round funding. I immediately called a store meeting, and it was agreed on by everyone that we all wanted to go back to work. However, we were technically still under lock down, so we decided to socially distance ourselves in our own store (Knox county had a total of less than 300 cases out of 471,000 population). We cleaned and sanitized everything and hashed out a plan. (1) We shaved off an hour at the end of each day, closing at 5 now instead of 6. (2) We invested what pre-SBA funds we had and purchased a lightbox phone app camera system to improve our product images. (3) We melted and rolled out all the scrap gold we had, and began to design and build stock with color we already owned. At the same time we began retaking photos of existing merchandise to improve sales possibilities. Almost immediately we saw an uptick in online sales and activity on Etsy, eBay and our own website.

It’s been almost three weeks since we’ve been allowed open to the public. Tennessee’s lock down restrictions for small business retail, were lifted on May 1st. Walk-in traffic is picking up little by little, and our clients have been very nice and want to support us. However, COVID-19 has clearly taken a bite out of the spring momentum and making it through the summer to Christmas is our short-term goal. With 4 weeks of payroll left of our PPP,  we are using our funds and our time wisely to improve ourselves and our business. Decreasing our dependency on the mom and pop brick and mortar business model by creating a parallel alternative business model at the same time, is our long-term goal. Does this mean we’re giving up, or in anyway less devoted to our brick and mortar business? Heck No! In fact we’ve already made event plans and advertising strategies for the rest of the year. But from my experience, this COVID-19 virus experience has left a indelible mark on many of us, including me, and we’re trying to be proactive in developing other streams of revenue as a response. In an essence, we’re trying to build a better mousetrap; an alternative business model that cannot be as easily ‘shutdown’ again.

Darryl Mackley
Mackley Jewelers
Knoxville, TN


RR Cowan“We have moved to the concierge style of retail. Our business has always been more of a boutique type of business with attention to one on one interaction. You don’t just sell a sparkling piece of jewelry, you sell it’s history, story and romance. When your specialty has been antique jewelry for over 50 years, that’s what you do. We feel this will enable us and our customers to stay as safe as possible. We are fortunate to have loyal third generation customers. We will continue with private appointments and an internet presence. This will be our new normal and the future is bright.”

 Eugenia Cowan
Yesteryear Antique & Estate Jewelry
Montgomery, AL



RR Sunday“My husband Ed and I have been in business together for 37 years, buying and selling antique, vintage, and modern estate jewelry and watches. We already had to do a major upheaval of our business about 20 years ago when chronic health issues forced us off the road where we had been doing approximately 40 trade shows annually, coast to coast, as well as having multiple (a total of 9 at one time), jewelry showcases in 3 separate NE Ohio antique malls. At the time we segued gently into an internet presence, and through the next few years built upon that strategy to our current place, having 3 web sites, and enjoying a fairly large following on our Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest social media accounts. COVID-19 had us rethink everything, knowing that a tremendous down tick was about to occur, we planned to utilize the time by taking this upcoming summer season to consider relocation from Ohio, to Florida - we are looking at the Jacksonville/Saint Augustine/Ponte Vedra area. Along with countless other snowbirds seeking a warm comfortable environment to retire in, we are attracted to the no-state-tax benefits that Florida offers, and gently easing our way towards semi-retirement. We have been very fortunate so far, that the last few months did not dramatically reduce our sales, however, we have noticed the average ticket price of each sale is dramatically lower, but made up for by making more, but less expensive, items.

The other thing we’ve noticed is that a surge of ‘comfort’ or ‘pick me up’ impulse sales have resulted in more returns, due to buyers remorse, aka spending money that really should not have been spent. These returns inevitably start out with a lovely letter of praise from the customer. The last one was for a $700 ring, and the customer stated, ‘the ring is absolutely exquisite however it JUST was not quite what I was looking for.’ Beware of the words ‘unfortunately, but, or however’! We also notice that they wait for the entire grace period for returns, and contact us just as it is about to run out, as if they have been kicking it around in their minds trying to decide - or their significant other found out and did not approve. We have also, as I am sure many here, have experienced, the occasional buyer who wishes only to wear the item for a special occasion, and then return it. We have decided place a LARGE neon yellow barbell tag on our jewelry and the instructions that it should not be removed if they intend to return the item, to prevent this. In general, COVID-19 has sped up our edging into retirement plans, and caused us to rethink our inventory purchases to accommodate the new lower ticket sales that our customers feel comfortable spending in such an economic down-tick. But it does seem that we are working twice as hard in order to make the same amount of money.”

Carolyn and Edmund Sunday
Sunday & Sunday Antiques
Canton, OH


RR Heater“Diamonds by the Sea is a family business operating two stores, in Newport and Lincoln City, Oregon.  We have been in business since 1953. In dealing with COVID-19, we have made the decision to change our store hours from six days a week to five days a week, now closing Sunday and Monday. I have actually considered this for several years and have just never been able to pull the trigger. Navigating two stores 25 miles apart has been a scheduling nightmare with me being the person that often travels the county to cover sick employees, vacations, problems, etc... Now everyone works five days a week, with two days off in a row. I will have a tighter payroll and eliminate the need for one full time employee. Hoping for a good outcome all the way around.”

Kathryn Heater, G.G.
Diamonds by the Sea
Newport and Lincoln City, OR


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