Getting to Know INSTORE’s Brain Squad
Participants get key data, fresh ideas, even free psychological therapy
Picture a gathering in a large hotel ballroom in Vegas. In one corner, the manager of a $5 million-a-year store in Atlanta is exchanging thoughts about his networking experiences with the owner of a mom-and-pop store that sits just off the main street of a small town in western Oklahoma. A little further along, group of half a dozen woman owners are animatedly discussing what worked well — and what didn’t — at their last Ladies Night. Over by the canapes stand, two custom jewelers are making contrasting cases for what is the best laser welder to buy.
Welcome to the Brain Squad. The members come from all over the country and own every kind of jewelry store. No special door passes are needed, no mandatory buy-ins ... the only qualification is that you own or manage a store, and that you have a willingness to share your thoughts to help other independent jewelers.
The Brain Squad has allowed INSTORE to produce a magazine that is like no other jewelry trade publication. Whereas once a diligent reporter would have needed to make dozens of phone calls to get a modest overview of the industry, we can survey 250-300 jewelers from Alaska to the Florida Panhandle without ever needing to check an area code.
It’s not just INSTORE and our readers who benefit from this reservoir of wisdom that we tap on a monthly basis. The participants themselves say the surveys, which typically take less than 15 minutes to complete, are a huge help to their business.
“The Brain Squad surveys make me stop and think about things, issues and ideas I would ordinarily not be paying attention to and can easily motivate a positive action – (be it) something fun, profitable, or problem solving,” says Ila Schulman, owner of Golddiggers Jeweler in Block Island, RI, and an 8-year veteran of the group.
Squad members who take the surveys get access to all the responses, most of which don’t make it into the magazine. And among the most popular data sets are the answers to our Hot Sellers column.
“We try to keep one step ahead of our customers, and the ‘What's selling?’ question has helped us,” says Rosanne Kroen, owner of Rosanne's Diamonds & Gold in South Bend, IN, and another long-time contributor to the surveys. “Years ago we were reluctant to carry beads. But they kept showing up in the ‘Hot Sellers ‘ question, so we investigated, and we have had success with beads and have kept those customers for their other jewelry purchases.”
- Shared ideas: “What's a better place to go for information than your own peeps? From all over the country? No matter how big or small your store is, someone else had had a problem like yours, and has a suggestion on how to fix it. Or how to keep it from happening again,” says Erin McMichael Hess, owner of Extinctions in Lancaster, PA.
- Getting a read on the industry: “The surveys really reflect what is going on in the industry. Sometimes they are not positive and sometimes a bit scary but ‘It is what it is,’” says veteran jeweler Gayle Chinn, owner of Chinn Jewelry in Royal Oak, MI.
- Reputation benefits: “Being a member of the Brain Squad has gained me more respect among customers as well as vendors that come to our store,” says Mary Jo Chanski, at Hannoush Jewelers in Rutland, VT. “We have been featured twice and we had the (stories) framed and hung on our wall in our diamond room. So, when a customer comes in and sees my picture on the wall they're like "WOW!! You were in a magazine?!" We live in a small town so it's kind of a big deal.”
- Sense of solidarity: “”In a way it is sometimes very therapeutic. It is good to know I am not alone struggling with a particular issue or problem, and learning how others cope or deal with perplexing customer, industry or employee issues is immensely helpful and informative,” says Patty Gallun Hansen, owner of Dorothy Gallun Fine Jewelry, in Cedarburg, WI.
And finally, then there are those who get a thrill from knowing they’ve possibly helped someone in the industry. “There are many who sit on the sidelines as I did and soak up the great information and then there are times that it is going to take a few extra minutes in an already busy business-owner’s day,” says Rita Wade, owner of Wade Designs Jewelry in Rocky Mt, NC. “But the joy is that you might just have helped someone else, and there definitely is more reward in that than any paycheck you'll ever receive!”
If you’d like to sign up to take the Brain Squad surveys, you can do it here.
You’ll quickly find yourself among friends.