Lessons From a Jewel Thief
Lean how to sell securely from a guy who used to try to steal from you.
BY LEONARD ZELL
Published in the May 2012 issue
Imet this ex-jewelry thief several years ago when he was lecturing at a state jewelry convention, telling how he conned jewelers and stole diamond rings right from under their noses. He said it was so easy that no one was aware they had been robbed until after he left.
I felt this was a chance of a lifetime to learn from him and share the information with the jewelers I was training. I asked him to role-play a sale, with him playing a thief and me the salesperson, then letting me know where I was vulnerable.
After we finished role-playing I was surprised when he said, “Leonard, there is no way I would have bothered you or any salesperson selling your way.
You created too much of a risk, and one thing thieves do not believe in is taking risks when there are so many other jewelers who are easy marks.”
I had no idea what I did to thwart him, so I asked him.
He told me techniques I unwittingly used when we roleplayed kept me from becoming his “easy mark.”
First, I greeted him as soon as he entered the store, smiled and made eye contact. He said he was just browsing and tried to brush me off.
I didn’t follow him because if he were an actual customer, following him would have intimidated him right out the store. Instead I smiled and said, “You must be looking for something special.”
He looked at me as I approached and said, “Leonard, you took away my privacy and the easiest way for me to steal is if salespeople leave me alone by saying, go ahead and browse around and let me know if I can show you something, because that is what most salespeople say.”
We continued role-playing, and the thief said, “I’m in a hurry and I want to get my wife a diamond ring to celebrate our wedding anniversary tonight. I have been putting this off too long and you people have been highly recommended. That one looks nice, the one with three diamonds? Can I see it? I haven’t much time.”
I said, “Sure I will get it out right away. I’ll get my counter pad and be right with you.”
Oops. I foiled him again:
“Leonard, I tried to rush you, but you stopped me cold when you said you would get out the ring right away, but instead you went for the counter pad. That raised a red flag and posed a risk that I could not rush you. How did you know to do that and so professionally?”
I related what my father, Harry Zell, the best jewelry salesman I ever knew, had told me: “Leonard, you must always keep the sale at your pace and never vary from it. If you do, only bad things happen. You will leave a case unlocked, jewelry out on the counter and windows open.”
I knew he was right because I see this happen often in stores I train in. He told me to acknowledge the customer who is in a hurry by saying “right away,” which disarms them, but first get out the counter pad and selvyt and introduce yourself before opening the case.
The thief said, “Your father was a smart man. He taught you well, because if I had succeeded, I would have rushed you even more, getting this ring out and then another and another. You would, and at that moment I would distract you saying, ‘There are diamond earrings I saw in that window that I would like to surprise her with right after I give her one of these rings. If you could hurry up and get those earrings that would be perfect. I have to make a plane.’
“By now you cannot wait to close the sale, and you race to the window, leaving the case open, or worse yet, leaving jewelry on the counter pad while going to the window. I scoop them up and leave. In your rush to the window you may have also left the case unlocked and all I had to do was open my jacket, go into the case and dump the ring trays in a bag, rush out the store and say, ‘I’ll be right back I have to put some money in the meter.’”
I told the thief I had no idea I was selling with security.
“Most salespeople don’t even bother using a counter pad,” he said. “They go right into the showcase.”
I said I found that by going for the counter pad it keeps the sale at my pace and, better yet, allows me to showcase the jewelry.
Back to role-playing: The thief reached out for me to put the ring in his hand, but instead I slipped it on a leather-covered display ring stick and handed it to him handle first.
Seems I foiled him again: “Leonard, you stopped me cold again,” he said. “Now I can’t palm the ring.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. “My father taught me to always use a ring stick when showing a lady’s ring to a man,” I explained. “It showcases the ring and besides it looks very professional and shows respect for the jewelry. If I put a diamond ring in your hand it looks like nothing, on a display ring stick it shows all of its beauty.”
Apparently, using a ring stick does more than that. The thief said, “If you had put it in my hand, I could have easily palmed it like a magician palms a playing card and make it disappear.”
Then he did it to me and I had to say, “Do it again, I missed that.”
He made the ring disappear two more times and, so help me, I could not follow it.
“You are a magician!” I marveled.
“I am better than any magician,” the thief told me. “If I make a mistake, I go to jail.”
We started role-playing again, and after he looked at the ring on the display ring stick, he pointed to another ring he wanted to see.
Before I showed it to him, I smiled and reached for the ring on the display ring stick, which was in his hand, and put it back in the case before I got the other ring out.
“Why did you put that ring back in the case?” he asked. “Because you implied you saw another ring you liked better,” I said. “Why keep it out? If you had wanted to compare it, you would have asked.”
Most salespeople are afraid to ask for a ring back before they bring another out. They just keep bringing more rings out. Their excuse is always, what if they want to compare it? When I train salespeople, I keep telling them, “Do not anticipate them wanting to compare the ring, because when you reach to put it back they will ask you at that time if they can compare it. Why be so defensive?”
Seems that makes things tougher for a thief.
“You have no idea how easy it is for me to get salespeople to have more than three rings out, or three of anything out,” he said. “That is another field day for me. I can easily palm diamond rings off the counter pad, and the salesperson won’t notice it until it is too late. No one can keep track of three or more pieces of jewelry. Two is the most. If three are out and I distract the salesperson and palm one ring they will not be sure if one is missing. They cannot accuse me unless they see me do it, otherwise they may open themselves to a lawsuit. Because I am so well dressed and friendly they don’t suspect me and pretend not to notice it.”
He continued: “Leonard, when I come into a store I need privacy and most stores unwittingly give me that. Salespeople stay in back of the store and one comes out to wait on you. The others stay back and talk to one another or else go off the floor. That gives me and my girlfriend a field day. While I am being sold, I speed up the salesperson until he leaves a case open. I distract him, she reaches in the case and the rest is history.”
Store owners I train fight this all the time, trying to keep their salespeople at the front of the store. One owner said to me, “Leonard, if my store were a ship it would capsize!” When I train salespeople, I always say, “Never leave another salesperson alone on the sales floor. Be close by for assistance.”
I then asked the thief about grab and run.
“You may not be aware of this,” he said, “but there is no way I would pull that on you, because you never gave me the opportunity. When you were showing me the diamond ring you kept your head up. When I looked down at the counter, you did not. When I looked up, you were there with your eyes and a smile. That smile of yours wins over a legitimate customer, but to me it means you may be studying my face and will easily remember me if I get caught. That imposes too much risk. I’ll try the jeweler across the street.”
Then the thief told me something that the Jewelers Security Alliance keeps telling jewelers, but most ignore: “They made it easy for me clean out their stores because they opened and closed their stores while alone. Lessons from a Jewel Thief NEVER LEAVE a salesperson alone on the floor. Be close by for “When jewelers go into or come out of their store alone, all I have to do is come around the corner as soon as he unlocks the door, follow right behind, push him in and tell him to reset the alarm. If he is smart, he does not put in a wrong security code because if the police arrive I will take him as a hostage. It is safer for him to leave me alone and let me clean out his store. Worse yet, some police departments don’t use good sense and have their sirens on when approaching a store that is being robbed. That can cause a thief to panic, especially if he is on drugs, and then the situation could become a disaster.”
The thief continued, “To thwart this, jewelers should always open and close their stores with another associate across the street observing them. If the associate sees me forcing the jeweler in the store all he has to do is call the police, tell them to turn off their sirens and that there is a robbery in progress. All the police have to do is wait for me to come out and grab me. I would have been too surprised to take the jeweler hostage.”
But what about a robbery in progress? I asked.
“Tell your jewelers that if an armed robber sees someone reaching for an alarm button, or what they think is one, he may shoot them. Remember, he is probably on drugs and is very hyper. Anything will set him off. Wait until the robber has gone. If the police arrive while the robbery is in progress there could be a shootout and someone taken as a hostage.”
In my 25 years of training jewelers throughout the world, I have interviewed many jewelers who have been robbed and they all had one thing in common: They rarely followed any of the procedures in this article.
“Leonard,” the thief said to me, “tell all the salespeople you train that if they show jewelry with respect and stay in control of the sale like you did with me, they will impose too much of a risk for any thief.”
Store owners, tell your salespeople they will never know who is a professional thief until it is too late, because this is what hetold me: “I will be better dressed than most of your customers because I know all salespeople prejudge their customers. I will be pleasant and con you into thinking I will be a longtime customer and flatter you accordingly. On the other hand, I may decide to get angry and see if I can upset you and throw you off. If you are not careful, I will play you like a violin.”
He should know. Because he stole jewelry from the best stores on Fifth Avenue and Beverly Hills ... before he was caught.