Get ready. Get set. Get back to work.
Well, sort of. After a virtual lockdown in the state due to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of businesses are cautiously assessing Gov. Brian Kemp’s latest directive that they can operate if they adhere to strict social distancing rules and proper protocols designed to keep customers and employees safe. At this point, the rule applies until mid-May. After that, who knows? The virus seems to be calling the shots.
I ventured out attired in mask and rubber gloves last week to observe Cumberland Diamond Exchange getting ready to open back up this past Saturday after a six-week shutdown.
I found the group hard at work checking inventory, stocking cases and preparing for their “Grand Re-Opening,” while all — and I mean all — the staff was decked out in Atlanta Braves paraphernalia. Except for the masks, merchandise and location, I could have been in the locker room shooting the breeze with the ATeam before batting practice.
Why the garb? “The Braves are the hometown team and we are the hometown jeweler,” said Rhonda Jacobson. She and her husband, Mark, are co-founders of Cumberland Diamond Exchange, located within a Nick Markakis right field heave to home plate from Truist Park.
While the staff was getting together in person while strictly maintaining social distancing for the first time, they had previously stayed in touch with each other and with their customers during the shutdown.
“Ours is a relationship business,” says Mark Jacobson, “and we encouraged our team to stay in touch with our clients, not to talk about the business but just to check on them and see how they were faring and to let them know we were thinking about them.” Even during the shutdown, the store was still able to do business with “virtual appointments” and some website sales. “We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and even sold an engagement ring,” he said, “but we are waiting to hear back if she said ‘yes.’” The downtime was also used for the staff to stay in touch. Rhonda Jacobson said, “The staff talked each day about what they had spent their time doing that day as well as what kind of customer responses they had gotten.” There were text messages, phone calls and Zoom calls, as well as industry webinars, management seminars via Kennesaw State and leadership programs from the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce.
During the time, the Jacobsons continued to pay staff salaries and benefits. “It was our way of letting them know we were 100 percent behind them,” Rhonda Jacobson says.
Not that the business hasn’t seen a hit to the bottom line as it has for all businesses because of the pandemic. Mark Jacobson say they did about 10% of the business they would have done in normal times.
Their daughter, Melissa, has helped bridge the gap by getting the company’s presence stronger in social media. As a result, there is a potential for more online business going forward. “It is something we should have paid more attention to earlier,” Mark Jacobson admits. Given that many of their clients are now third-generation families, it will still be a personal relationship business, the Jacobsons say, and that is why they were anxious to get the doors to the Cumberland Diamond Exchange opened again. But, the old ways of doing business are gone for the foreseeable future.
This week, for example, the store is open today through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. by appointment only and confirmed ahead of time. No walk-ins. And don’t bring anyone with you without prior approval.
You will need to bring your own mask (you can’t borrow mine) and wait in your automobile until your appointment time. You will be asked a few questions about whether you have had a fever or cough or been around anyone who has.
Employees will be masked and will have their temperatures taken upon arrival to assure they are well. All hard surfaces, such as door handles, telephones and the reception counter will be disinfected hourly at a minimum, depending on the amount of traffic. Staff and clients will maintain social distancing and refrain from any contact greetings.
Even with all the restrictions and protocol, the staff looked locked-and-loaded as I left their dress rehearsal on Friday. The Braves could not have been more jacked-up for Opening Day at Truist Park.
So, how was their first day of business on Saturday? “We exceeded a good Saturday of normal business,” Mark Jacobson said proudly. “All appointments that came in to purchase bought something.”
That speaks well of the work and preparation of the folks at the Cumberland Diamond Exchange. It also tells me that we are ready to get back to some semblance of normalcy in our lives. Even if it is business-not-as-usual, it is better than no business at all.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P. O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb