The ‘Up System’ in Retail: Foolish or Fair?

ColumnistsOct 11, 2023

The ‘Up System’ in Retail: Foolish or Fair?

Does having salespeople take turns waiting on customers make sense for jewelers, their employees, or their customers? Peter Smith opines.

National Jeweler columnist Peter Smith
Peter Smith is an industry consultant, speaker, sales trainer, and author. He can be reached via email at
I believe I could craft a very good living for myself without ever leaving my office.

If I was so inclined, my consulting business for suppliers and retailers could exist on a diet of phone calls, emails, and Teams calls.

However, I’d rather give up my first born (sorry, Ronan, someone’s gotta take one for the team!) than commit to a life spent in an office, without visiting customers.

You have to go to the source and breathe the oxygen on the front lines. There is no substitute for engaging with retail sales personnel in person, hearing about their challenges and issues, and observing the way they go about their business, be it good or bad.

I was reminded of this last week when, after I had completed my Sales Masterclass, a conversation ensued about the “Up System,” the practice of having all available salespeople take turns engaging with visiting customers.

If you, for example, have five salespeople, each salesperson has the opportunity to engage with every fifth customer, sort of like the Golden State Warriors having Steph Curry taking every fifth shot, or Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes taking every 11th snap.

OK, I confess to indulging in hyperbole there, but just a little.

A comment from a salesperson really got me thinking about how misunderstood the Up System is. He said, “We do it because it’s the fair thing to do!”

But who is it fair to? Is it fair to the business? Is it fair to the most talented salespeople? Is it fair to the least talented salespeople?

And, most importantly, is it fair to the customers?

In this case, the salesperson believed it was fair because he is fundamentally a decent man. His empathy was on full display, and I sensed a real sincerity in his sentiment.

Most of us can relate to the basic premise of fairness. We like an environment where our salespeople feel happy, where Pandora is always playing our favorite songs, and where the scent of baking chocolate-chip cookies constantly invigorates our olfactory senses. Alas…

Let’s examine the four questions.
1) Is it fair to the business?

If you believe your business exists for reasons unrelated to commerce, please stop reading now. The rest of this column will do nothing to make you feel good about me or you, and it is highly unlikely that my rationale will change your view that you are either a museum, or a benevolent charity.

The rest of you should read on.

Businesses exist to do business. For clarity’s sake, that means profitable sales. It’s what enables us to pay staff, pay vendors, keep the lights on, pay the rent or mortgage, market the business, and pay our taxes. It is, at its most fundamental level, the stuff that fuels a business’ very existence.

It should not be “fairness” that dictates our sales infrastructure, but what gives the business the very best opportunity for success.

However well-intentioned, any system that conspires to relegate the most talented salespeople to an equal footing with the least talented salespeople is not fair to the business. It is reductive and counterintuitive.

If you have traditionally deployed the Up System, look at your historic sales results. Are they equal across all salespeople, or are certain people consistently performing at a higher level, and others consistently underperforming despite the Up System?

That difference is talent, and those top performers are operating at that level despite your best efforts at leveling the playing field.

2) Is it fair to the most talented salespeople?

For clarity, the most talented salespeople are the folks who sell the most on a consistent basis year in and year out. They are the most productive people on your team regardless of your compensation plan or your stance on using the Up System. 

They are the people you rely on most to deliver results when you’re having a tough week or month. 

When you sit down to sketch out your goals forecast, they carry the biggest chunks of it and they overdeliver time and again.
In a world of declining foot traffic, your best salespeople drive more customers into the store through their own outreach efforts and they convert more of them at a higher average ticket than their less accomplished colleagues. 

When the going gets tough, they willingly accept the pressure to make sales happen and to pull the proverbial rabbit from the hat. 

They are intrinsically motivated to sell, and they fundamentally believe the customer is better off for having done business with them. 

To paraphrase Apple’s Tim Cook, the most talented salespeople believe their role is to give you something you didn’t think you needed and then, having purchased it, you wonder how you ever lived without it. 

 Related stories will be right here … 

3) Is it fair to the least talented salespeople?

The least talented salespeople, at best, are motivated by a desire to serve, not sell. Sales are, for too many of them, nice to have but ultimately secondary to delivering pleasant service and interesting (to them at least) product information.

They believe the customer will tell them if he or she wants to buy (no need to be pushy) and you could build monuments to memorialize the number of customers who tell them they will “be back” after a lovely interaction and, of course, never return.

No one can give a salesperson the motivation to be successful in sales and there is a very good reason why your least talented salespeople consistently underperform their colleagues. If you put pressure on them to perform (you know, sell stuff), they are ill-equipped to deal with that kind of burden.

If you don’t believe me, post your sales results in your backroom and watch how your lowest performers react. You’ll have introduced a level of stress and anxiety they will have great difficulty coping with.

Just as sports teams and bands need different kinds of players, sales teams need different personalities to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. But at the end of the day, they all need to be in the correct position.

There’s a reason coaches don’t ask linemen to play quarterback, or bands don’t ask their bass player to play lead guitar.

4) Is it fair to your customers? 

Psychologists believe we’re only aware of 5 percent of our cognitive function, and yet we see far too many salespeople and business owners believing that it’s all about what the customer tells us. 

Customers are under no obligation to tell you what they want, when they want it, or how much they want to spend. They may not even know that they want to spend money until we unlock that desire.

In “The New Rules of Retail,” Robin Lewis and Michael Dart wrote, “The most important moment in retailing is the moment when a customer’s dream can be tipped into reality—the moment of purchase.” 

The dopamine rush customers get from buying beautiful jewelry is the best measure of customer satisfaction. The most talented salespeople possess the skill to consistently unlock that deep-rooted, and often unconscious, desire. 

Customers have other options, so we must start with the assumption that they want to make a purchase, they will be better off for having made a purchase, and the bigger that purchase is, the more excited they will get. 

We should reduce their cognitive load by cutting back on taxing questions and meaningless product information and, instead, connecting with them emotionally. That requires deploying your most talented salespeople at every opportunity. 

Be clear about your expectations for your entire sales team and make no apology for facilitating a process that puts your best people in front of customers more often than your weaker salespeople. 

The former will thank you for it, your customers will thank you for it, it is the right thing to do for your business, and you will have removed some of the performance stress for the folks on your team not best equipped to consistently deliver results. 

Happy retailing!

Peter Smithis an industry consultant, speaker, and sales trainer, and author of three books, “Hiring Squirrels,” “Sell Something,” and “The Sales Minute.”

The Latest

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane satellite image
Policies & IssuesJun 20, 2024
5 Safety and Preparedness Tips for Jewelers This Hurricane Season

Jewelers Mutual is advising jewelers along the coast to prepare for above-normal hurricane activity this year.

JVC’s Sara Yood and Tiffany Stevens
MajorsJun 20, 2024
Sara Yood Appointed JVC CEO As Tiffany Stevens Moves On

The leadership change at the organization charged with guiding the industry on legal issues will take effect next week.

Precious: The History and Mystery of Gems Across Time
SourcingJun 20, 2024
Jewelry Expert Helen Molesworth to Release First Book

“Precious: The History and Mystery of Gems Across Time” will be available on Sept. 17.

Untitled design.jpg
Brought to you by
The End of an Era? Lab-Grown Diamonds' Journey Towards Price Stability

As the demand for lab-grown diamond jewelry may still be increasing, the most notable change we are likely to see is price stabilization.

Claire’s interim CEO Chris Cramer
MajorsJun 20, 2024
Claire’s CEO Ryan Vero Steps Down

Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer Chris Cramer has been named interim CEO.

Weekly QuizJun 20, 2024
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge by answering these questions.
Take the Quiz
Jewelers of America advocacy trip DC 2024
Policies & IssuesJun 18, 2024
JA, Industry Leaders Take Russian Diamond Import Concerns to D.C.

The group met with lawmakers to raise awareness about the financial, operational, and supply chain harms posed by an EU proposal.

Louis Comfort Tiffany 1900 gold and opal necklace
Events & AwardsJun 18, 2024
Driehaus Museum Displaying Rare Jewels From Chicago Collections

The museum also will host jewelry heist-themed movie nights throughout the run of “Chicago Collects: Jewelry in Perspective.”

1872 x 1052 Gemolite.jpg
Brought to you by
Meet Gemology’s Next Generation Microscope: GIA® Gemolite® NXT Professional Edition

GIA®’s most advanced microscope has new features to optimize greater precision and comfort.

Models wearing Pomellato’s “The Dualism of Milan” collection
CollectionsJun 18, 2024
Pomellato’s New High Jewelry Collection Celebrates Milan

“The Dualism of Milan” collection features two chapters representing the monochromatic and colorful spirit of the city.

Dorian Webb, Kealeboga and Ursula Pule
CollectionsJun 18, 2024
Zales Adds Dorian Webb, Nungu Diamonds to Designer Edit

The Designer Edit, launched earlier this year, highlights up-and-coming jewelry designers.

National Association of Jewelry Appraisers Logo
Events & AwardsJun 18, 2024
NAJA Announces Its Mid-Year ‘Ace It’ Conference

The conference will focus on the “practical ‘how to’ of appraising gems and jewelry,” said NAJA Executive Director Gail Brett Levine.

De Beers CEO Al Cook
EditorsJun 17, 2024
Q&A: Al Cook on the Future of De Beers

The De Beers CEO discussed the Anglo American situation, natural diamond marketing, and why the future of lab-grown diamonds is technology.

Bernd Munsteiner
SourcingJun 17, 2024
Fantasy Cut Inventor Bernd Munsteiner Dies at 81

Known to many as the “Picasso of gems" who modernized the gem cutting field, he is remembered by his family as going through life with open eyes.

Thomas Markle Jewelers interior
IndependentsJun 17, 2024
Thomas Markle Jewelers to Relocate

The Houston-based family jeweler is relocating its flagship just across the street.

Instore and Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference Logos
Events & AwardsJun 17, 2024
Instore Show, Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference to Co-Locate

The partnership, now in its second year, allows CRJC attendees to register for a free Instore show badge.

Stock image of a gavel
CrimeJun 14, 2024
2 Men Sentenced to Life in 2022 Murder of Detroit-Area Jeweler

In court, Daniel Hutchinson’s loved ones remembered the jeweler as a giver, a role model, and a leader.

Billie Bangle
CollectionsJun 14, 2024
Piece of the Week: Jade Trau’s ‘Billie’ Bangle

Take a walk along this bangle’s diamond “cobblestone” made from round-, pear-, and marquise-cut diamonds.

Graphic with headshots for My Next Question 2024 Las Vegas webinar
Recorded WebinarsJun 14, 2024
Watch: What Happened in Vegas in 2024

The National Jeweler editors discuss the hot topics, best jewels, and current trends that stood out during Jewelry Market Week.

Supplier BulletinJun 13, 2024
Leading with Innovation: Core Scientific’s Advanced Refining Solutions

Sponsored by Core Scientific

Vera Wang Love True lab-grown diamond engagement ring
FinancialsJun 13, 2024
Signet Awaits Engagement Recovery as Q1 Sales Sink 9%

The company is expecting to see a 5 to 10 percent increase in engagements this year.

QVC HSN logo
MajorsJun 13, 2024
HSN, QVC Parent Company Faces Delisting

Qurate Retail is in the middle of a turnaround plan as it battles declining sales.

45.07-carat step cut fancy vivid yellow diamond
AuctionsJun 13, 2024
45-Carat Yellow Diamond Withdrawn from Phillips Auction

Signed jewels and period pieces stood out at the sale.

Marie Lichtenberg Scapular necklace
TrendsJun 13, 2024
Amanda’s Style File: For the Fathers

Showcase your dad’s personal style with a piece of fine jewelry for Father’s Day.

The Eden Rose Diamond
AuctionsJun 12, 2024
10-Carat Pink Diamond Sells for $13M at Christie’s

“The Eden Rose” is a fancy intense pink diamond that was appearing at auction for the first time.

Charles & Colvard moissanite ring
GradingJun 12, 2024
IGI to Grade Charles & Colvard Moissanite

The partnership follows the launch of the jewelry company’s B2B moissanite platform.

Bruce Cleaver
SourcingJun 12, 2024
Bruce Cleaver Is Gemfields’ New Chair

The former De Beers CEO will step into the role next month.

Rose cut arch cabochons Columbia Gem House
SourcingJun 12, 2024
State of Colored Stones: Why the Market Is More Colorful Than Ever

As prices of “The Big Three” skyrocket, supply dwindles, and focus on sustainability grows, an age of open-mindedness is dawning.


This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy