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AGS Conclave: Bricks, Clicks and Magic Tricks

New and seasoned visitors at the 2018 event in Nashville weigh in on hot topics facing the jewelry industry.

May 24, 2018 8:02 AM   By Jennifer Heebner
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RAPAPORT... Attendees at this year’s annual American Gem Society Conclave, which took place April 23 to 25 at the Omni Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, received an intense education covering a wide spectrum of industry issues, from lab-grown diamonds to sales data and training.

John Carter, CEO and president of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, Illinois, and newly named president of the American Gem Society (AGS) (pictured), earned high praise from new and seasoned members, including Amber Gustafson, owner of Amber’s Designs Fine Jewelry in Katy, Texas, who enjoyed her “maiden Conclave experience.”

“People who attend already have a strong business, so they are there to take advantage of the quality of the speakers and meeting the different industry people who attend,” she noted.

Overcoming adversity

Popular speakers included entertainer Marie Osmond and Philadelphia Eagles player and magician Jon Dorenbos, who talked about overcoming personal struggles. Osmond spoke first, noting that she, like jewelers, understands the importance of staying relevant. “My job on TV each week was to stay interesting,” she joked about her myriad appearances and long-running show Donny & Marie. When that program ended, she was forced “to reinvent myself to stay marketable,” she said.

Other seminar topics included saltwater pearls — Joshua Israileff of ASBA Pearls offered insights into pearl grafting and harvesting — while the Jewelers Vigilance Committee’s Sara Yood talked copyrights and trademarks. AGS’s Alethea Inns detailed her firm’s new grading system for brown diamonds, created because “the current system does not describe the nuances of these stones,” she said.

While these and other seminars were well attended, two speakers whose talks were rich in industry data had rooms nearly filled to capacity. These included Forevermark CEO Charles Stanley, with his “De Beers Group Insights to Influence Your Marketing and Selling Strategies,” and Stuller’s vice president of strategic analysis, Harold Dupuy, with his session on “State of the Jewelry Industry: Facts, Figures and the Future.”

Stanley dove into positive US economic indicators such as consumer sentiment and a low unemployment rate, suggesting that American consumerism was “alive and well.” Results from a recent Mastercard SpendingPulse report show that independent retail jewelry stores are driving growth, and that sales among mid-tier shops (think Signet) were lagging. Online spending also slowed, though 20% of wedding-jewelry shoppers bought online. “A combination of clicks and bricks will drive online growth,” he said of the increasing importance of omni-channel.

Growth opportunities

And while the industry struggles with the commoditization of diamonds, a shrinking retail store community, and the “Amazon effect” on the growing e-commerce sector, independents can still stand out through compelling in-store experiences and “connecting with consumers wherever they choose to purchase,” he said. Another bright spot in spending: women. “The number of self-purchasers is up, and that growth is from single women,” said Stanley.

Dupuy also noted the importance of female self-purchasers and the over-stored state of American retail. Additionally, he predicts that custom sales will continue to rise. “Ten years ago, custom work accounted for 5% of a store’s sales and now it’s 15%,” he explained. More opportunities exist in repurposing and restyling engagement and wedding rings given the US’s divorce rate.

Finally, a word of sympathy for the oft-maligned millennial shopper: “Baby Boomers had three times the economic buying power when they were the same age as millennials,” Dupuy stated.
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