JCK Las Vegas: High Spirits Mark JCK Opening

As JCK Las Vegas kicked
off its first year in its new home at Mandalay Bay on Friday, June 3, retailers
and exhibitors were upbeat and hopeful for a good show.

Bud Fluty, vice president
of sales for New York City diamond manufacturer Absolute Brilliance, said the
move has energized attendees. “Everything is very new and exciting,” he said of
the mood on the floor. “It’s kind of like being a kid at Christmastime.”

Overseas dealers were in
similarly high spirits, saying they noticed the American market had taken a
turn for the better.

“The feelings are much
more positive,” agreed Shmuel Schnitzer of Israeli diamond company Shmuel
Schnitzer and Co. “The American market is showing definite signs of
improvement. I think this is going to be a positive show.”

Of course, attendees
acknowledged that the market is still facing significant challenges: The prices
of gold, silver, and diamonds have all risen rapidly since the beginning of the
year. Gold jewelry sales in particular have dropped.

“It’s very hard to sell
gold jewelry unless it’s a very high-end customer,” said Joel Rzepko, owner of
JMR Jewelers in Cooper City, Fla. “This is the first year we are shopping for
silver, which I can’t believe. We always looked at silver as costume jewelry.”

Trans Baca, owner of Princess
Bride Diamonds in Huntington Beach, Calif., said, “The gold prices just kill
you. We used to sell high-end chains for $2,000. That chain is now $5,000. It’s
priced a lot of people out of the market, as a lot of that extra money is now
going to gas.”

Adelle Thompson, buyer
for the British chain Beaverbrooks, said rising prices have also impacted her
company. “If people are on a budget and they want to spend $100 on gold
jewelry, they will still spend $100 on gold jewelry,” she said. “But it’s
affected our margins.”

For many jewelers, the
rising prices came at exactly the wrong time, as the economy is still very much
in recovery, hurting discretionary purchases like jewelry. But several store
owners at JCK said their customers seemed in better spirits.

“We are starting to see
traffic pick up,” Rzepko said. “We are starting to see bigger diamonds being
sold. It’s a roller coaster.”

Rzepko has found his
repair department “extremely busy. People seem to be fixing what they have
instead of buying new.”

Jim Robuck of Robuck
Jewelers in Topeka, Kan., said he has already sold 12 to 15 two ct. diamonds
this year.

“People that have money
still have money,” he said. “We are still very busy. But then, we never really
had much of a slowdown. Last year was our biggest year in 46 years.”

With many shoppers still
shying away from big-ticket pieces, quite a few retailers have been subsisting
on lower-priced items, such as—not surprisingly—charms. “Pandora is excellent.
It’s been a huge traffic-builder for us,” said Rzepko. “When I noticed they
were talking about it in all the seminars, I knew it was time to get on board.”

The challenges facing
businesses today were the focus of the keynote speech by Mandalay Bay Resort
& Casino president and chief operating officer Chuck Bowling. In his talk,
titled “Leading in the New Normal: How to Go From Survive to Thrive,” Bowling
linked the problems of the hospitality industry to the issues plaguing the
jewelry trade and discussed how his company used “proactive listening and
communicating with a purpose” to emerge from its doldrums.

“We met with our
employees and really listened to their concerns,” Bowling said. “We did it
often, and we did it consistently. We wanted to build solid confidence and
trust with our employees.” He said the staff appreciated the communication and
“worked extra hard” to help the company.

Mandalay also refocused
on what Bowling called “key priorities.” He continued: “If it did not have to
do with improving the customer experience, enhancing employee satisfaction, or
making money with what we had, we didn’t have time to talk about it.”

The company also took
time to celebrate small successes. “I’m not talking about caviar-and-champagne
celebrations,” he said. “I mean just a pat on the back and sincere thank you.
It means more than you know.”