Conclave 2015: Millennial Mania in The Big Easy



True to form, the 77th annual American Gem Society Conclave, held April 22–25 in New Orleans, delivered on its reputation for providing retail-focused education against the backdrop of a ­rollicking good time.

Memorable for its Crescent City setting, which included a slew of decadent Cajun meals and the requisite masquerade ball, the conference opened with a feel-good keynote address by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who urged attendees to embrace competition, focus on family, and avoid complications in life. “I learned early on, especially in the NFL, you gotta keep things simple,” he said.

To a large extent, the education at Conclave 2015 adopted the same streamlined philosophy.

“The underlying theme of Conclave is how to nab this millennial audience: How do we sell to them?” said Nikki Spangler, a jewelry marketing specialist at TheKnot.com, during a seminar on bridal trends.

“Ninety-eight percent of brides own a smartphone, up from 90 percent in 2013,” Spangler continued. “You have to fish where the fish are.”

Indeed, numerous speakers stressed the urgency of having a mobile-friendly website to capture younger consumers. That, however, isn’t the only innovation important to millennials.

The retail concept du jour—known as omnichannel or clicks-and-bricks retailing—posits that store owners need to offer their customers a seamless combination of ways to interact with their businesses, including physical stores, websites, mobile stores, mobile apps, and good old-fashioned telephone calls.


Courtesy of American Gem Society
Motivational speeches are key to Conclave’s appeal.

“Millennials are digital natives,” said Ritani president Brian Watkins during a seminar on the future of retail. “They have a certain level of expectation with technology, and they love innovation.”

Watkins rattled off a number of statistics that underscored how few jewelers had grasped the importance of a multichannel retail approach. “Seventy-one percent of jewelry brands do not have e-commerce on their site,” he said. “Ninety percent do not have mobile site features.”

Beefing up a store’s presence in the digital sphere will ultimately drive customers to the brick-and-mortar location, Watkins said. “Local jewelers provide a huge service,” he said. “The next evolution of retail with a millennial customer is the omnichannel approach; it moves the conversation away from price.”

Another way to capture higher margins, many speakers said, is to appeal to millennials’ collective sense of social responsibility.

“Deniability is wearing thin,” said Martin Rapaport, chairman of the Rapaport Group, at a seminar on ethical challenges and opportunities in the jewelry industry. “How you spend your money is important.”

Provided you know the answer to that implicit question, the best way to convey your commitment to social responsibility is to tell stories, said Stephen Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, during his engaging presentation on business practices.

“Everyone, especially in your business, really needs to tell stories all the time,” Dubner said. “Whenever we hear a story, especially a good one, we naturally insert ourselves in that story. And stories are way more memorable than data and rules.”