Some quick thoughts from the AGS Conclave in New Orleans.
The mood at this year’s American Gem Society confab in the Crescent City is lively and upbeat. And yet, when you talk to people on an individual basis, the sentiment is a lot more mixed.
A lot of AGS retailers are doing great, with bridal particularly strong. Some have enjoyed record years. But for many, business is still bumpy, with sales fine one month and soft the next. “It’s totally inconsistent,” said one retailer, shrugging it off as part of the new normal. A lot depends on region: California is doing well, I’ve heard; other states, less so. And a few retailers are having a tough time getting bank financing (as are manufacturers).
The industry is starting to feel the effect of the rise of the millennial generation and its desire to buy nontraditional jewelry (quite a few said they’re doing well with colored stones, in some cases better than diamonds) and inclination to buy everything online. One jeweler noticed an increasing amount of customers asking him to match online prices for watches.
A few reported buying diamonds and jewelry “off the street” and from places like pawnshops. One told me that by sourcing secondhand diamonds at greatly reduced prices, he is finally able match Blue Nile’s prices. (In a seminar I gave yesterday, a lively debate broke out over what was the “fair” price to pay for secondhand goods and whether we will ever see a secondhand diamond price guide.)
Of course, buying secondhand is just another thing that is hurting wholesalers, particularly diamond wholesalers and manufacturers: They have been finding things tough for some time. Many are looking warily but hopefully to Vegas. Just about every show has been bad this year, but most hope that JCK Las Vegas show (which owns this publication) will break the pattern. We will see.
Perhaps the most heartening trend is that many in the trade are taking a fresh look at their businesses. One jeweler told me that after taking a ride in an Uber, which he found far superior and cleaner to the standard messy cab, he was inspired to freshen up his store’s decor. Others are paying renewed attention to their store’s website. “It’s just as important as your store window,” one jeweler told me. Some are starting to look at it as second store.
After my seminar, someone lamented to me that the trade has been discussing the same topics for the last six years. The difference now, though, is people feel compelled to listen and act.