AGS opens with motivation and patriotism

Austin, Texas—Jewelers were motivated, urged to brand themselves, and told they had to think strategically on the first day of the American Gem Society conclave.

The conclave took place under the inescapable shadow of the war in Iraq. The hotel bar was tuned to CNN, and the opening session began with a patriotic display, which included renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner,” “O Canada,” and “America the Beautiful.” Attendance was down this year, because of fear of travel and the cancellation of the Conclave’s supplier show.

Branding was top of most retailers’ minds at the Conclave, although in a seminar on “The State of the Jewelry Industry,” JCK publisher Frank Dallahan told them the best thing they could do was brand themselves.

“You should go home with the determination to do a better job branding your store locally,” Dallahan explained. “Make sure that you are the first name that comes to a consumer’s mind when they think of jewelry.”

He noted that, according to the JCK retail panel, there is not much interest in selling branded diamonds.

“71% of retailers said they do not sell branded diamonds,” he said. “82% said there are enough brands, no more are needed, if they are needed at all.”

He noted that a JCK survey found that many of the “brands” on the market today do not have widespread consumer awareness.

“If only 2 to 3% of people have heard of you, that’s not a brand,” he said.

He also advised:

· Identify your best sellers, make them basics and never be out of them.
· Develop the discipline to eliminate your buying mistakes every six months. “Mark them down or return them, but get them out of your store if they are not selling,” he said.
· Be active on the Internet. “Consumers today come into stores today better prepared than their parents. When we did a focus group of consumers, virtually everyone we talked to had been to www.adiamondisforever.com.”
· Sell your expertise. “You know more about the products in your store than any consumer ever could. A consumer can go on the Internet and find out a GVS is worth ‘x’ dollars. But he will never be able to determine if a diamond is cut well the way you can.”
· Most jewelers’ inventory turns once a year. Jewelers should give inventory turn more consideration.
· Sell stylish engagement rings instead of plain solitaires. “How many women like going to a party and seeing a woman wearing the same dress? The person behind the counter has to serve as a guide for the customer.”

In his seminar on “The State of the Diamond Industry,” Martin Rapaport, price sheet publisher, said jewelers today needed to know their customer better.

“Doing demographic research is easier than ever,” he said. “If you don’t do market research, you won’t be here in a few years. It is no longer optional.”

He also advised jewelers to “get into customer’s head.”

“The bridal market is so strong that even a war can’t blow it away,” he noted. “The diamond industry is not about diamonds. It’s about the head trip between a guy and a girl. Diamonds show commitment. When a girl gets a diamond, her friends say, ‘You got him.’ She didn’t get a diamond. She got the guy. And if the guy goes, she’ll throw that diamond away for nickels on the dollar.”

He continued: “If you get into what’s going on between the ears of your customers, no one, not De Beers, not Rapaport, can knock you down.”

He said the industry was transitioning from one based on skill to one based on strategy.

“It used to be okay to just be a benchman,” he said. “Today, skill without strategy is a curse. It’s like a ship on dry land. It’s not going anywhere. There are big waves coming, and whether it’s a war or changes at De Beers, you need to strategically think of ways to take advantage of those waves.”

He noted that the industry had been badly impacted by the war in Iraq, but he urged the industry to play a positive role in the world.

“The diamond industry can and must play an important role in improving relations between communities, cultures and nations,” he said. “I was just in Dubai. It’s a wonderful place run by wonderful people who happen to be Arabs. The hospitality was just incredible. Diamonds bring people together. Don’t use this war as a reason to boycott French and other products. The French wake up every morning and say: ‘How can we get people to speak more French, why don’t people like the French, it’s always French, French, French.’ We wake up and think about how we want to make drivers’ applications in Spanish so everyone can read them. That’s because diversity is our strength. That’s why we’re different.”

The speaker at the Conclave’s opening session was motivator Nibo Qubein, a Lebanese immigrant who came to the U.S. as a teenager with no money and without speaking any English, and is today a multi-millionaire businessman and philanthropist.

He praised the Conclave’s session’s message—“blazing a trail towards excellence”—noting that “blazing a trail towards excellence begins with your heart and soul.”

“Excellence is not an act, it’s a habit,” he said. “Excellence is how we breathe, think and feel. It is not what happens to you that matters. It is the choices you make in life. Meaningful change comes from within.”

Among his other points:

· “Who you spend time with is who you become.”
· “Hire for attitude”: It doesn’t matter how competent someone is if they don’t have a good attitude.
· “Go beyond communicating to connecting”: Talk to people about their family, their dreams and hopes, the things that matter to them. “When something becomes personal, it becomes important,” he said.