Some Impressions From the AGS Conclave

– When I asked people how business was, I frequently heard that things were “okay.” Which means “okay,” in the sense of “not great,” but also “okay” in the sense of “we’ll make it through this.” Last year at this time, people weren’t so sure about that.

– That said, there are definitely some jewelers having issues with their banks. Glenn Rothman of Hearts on Fire told me that one of his consultants, a Harvard Business School professor, made the rather troubling point that bankruptcies have been known to increase as an economy recovers from recession. During hard times, he said, banks support troubled companies. But if things improve and the company hasn’t, they sometimes pull the plug.

– The mood among manufacturers was decidedly mixed, although I did hear several say that jewelers were starting to order again. Rothman, hosting a party at his company’s impressive headquarters, said Hearts on Fire’s first quarter sales were up 28.1% over last year (though that was, obviously, a bad quarter.) One supplier said he thought that America was having an uneven recovery – with the Northeast and major metropolitan areas doing better, but other sections of the country still hurting.

– There are less of the big international companies here than I’ve seen in years past, and they are likely focusing more of their attention on China and India, where the economy is stronger and they can avoid America’s memo hassles. This is looking like a significant trend that could really impact the market here.

– There was a lot of talk about social networking, particularly Twitter and Facebook. Maybe I’m missing something, but as someone who knows both services pretty well, I see only limited opportunities for jewelers in them. Most people are on these services for fun, not to hear commercials. Mind you, I wouldn’t dissuade businesses from using them – they are free, after all, and, if you just put out a note every week or so, they aren’t too time-consuming (provided you have some self-control.) But at this point, I can’t see either service being a significant alternative to the traditional means of reaching consumers, particularly advertising and getting involved in the community.

– Attendance at Conclave is up over last year and seems pretty healthy, all things considering, though it’s definitely a scaled back affair. But people are more optimistic than they’ve been in a while. Several speakers even referred to this recession as if it were in the past. While I still think we have a ways to go before things get good again, that was nice to hear.

JCK News Director