Star Speakers Bolster AGS’ 74th Conclave

The American Gem Society (AGS) is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year—and its annual Conclave educational event just turned the ripe old age of 74.

But there’s no dust on these industry pillars. This year’s Conclave featured a lineup of forward-thinking keynote and seminar speakers, including Magic Johnson (see a full rundown of his speech here), designer Erica Courtney, tech expert Jim Spellos, sales guru Shane Decker, speaker and business tycoo Peter Sheahan, and graffitti artist and entrepreneur Erik Wahl. 

The event, which was held at the majestic Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, Calif., April 22–26, was designed to feel supercharged, said Ruth Batson, CEO of AGS, adding, “We wanted this one to be different from the others—more special—and to be closer to our sister organization, GIA.”

The heavenly Hotel del Coronado, host of this year’s Conclave (courtesy of the Hotel del Coronado)

Spellos, an NYU professor and tech guru, blew everyone’s mind in his “Hot Technologies 2013” seminar—which emphasized the importance of retailers focusing on mobile, social, and local—when he suggested everyone get rid of their traditional websites and erect a digital presence solely for mobile commerce.

“We are in the post-PC world,” Spellos exclaimed, pointing to his computer. “That laptop I have over there? Old news. Twenty-five to 30 percent of people who use a mobile device never use a traditional PC; they are only mobile. And that number is going to increase significantly.”

The tech guru called YouTube “the instruction manual of the world,” claimed LinkedIn is “not really a social network,” and, as he passed his personal Google Glass device around the room for audience members to test-drive, said, “I predict Google Glass will fail miserably. It’s too expensive at around $1,500, and it’s too new; we’re just not ready for it.”

Less fire starting (but no less interesting) was jewelry designer Erica Courtney’s “Red Carpet Exposure” seminar, where she recounted her rise in Hollywood, which began with her gluing rhinestones onto sunglasses at her kitchen table.

The designer said she’s grateful for the red-carpet exposure, but added that even when you’re outfitting a starlet, “you always have to ask for the sale, no matter who it is…I don’t give anything away to any actress.” Courtney urged jewelry retailers not based in major cities to harness the power of celebrity by reposting celebrity shots on their social media channels posted by jewelry designers such as herself. 

Business tycoon and speaker Peter Sheahan during his breakfast keynote speech at Conclave (courtesy of AGS)

Australian business tycoon Peter Sheahan gave a keynote speech that focused on how to adapt gracefully to change in any industry.

“All of you are going through a little bit of change,” he said. “But don’t build your future on the beliefs of the past. Just because a certain kind of marketing worked for the 30 years you’ve been in business, doesn’t mean anything for tomorrow. When a historical business practice meets the future, the future always wins—six days a week and twice on Sundays.”

Shane Decker, owner of the Ex-Sell-Ence Sales Academy, brought his signature straight talk to retailers in a three-hour “Closing Sales” seminar.

The former jeweler pulled no punches. “I’ve worked with 4,000 jewelry stores in the U.S. alone, and almost all of you guys are horrible at closing sales,” he said, before urging the crowd to elevate their inventory game (“selling a little bit of silver is fine, but are you a silver retailer?” he asked), stop discounting, and learn to close sales based on particular sales styles, which he broke down in detail.

“Don’t come to [Conclave] and take notes and then go home and do the same things you’ve been doing,” he said. “ You’ve got to train. If you’re not going to train, just close your store. You’ve got to self-improve.”

The Jewelers of America fashion show at Conclave (courtesy of AGS)

JCK Magazine Editor