AGS Conclave: A San Francisco Treat

Attendance was up 10 percent at the 2011 American Gem Society Conclave, held April 27–30 at the Westin Hotel in San Francisco, and attendees called it the most optimistic Conclave in years.

“Everyone was very upbeat,” says executive director Ruth Batson, who added that sponsorships hit a record this year. “I see it as a positive sign for the rest of the year.” She adds that while business remains “challenging” for a lot of AGS members, there was a distinct sense among attendees that conditions have turned the corner. “Obviously, it’s a slow turnaround,” she says. “But people understand there is a new normal, and they have adjusted and adapted.”

She also noticed a markedly better mood among suppliers who attended the gathering. “And that’s a tough crowd, because they have had a difficult couple of years,” she says. “But they were engaged and they were happy.”

One attendee, Jennifer Marlow, sales manager of Michael’s Jewelry in ­Visalia, Calif., also recognized the improved sentiment. “We are definitely seeing an upswing,” she said, noting that her business has seen increased foot traffic. “We are all prepared for good things in the future, but given the last few years, I think we are still pretty conservative as far as product goes.”

Among the noteworthy happenings at this year’s Conclave:

• Ronnie Cox, owner and president of Cox Jewelers in Sweetwater, Texas, won the organization’s prestigious Robert M. Shipley award, its highest honor. Cox was most recently ­chairman of the board of managers of AGS Laboratories. “It’s a huge honor,” Cox says. “The American Gem Society has always been very important to me, and to join the other Shipley winners, that’s a really strong cast of characters. It’s just very humbling.”

• Tony Hsieh, the CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos and author of the best-seller Delivering Happiness, said his company’s success stems from its culture and commitment to service. “Internally, we have a saying that we are a service company that just happens to sell shoes,” he said. The company also stresses happiness—both its customers’ and its employees’. Finding the right people is so important that potential hires are judged on how they treat the shuttle driver who takes them to the interview.

Batson says that in the 18 years she’s attended Conclave, this is the first time she has seen three speakers receive standing ovations: Jim Abbott (see Jewel Box), Hsieh, and Dan Buettner, a National Geographic writer who spoke about “How to Live a Long Life.” Says Marlow: “I think it was a great lineup. It was nice to see people addressing things outside the business, like lifestyle. And I think that put people in a positive frame of mind.”

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