Glimmers of Hope

As I write, there are murmurs around the country that perhaps we’ve seen the bottom of this economic decline and we’re beginning to inch our way back up.

Regardless, it looks like there will be rough times ahead in the job market, so we and our industry aren’t out of the woods yet.

If we do begin an economic renewal, it will certainly be a very exciting time. To have economic growth dovetail with the promise of technological breakthroughs such as online social networking will be a thrill.

I’ve just come back from the American Gem Society’s annual Conclave and found this year’s session to be frank, honest, and encouraging. For the first time, non-AGS member retailers were allowed to attend. As a result, attendance was down just slightly (in the “new normal,” down slightly equals good), and there was fresh energy and new blood among those who came.

I had the honor of moderating a panel called “Sharing Secrets” that included Cathy Calhoun, of Calhoun Jewelers, Royersford, Pa.; Julia Gardner, of David Gardner’s Jewelers, College Station, Texas; and John Carter, of Jack Lewis Fine Jewelry, Bloomington, Ill. The panel was fantastic and provided a window into success even in tough times. Each of these retailers has reached out into their communities and taken advantage of their physical store space to create events that allow for local networking, help charities, open their stores to new customers, and provide a whole lot of fun. Each has tapped local groups: college sororities in College Station, the Rotary in Bloomington, and an event to celebrate the restoration of an historic clock in Royersford.

At last year’s AGS, I had the honor of being the master of ceremonies for the Q&A session with keynote speaker Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Blink). Malcolm’s best advice to independent jewelry retailers was for them to be the “anti Blue Nile.” In other words, local retailers must capitalize on those areas where Blue Nile cannot compete: exactly like the events described above.

Perhaps most exciting, however, were the obvious opportunities that exist for retailers like these to harness the Internet and use social networking sites (like Facebook), blogs, and Twitter to get the word out about these events, spread photos from the events around the Web, grow and maintain customer databases, and build excitement around future events. After several years of seeing the Internet as something of an enemy (as the home of cheap competitors), it’s now apparent that the Internet is our strongest ally (as the facilitator of the exact strengths against which online stores cannot compete).

I left AGS on a high—the first I’ve felt in some time. It was a feeling that ingenuity, attitude, and enterprise will win in the long run. That feeling, combined with some tiny glimmers of hope in the economic forecast, put a big smile on my face and a spring in my step!