You Should Have Been There!

The Gemological Institute of America’s Third International Symposium in June was an event every retail jeweler should have attended. Lest you think this was some esoteric gathering of gemologists, scientists, and laboratory technicians, think again. While these professionals were in San Diego in force, there were also retailers, gem and diamond dealers, and jewelry manufacturers from all over the world.

GIA brought together this group to discuss and debate the most critical issues facing the industry: De Beers. Branding. Marketing. Technology. Economics. Ethics. All were hot topics of discussion. There were different formats—formal presentations followed by questions and answers; discussion panels; and “war rooms,” where audience participation was encouraged (and achieved!). Lively debate during and after each session continued on into the night.

The most stimulating session was held on the final day. Four outstanding speakers addressed marketing, technology, the economy, and ethics. Al Reis, author of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, discussed marketing today and the importance of creating an image in the minds of your customers. He said that jewelry stores should have a brand image of their own separate from the products they sell. Advertising’s primary purpose is to retain existing customers, he continued, while public relations is much more important in establishing a positive brand image.

Don Tapscott, author and founder of the Alliance for Converging Technologies, discussed the implications of technology but never quite made the case for technology overtaking the jewelry business. His premise was that the young people who have grown up with computers will be more disposed to buy jewelry electronically. With grading reports, De Beers and others branding diamonds, and the amount of information consumers will be able to easily gather from the ’Net, more business will be done electronically. Tapscott warned retail jewelers, wholesalers, and other middle-market businesses to prepare for disaster if his warnings were not heeded.

Arthur Laffer, one of President Reagan’s economic advisers, was next. He was optimistic about the state of the economy for the next few years. Some attendees were offended, though, by Laffer’s continuous banter attacking the economic policies of Presidents Johnson (Vietnam), Nixon (moving off the gold standard), Ford (continuing the policies of Johnson and Nixon), and Carter (taxes and inflation). Surprisingly, Laffer gave high marks to President Clinton but limited his praise to economic policy.

Finally, the most compelling speaker, Rushworth Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, spoke about the growing importance of ethics. Kidder recounted in chilling detail what really took place at Chernobyl when the Soviet nuclear facility exploded. It was not, as most everyone thinks, an accident caused by poor construction or poor equipment but rather a horrific lack of ethical behavior on the part of senior technicians performing an unauthorized experiment. According to Kidder, these technicians thwarted the proper functioning of fail-safe equipment that would have automatically shut down the reactor as it sped out of control.

In an industry facing serious ethical dilemmas, Rushworth Kidder’s presentation was spellbinding, clear, motivating, and helpful. You should have been there.