AGS Conclave Wows Attendees

April 19, 2005

AGS Conclave Wows Attendees

The American Gem Society Conclave, a yearly educational gathering for many of America's prominent retail jewelers, earned especially high marks from retail attendees for content during the 2005 event, held in Hollywood, CA, from April 13-16. Jewelers interviewed singled out the following areas of interest for praise.

Improving Customer Service
Speakers who stressed in-store and after-sales service were popular. Leadership expert Michael Fortino, who acted as a facilitator as well as speaker throughout the conclave, said on a scale of one to five, a four is no longer enough to earn customer loyalty.

Building Better Employees
Businesses are increasingly valued by their human capital, said Fortino. Jewelers need to hire sales associates who can think on their feet and provide superb service without constant supervision. If an employee can't do this after training and coaching, a jeweler must be prepared to fire that person, according to several speakers.

Fostering Change
Bill Boyajian, president of the Gemological Institute of America, outlined a step-by-step plan for effecting real change in a business, based on his experience at GIA. A key point: Make sure your employees feel like stakeholders in the process – involve them from the ground up.

Using Tomorrow's Technology
Fortino discussed the profound effect technology is having on young people, the customers of tomorrow. He also updated jewelers on the latest in data-mining technology and how smart marketers will use this information in the future to make wise business decisions. Finally, he shared some of the latest technology applications that could someday be used by jewelers to communicate with customers online, such as e-scent technology and posting local ads on consumers' wireless computers as they drive through town.

Communicating Effectively
Sales trainer Shane Decker shared new research, such as studies showing older people are online and can be contacted via e-mail, despite the stereotype of technologically clueless 60-year-olds. He also talked about how to communicate effectively with high-income buyers, who are the most sensitive about privacy.

Refining Sales Skills
Sales trainer Tom Hopkins gave a day-long event for jewelers, teaching them and their associates how to sell to increasingly jaded consumers. Key tips: give up pushy techniques and and arrogant know-it-all attitude if you want to win loyal clients. Customer relationship expert Rick McCutcheon talked about ways to keep customers "warm" who haven't yet bought. Hint: give them a small gift.

Using Strategy
Matt Stuller, chairman and CEO of Stuller inc., exhorted jewelers to stay ahead of the competiton to survive in the marketplace. "If you compete on price, you're going to get picked off," he said. He advised retreats with key team members and looking outside the jewelry industry for unique ideas.

Encouraging Teamwork
Consultant Pat Lencioni spoke about healthy store teams – teams with minimal politics or confusion about purpose, low employee turnover plus high morale and productivity. Do this by building trust. Allow employees to give input and have disagreements, among themselves and with the boss, without getting penalized or fired.

Enhancing Store Experiences
The Diamond Promotion Service taught jewelers by example. Over the past few conclaves, Executive Director Lynn Diamond and educational consultant Diane Warga-Arias encouraged jewelers to create life-enhancing experiences in their stores – ones their customers would find truly memorable. At this year's event, DPS sponsored breakfast in bed for attendees (along with a seminar delivered via hotel TV), and ended the day with a three-course sit-down tasting menu event that also conveyed the Diamond Trading Co.'s 2005 key marketing messages on the anniversary occasion and right-hand rings. The event featured exceptional foods created by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and colorfully described by Warga-Arias, who also introduced and described the fine wines that complemented the feast. These two experiences, jewelers said, were the most pleasurable of the conclave. As Warga-Arias reminded jewelers near the end of the event, "Joy is a great motivator."

Continuing Education
Attendees singled out for special praise training on the new AGS cut grading system, Internet workshops and gemology classes by GIA. Especially welcome were updates on new gem treatments and synthetics by GIA and other gem experts such as Edward Boehm, Richard Drucker and Doug Hucker.

Awards & Events
Peter Yantzer, executive director of AGS Laboratories, was given the Robert M. Shipley award, presented annually to a member for outstanding service, significant contribution to the science of gemology or for exemplifying the high ideals of the society. He was cited for the success of the lab in advancing gemological research and service. "This award is really for the whole lab," said Yantzer. "I'm just the figurehead."

AGS announced its lab would begin issuing the Diamond Quality™ document for the new performance-based cut grading system on June 1. In May, the lab will release its new fancy-shape cut grading system and a new look for all its document packaging. During conclave, AGS introduced an advanced instruments division and demonstrated its Angular Spectrum Evaluation Tool (ASET) and AGS performance grading software program.

At the President's Gala, AGS members raised over $120,000 for Jewelers for Children, the industry charity, through silent and live auctions and raffles.

"We plan to reinvent conclave and make it better every single year," said Ruth Batson, executive director and CEO of AGS. "We're providing tools to propel jewelers safely and successfully into the future, with information on topics they may not even be aware they need," said Cindy Ramsey, deputy executive director. "Conclaves are really designed for our members," said William Sites, president. AGS practices what it preaches, said Sites. "We focus on our customers."

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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