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Eileen McClelland

Profile: Ruth Batson Looks Ahead

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The American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories announced last week that Ruth Batson, CEO of both organizations, will retire in June 2017. She has been a part of AGS for 23 years, which represents her entire career in the jewelry industry.

 

Eileen McClelland


Managing
editor at
INSTORE Magazine.

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he American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories announced last week that Ruth Batson, CEO of both organizations, will retire in June 2017. She has been a part of AGS for 23 years, which represents her entire career in the jewelry industry.

In her early days on the job as a controller, she quickly learned just how much she didn’t know.

“When I first came to work I had no experience in the jewelry industry; I was responsible for inventory management and I remember sitting in a meeting with the executive director and other members of the management team. And I told them I thought we were getting low on the pamphlet on periDOT, (pronouncing it as DOT not DOH.) And everyone just stared at me. I realized I had a whole lot to learn!”

Scott Berg, president-elect of the AGS board of directors said Batson will be greatly missed. “She has protected the Society’s many assets and ensured its long-term sustainability during her tenure. The Society is on a strong financial footing, which is directly related to her outstanding management.”

AGS President Louis Smith said Batson has built a strong team and made a lasting impact on the history of AGS. “We are forever grateful for her service and contribution to the American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories. She will always be part of the AGS family.”

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Batson credits that strong team for her success.

“You have to hire good people, you have to nurture and support them because you are only as successful as the people who work for you want you to be,” Batson says. “ If I can feel good about something, any time I hear someone say AGS has done great under my leadership, I know it is because of the fantastic team we put together at headquarters.”

Batson plans to split her time in retirement between her home in Las Vegas and a ranch in Montana. "I was one of those little girls, who everything I owned had a picture of a horse on it, and I always was fascinated with the idea of horses,” Batson said. "I have never owned one. But it’s always been a dream of mine as long as I remember. And the idea of being off the grid as I’ve gotten older sounds really nice. My husband has always wanted to be a cowboy, and together we’ve merged our dreams.”

In an interview last week, Batson began to reflect on what her time with AGS has meant to her.

Q. What do you like most about the jewelry industry?

A. Having only worked for the American Gem Society I have this view that our members are really the heart and the soul of America — family owned independent jewelers who are still living the American dream. I’ve always felt in awe of that. Working with them and finding ways to help them achieve their goals has been incredibly rewarding, and of course the mission of consumer protection is also very rewarding. I fell in love with everything about the jewelry industry — and that includes the products.

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Q. Can you share some of your favorite parts of the job?

A. Working with volunteers that are so committed to this organization. I often wonder how they find the time to travel to meetings and do the things that they do as volunteers, all for the good of this organization. It’s great to work with that caliber of people. Being in a leadership role in an office; building a management team and mentoring others along the way have all been rewarding. Also, I got to be a part of a start up business. It’s not often you work with an association that’s 80 years old and get to be part of a start up business, and that was our lab, the AGS Lab.

Q. What has been your biggest priority as CEO of the AGS?

A. It is making sure that every decision we make works toward the mission of consumer protection. What could be a more noble mission? We always think about that with every decision we make in the lab or at the society. That’s the biggest priority — and continuing to build the importance with consumers of shopping with American Gem Society retailers.

Q. What memories will always stand out for you?

A. I have some wonderful memories of great mentors – Al Woodill, Herb Bridge, Fred Weber. Al had my job for over 40 years; he’s 96 years old now and he’s still a mentor to me.

Q. Can you compare the biggest challenge jewelry retailers faced 25 years ago, to the biggest challenge they face today?

A. One of the challenges 25 years ago had to do with alternative forms of distribution; catalogs or shopping networks that changed up the way that people saw jewelry and bought jewelry. And that’s still a challenge today with the Internet, and getting our independents to create a robust online presence in order to meet the expectations of the customers who want information about jewelry and who want to see pieces of jewelry before they come into the store.

But I think that today jewelry store perpetuation is the biggest challenge. Succession planning and store transition to new owners, as our membership base is aging, is a huge challenge, and not just for AGS but for the industry.

There are also consumer-confidence issues today. That’s why it’s important that members stay up to date with gemology and with our global jewelry family.

Q. What would you like independent jewelers to know about the American Gem Society?

A. It’s so important today when you’re talking about trust and consumer confidence, that the idea of being a professional could not be more important. And for the American Gem Society, Robert Shipley figured out the magic formula to that. Education plus ethics, that’s what we provide. Credentials certifying that people have met a level of education, plus they are committed to ethical business practices.

Robert Shipley said the reason you need education and ethics together is because an ethical jeweler who is not educated can mislead the consumer through ignorance. And a very educated jeweler who does not have ethical standards can mislead a customer through their knowledge. It’s a proven fact that if you do have both you will be successful in the long term. So the AGS is a wonderful tool for the industry.

Q. What are your goals for your remaining time in the job?

A. What I’m focusing on in the next few months is the Conclave in Washington, DC. I’m also working on the search committee to find my replacement and onboarding the next CEO. We have a great team here and I’m very confident the society will continue to be successful and in good hands. It was successful before Ruth Batson came into its life and it will be successful after I leave.

Batson also serves on the boards of the Women’s Jewelry Association, Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Jewelers for Children, U.S. Jewelry Council, JCK Show Advisory Board, and Chair of the Ethical Initiatives Committee for the Jewelers of America. Her recent achievements include the Excellence in Service Award from the Women’s Jewelry Association (2010), the Jewelers for Children Facets of Hope honoree (2012), the Doyenne of the Year Award (2013) from the Indian Diamond & Colored Stone Association, and in 2014, she won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Jewelry Association.

 

 

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Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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Eileen McClelland

GOB Sale Is This Jeweler’s First Discounting Event in 46 Years

At 74, Buddy Bear says it’s time to retire his long-running, one-man show.

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Buddy Bear

THROUGHOUT 46 YEARS in business, Buddy Bear never had a sale. He just didn’t like the idea of discounting.

But he knew when he decided to retire this year, he’d have to have his very first, a retirement sale that wrapped up June 29 in his Merion, PA, store, Buddy Bear Jewelers.

One practical reason he’s calling it quits now, at age 74, is because the building was being sold and he didn’t want to commit to a long-term lease.

Another reason is that tastes have changed, and he has had a tough time selling his statement designer pieces to millennials.

“Millennials who do come in are not customers who understand me,” he says. “I’m a dinosaur. They don’t want my one of a kind, large pieces.”

Bear’s given name was Harry Bear, which hadn’t gone over well in elementary school. Instead, he began using his nickname, Buddy. He had initially planned to name his store, Harry Alan Jewelers, a combination of his first and middle name because he thought it sounded more sophisticated for a jewelry store. But after his family and friends protested that idea, he relented and stuck with Buddy Bear Jewelers.

Bear, a longtime member of INSTORE’s Brain Squad, specialized in designing what he calls “transformers,” jewelry that can be taken apart and combined with other pieces to create an entirely different piece. Bar pins can come apart to become earrings, jackets, or pendants for pearl necklaces. Bracelets can become rings. He also spent years engineering and perfecting hinges that allowed pendants to lie beautifully on the neck.

“Up until three years ago I did my own manufacturing,” he says. “I cut my teeth on making one-of-a-kind pieces. You have to be creative. I didn’t copy stuff. I made my own models. I didn’t want to be influenced.”

Now millennials tell him they want to design their engagement rings themselves, but what that means, Bear says, is simply a CAD/CAM project. “I didn’t want to have to reinvest and learn that. And the mark-up in diamonds is so darn little now that you make your money on the mounting. All I can do is show them 35 styles of halos from a catalog. But it becomes too much work for so very little money.”

Being a one-man show got old, too, and he had fought some health issues in recent years.

“Had they not sold the building, I was struggling any way and I was killing myself,” he says.

“It used to take me two and a half hours to set up and one and an hour and a half to break down every day. I’d get here at 6:30 or 7 in the morning just to get ready to open at 10. In the last three or four years, I could sit here for a week and only see the mailman.”

Before decided to retire, he had cut back his work days to four.

A low point in his career was the 1999 robbery that wiped out half a million dollars in inventory, including customer repairs. “They caught the guys and I went through the trial he says.

Still, he says, despite the challenges and tribulations, he has loved his long tenure in the business, which he first learned from his father-in-law in Miami. He’s particularly proud of the jewelry industry design awards he piled up throughout the 1990s, including honors from the AGTA’s Spectrum Awards, the American Pearl Design Competition and the Pennsylvania Jewelers Association.

“I got a great deal of satisfaction out of winning awards within the industry,” he says. “It meant that fellow jewelers have respect for me. I’ve made a lot of good friends.” He’d also been a member of the American Gem Society for 22 years and is an alumni of the GIA.

Another highlight was working with customers to design special pieces he knew they would cherish as heirlooms.

“I’ve had people get engaged in the store. I’ve had couples break up in the store. If you’re in the business long enough, you have that happen.”

When it came to the retirement sale, he knew he couldn’t go it alone. He was referred to sale-event expert Chuck Frey of Charles Frey & Company, who came to the store to meet Bear and prepare for the sale. It turned out to be the perfect fit for Bear. “We had a connection from the beginning and it’s the best thing I ever did,” he says. “The supervisor they sent me was like sending me a brother. Joseph White has been in the industry for decades. So charming. So many sales he made I never could have.”

Bear’s best advice for fellow jewelers?

“It doesn’t matter what decision you make,” he says. “The most important thing is to make a decision. Then put all of your energy behind it. Too many people make a decision and then are unable to put the work behind it to make that succeed.”

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Eileen McClelland

First JA Convention Tackles Weighty Issues

Focus of July event is on education and technology.

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JEWELRY RETAILERS, DESIGNERS and manufacturers looking for answers to burning questions about the state of the industry might do well to attend Jewelers of America’s first national convention, July 28-29 at the InterContinental New York Barclay in New York City.

Organizers have created an educational lineup with unique content as well as hands-on technological help. The event is also timed to coincide with Women’s Jewelry Association Awards for Excellence, July 29, and American Gem Society Circle of Distinction dinner, July 30.

“It’s designed to be a really focused, two-day, high-level educational forum for our members and potential members,” says David Bonaparte, president and CEO of Jewelers of America.

So if, for example, you’ve been lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling and wondering what to do about lab-grown diamonds that may infiltrate your inventory, visiting the Diamond Detection Lab during the Jewelers of America National Convention may ease your insomnia by demonstrating a variety of state-of-the-art solutions.

“With so much news and focus on lab-grown diamonds, with new technologies overseas and the ability for manufacturers to produce everything from man-made melee up to a carat and over, we’re seeing that there are issues of detection that present a real need in the industry,” says David Bonaparte.

“The worry is that some goods would pass through labs and go undetected.”

Over the years, however GIA, DeBeers and others have begun to produce ever more sophisticated desktop equipment that makes sending every diamond or potential diamond to an external lab unnecessary.

“There are now devices you can acquire and use to make sure that what you are buying is what the seller says it is,” Bonaparte says. “It’s a great way to see what’s the latest and greatest out there.” The goal of the Diamond Detection Lab is to introduce retailers and diamond dealers to the equipment that is available to them in a simple, user-friendly way.

JA has also curated a group of technology providers in a casual, interactive environment for a Retail Innovation Lab that includes a wide variety of tech options. “I think the most important issues are inventory management and omni-channel selling, so you don’t have your capital just sitting in a case,” Bonaparte says. “Inventory management is always a huge challenge for retailers, especially for the mom and pop retailer; and our demographic is 92 percent single store mom and pop retailers.”

Beyond technology, high-level discussions are planned on geopolitical finance, macroeconomics and legislative action.

“We have Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report who is a one of the leading pollsters in the country who will talk about politics and what the election will mean to businesses,” Bonaparte says. “We also have the U.S. State Department coming to talk about the Kimberley process and responsible sourcing. It’s really unique content that we’re hoping is appealing not only to retailers but to manufacturers as well.”

Another unique aspect of the convention is that attendees won’t be distracted by making appointments with vendors between seminars. “There are great events out there, and they deliver a lot of content and value, but there are really not that many that don’t have a show attached to them,” Bonaparte says.

Retail Innovation Lab exhibitors include:

  • Abbott Jewelry Systems produces a comprehensive software solution to manage retail jewelry stores called the Edge.
  • Buyers Intelligence Group™ designs solutions for merchandising challenges facing retail jewelers and manufacturers. BIG’s online platform provides data analysis tools to help clients understand their business and strategically plan their profitability.
  • Fire Polish Diamonds has developed The Fire Polish cutting technique, which is protected by five U.S. and international patents. By cutting Nano Prisms™ (diffraction gratings) on the pavilion of a diamond, Fire Polish is able to increase the dispersion and scintillation of any diamond without affecting the diamond’s cut or brilliance.
  • GPShopper is a mobile app developer for retailers, empowering brands to improve the customer shopping experience through multiple touch points. Synchrony acquired GPShopper in 2017 to create new mobile solutions for its retail partners.
  • JewelTrace by Spacecode is an RFID-powered data analytics and inventory management solution for jewelers.
  • Podium is a rich communication platform for local businesses. It’s the simplest way to collect reviews, get found online, and talk to customers in real-time through text.
  • Outernets converts static walls, glass and displays into interactive, customizable digital experiences.
  • Smart Age Solutions is a digital marketing agency specializing in the fine jewelry industry partnered with Review Alert. Smart Age Solutions also advises, conducts webinars, and provides unpublished data from Google for its clients.
  • Virtual Diamond Boutique is an interactive app platform to source a diverse global inventory of diamonds, colored gemstones, jewelry and lab-grown diamonds. It’s designed to be easy to use on a desktop or on any mobile device.

For more information, visit here.

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Eileen McClelland

AGS Conclave Education Shines Light on “Female Self-Purchasers”

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Jewelers of America is working with the jewelry industry as a whole to grab the interest of affluent young women, and focus it on fashionable, fine jewelry.

The goal is to launch a generic advertising campaign to generate awareness and affinity for consumer jewelry purchases that would be on the level of the “Got Milk” ad campaign.

Dave Bonaparte, Amanda Gizzi and Molly Fallon of the Jewelers of America, along with industry consultant Mark Smelzer, have been working over the past two years to bring such a campaign to life. They outlined their progress during a session called “Update on the Jewelers of America Consumer Marketing Initiative” during the American Gem Society Conclave last week in Seattle.

“Let’s come together as an industry to tell the same story,” Fallon said. “By promoting this, everyone should benefit.”

The tagline they’ve begun to test is called “Another Piece of Your Story,” developed by the advertising firm Cramer-Krasselt, and based on the idea that there’s an emotional connection with jewelry that’s far different from how consumers relate to any other luxury product. Each piece of jewelry a woman chooses to wear becomes another piece of her identity.

And of course, affluent, self-purchasing women are recognized as having largely untapped potential in the jewelry industry.

Working with a market-research firm, they identified one target audience of 30-something, jewelry enthusiasts, married with children, living in a city or suburb, with a higher household income. They represent 8 percent of the population.

The other target is 20-something women, who are single, with a higher household income who have been largely indifferent to jewelry. They represent 11 percent of the population.

Also integral to the campaign are the following research points:

Authenticity is a top-ranked value among women.

Wearability is important as the culture becomes more casual: 40 percent of women 18 to 34 like to mix and match expensive pieces with inexpensive pieces.

Sixty-eight percent of women 18 to 34 buy fine jewelry to treat themselves, an activity they see as empowering, personal and also view as an investment strategy.

For example, women who buy diamonds for themselves today represent one-third of all diamond jewelry sales in the U.S., a $43 billion diamond market that grew 4 percent in 2017, according to De Beers Group data.

Harold Dupuy of Stuller, who spoke in a separate Conclave session about “Jewelry Industry Insights,” said that the average sales ticket in that category is $1,300. Generally, women are buying on impulse or for a personal milestone. Nearly half are buying fine diamond jewelry with no specific occasion in mind.

The Diamond Producers Association is also focused intently this year on female self-purchasers with “For Me, From Me,” its third wave of the Real is Rare, Real is a Diamond marketing campaign.

Conclave featured speaker Kelly McDonald said that women who like what they buy – no matter what it is — also have a multiplier effect. “Women are exceedingly enthusiastic about sharing whatever they like or don’t like. They’ll tell a million people either way. Women trust other women, even women they don’t know.”

Appropriately, the JA ad campaign will reflect that research by including a focus on influencers as well as more traditional forms of marketing.

JA is currently seeking funding from within the jewelry industry to test this ad concept over the summer in a single market in Los Angeles, representing five zip codes with a high percent of JA jewelry store members, a high household income, a high percentage of millennials and a high amount of social conversation that focuses on jewelry.

Matthew Tratner, GIA’s global director of business development, says a successful generic ad campaign can help the whole jewelry industry. “If more jewelry gets sold, it helps everyone in the room.”

For more information, contact Amanda Gizzi, director of PR & Events for Jewelers of America, agizzi@jewelers.org. To become a sponsor, contact Mark Smelzer, mark@marksmelzer.com

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