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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

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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Eileen McClelland

DPA’s E-Learning Platform for Retailers Romances The Diamond

Focus is on origins, rarity and benefits to gem-producing countries.

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“BEHIND THE BRILLIANCE of Diamonds,” the Diamond Producers Association’s new e-learning program, is a hit with retailers and particularly resonates with sales people on the front lines, says Grant Mobley, trade-relations lead for the DPA.

“The more knowledgeable you are about diamonds the more confident you are and the easier it is to sell them,” he says. “It’s igniting more interest and passion for the industry.”

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The idea behind the hour-long training program, split into three 20-minute modules, is that diamond information reaching consumers has become too technical. Research conducted by the DPA has revealed that diamond shoppers just aren’t wowed anymore by sales presentations that are fixated on the 4Cs.

Consumers, Mobley says, are not hearing enough about the romance of the origins of diamonds or how much good the diamond industry is doing in diamond-producing nations, such as Botswana.

“Whether you have been working with diamonds for one day or 20 years, the program relates compelling stories about the history of natural diamonds, easy-to-digest and well-researched facts, and memorable details about the important benefits that the natural diamond industry makes to the world,” he says.

The program was designed to supplement sales professionals’ existing knowledge of diamonds with information that the DPA has learned is most relevant to consumers.

“We do focus groups with thousands of consumers, and part of that research is finding out what the consumer finds interesting about jewelry and diamonds,” he says. “Consumers find the journey of diamonds fascinating when they hear about it, but a lot of them don’t hear about it. That diamonds are a billion years old, how long it takes a diamond to get to the Earth’s surface, the difficulty in obtaining diamonds. We wanted to share that information and encourage sales people to share that information.”

Mobley says the program is suitable for stores that sell both natural and laboratory-grown diamonds because it provides accurate information about the origins of both.

The education is also designed to help sales staff respond to questions from consumers about past problems in the diamond industry.

“A common misconception is that conflict diamonds are somehow rampant in the industry, which is not true,” Mobley says. “When a consumer is asking questions about things like that, your average sales person behind the counter maybe doesn’t know how to respond. A lot of people don’t realize the good that comes out of the diamond industry and how the diamond industry contributes to the countries in which they operate. We haven’t done a great job in letting consumers know how far the industry has come.”

Future modules will include much more specific information on those topics.

Mobley says the DPA plans to build on its e-learning platform as more research results become available.

“It is a living thing, for sure,” he says. “We want to be able to add to it as we do new projects. Whenever we can condense research into digestible bits of information, we will be creating new modules for the program.”

Another future module will focus on female self-purchasers, which is currently the topic of the DPA’s third wave of the Real is Rare, Real is a Diamond marketing campaign. It’s called “For Me, From Me.”

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.

The “For Me, From Me,” marketing campaign will run through fall 2019 across TV, digital and print. As research progresses, the DPA will release a module on that topic and communicate its availability with everyone who participated in the first module.

“It is for sure the most well received campaign we’ve done to date, by consumers as well as the trade,” Mobley says. “Women were so surprised, so pleasantly surprised to see marketing about diamonds that was geared toward them. Part of the reason we created this campaign in the first place was that the industry was already telling us that over the past two years, self-purchase had been so much on the rise. Seven out of 10 retailers reported a rise in self-purchase.

“So we’re getting the increase regardless of the marketing, but the marketing will help take down the barriers that still exist for women who think it is not appropriate to buy diamonds for themselves.”

The DPA has signed up more than 200 stores to use the related creative materials and TV commercials and to participate in training staff how to sell specifically to women. Available in-store materials include tagged video, print and digital creative, visual-merchandising support and POS materials

The DPA has also partnered with Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts to offer in-store training and webinar-based training on how to sell to the self-purchasing woman. That training will be made available to all of the retailers who sign up as ambassador stores.

“Becoming an ambassador store is totally free, but we want to make it official,” Mobley says. “Not only will the retailer get free training and free assets, but they also will be the first to hear about new campaigns and things that we do in the future. It’s a way for us to keep in touch with stores that are gung-ho about our assets.”

Future modules will likely be shorter and include sub-titles, both suggestions made by retailers who have tested the program.

In addition to the training program being free of charge, there are rewards for retail sales people who complete the program. Points are awarded for each module completed and can be redeemed for up to a $25 gift card at one of several retailers.

“We realize that even an hour out of your day is sometimes difficult,” Mobley says. “That’s why we’re offering this incentive program. It’s a way for us to get people more excited about it, and let them know we’re taking their time into consideration.

Retail sales associates who complete the program will also be entered to win a grand prize for an all- expenses paid trip for two to New York City. Valued at $4,000, the trip will offer exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the New York diamond industry, including a personal tour of a diamond cutting facility. The drawing will take place in the fall.

Visit www.diamondproducers.com/tradeportal to access the e-learning platform.

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9 Things We Learned How To Do From 2018 America’s Coolest Stores

Store owners share their creative ideas.

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How to Create Privacy

At Marks Jewelers in Montgomeryville, PA, owners Jim and Dareen Brusilovsky, created a Diamond Diner, with diner-like booths. The Diamond Diner concept affords couples a comfortable, intimate way of choosing a ring at the same time it creates a more effective and private selling environment.

How to Encourage Browsing

Fakier Jewelers in Houma, LA, implemented a cell-phone audio tour for clients who like to explore on their own. The app is accessed from the store’s website and customers use their own phones, listening to descriptions associated with each display. It’s also a novel way to acknowledge the importance of mobile window shopping. “The consumer now comes in with their phones in their hands, usually with something they saw on our website,” says owner Greg Fakier.

How to Put Customers At Ease

At Marisa Perry Atelier, clients collaborate with the sales staff and with designer and co-owner Douglass Elliott, around a long, custom-made community table, where everyone can be comfortable and relaxed while creating their dream engagement rings. Elliott and his team made 725 pieces of jewelry by hand last year.
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How to Entertain Kids

At Bell Brooke Studio and Gallery in Santa Fe, NM, Belle Brooke Barer set up an art station in the courtyard she shares with neighboring galleries to encourage children (and others) to explore their creativity. “There’s absolutely nothing for kids on Canyon Road, and people come to Santa Fe with their families and drag their kids through the galleries. The kids are bored and the parents want to look around.” People of all ages are invited to make art there with paper, glue, scissors, crayons and markers. Some of the artists leave their work behind and Barer often displays it in the store.

How to Throw a Party

On the second floor of Stephen Webster’s Beverly Hills Boutique, there’s an art gallery, lounge and event area with a bar and banquet tables, where Webster and friends can easily accommodate dozens of guests for catered dinners. “We made a bar, we made a lounge, it felt a bit like coming to a club,” he says. “And you can come up here and see the things that I enjoy. I’ve done many, many shows with artists, photographers, musicians, fashion designers. The first floor is always Stephen Webster. The second floor is what Stephen Webster likes.”

How to Engage the Community

Viviana Langhoff, owner of Adornment + Theory in Chicago, offers monthly workshops where attendees learn hands-on techniques that help them create and appreciate the art of metalsmithing and other accessory-based techniques. She’s hosted workshops on ‘How to Make a Silver Ring’, ‘Shibori Dying: Make Your Own Scarf’, as well as ‘How to Read Diamonds’. “These workshops have helped cultivate community and further the customer experience. Not to mention, everyone has a great time. I love hearing the store filled with laughter,” Langhoff says.

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How to Be Dog-Friendly

Hillary Randolph, owner of Wear Your Grace in Santa Fe, NM, created a dog bar near the entrance to her store, complete with treats tucked inside a mailbox over a tromp l’oeil of splashing water from a faux-spigot. There’s also a real water bowl there. Inside, Randolph displays a line of candy-colored leather dog leashes and collars engraved with “Walk with GRACE.” Sales help support animal rescue organizations.

How to Sell Laboratory-Grown Diamonds

McCoy Jewelers in Dubuque, IA, began selling lab-grown diamonds three years ago, not expecting they would dominate their market. Now 84 percent of center diamonds they sell are lab-created, even though they do talk about the rarity of mined diamonds. The whole presentation is about offering up options and showing the stones next to each other, says owner Jonathan McCoy. Nearly 80 percent of sales at McCoy Jewelers are bridal-related, much of it custom.

How to Get Noticed

In 2017 Northeastern Fine Jewelry in Albany, NY, sponsored a contest to win the opportunity to propose in a live commercial aired during halftime of the Super Bowl on FOX. The winner was featured in People Magazine, the Daily Mail in the UK and the New York Times. They also sponsored a half-court shot during a Siena College basketball game; the contestant made the shot and walked away with $25,000, leading to intensive coverage from ESPN.

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