Columnists

Vegas Musings: Equal Parts Noise and Inspiration

ColumnistsJun 11, 2024

Vegas Musings: Equal Parts Noise and Inspiration

Fresh off Jewelry Market Week 2024, Peter Smith separates the positive—retail and product innovation—from the positively annoying.

National Jeweler columnist Peter Smith
Peter Smith is an industry consultant, speaker, sales trainer, and author. He can be reached via email at TheRetailSmiths@gmail.com.
When I’m invited to speak at events or conferences, I make sure to tell those booking me that I’m not a motivational speaker; I am a truth-teller. I’m a pragmatic optimist who believes in calling it like I see it. 

I highlight the stuff we ought to be doing more of, and the stuff we ought to be doing less of. 

I connect the dots of what I’m seeing and hearing, aligned with what the data tells me, and I make conclusions and recommendations about the best path forward. 

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why anyone ever entertains fire-breathing zealots as speakers, those self-assured prognosticators sharing doomsday scenarios—falling skies and the benefits of underground bunkers, generously stocked with canned goods and bottled water. 

Dale Carnegie wrote, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do.” 

Why we feel the need to put them on stages, let alone on stages during Jewelry Market Week in Las Vegas, will forever be a curiosity to me. 

They are demotivating charlatans, and I wish institutions and businesses would stop booking them, not because we should hide from hard truths, but because despite hard truths, there is much to be excited about in our industry. 

As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”

Change is ever-present, and, if we’re being honest, we’ve not always handled change well in our business. 

I remember the diamond conference at the Park Plaza in New York in 2004 when the collected angst from retailers about selling diamonds online bordered on insane, as though we could somehow stem the emergence of e-commerce itself. 

There are still legions of retailers who won’t entertain jewelry brands (we’ll leave the definition of “brands” for another column) believing, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, that young shoppers prefer to reward a jeweler’s buying acumen, their skill with a loupe, and the merits of generics in place of relevant brand experiences.  

Having just returned from JCK Las Vegas, I’m still reeling from the chatter and anxiety about lab-grown diamonds. 

We have, once again, chosen to address an innovation in moral terms—righteously indignant, or vehemently pro-lab grown. 

Or, worse yet, we behave like lambs to the slaughter. “What can I do?” one retailer shrugged. “I can’t get my salespeople to sell natural diamonds.” 

 Related stories will be right here … 

Allow me to connect a few dots.

Lab-grown diamonds are not going anywhere. They won’t disappear because a few zealots preach firebrand from the pulpit, but they are having an impact.

Retailers need a strategy to deal with them, beyond casting aspersions and making predictions based more on hope than expectation.

We are deep into a two-decades long stagnation of foot traffic into retail jewelry stores. The decline is not chronic, but it is a factor.

We could, of course, blame the internet, but the reality is a strong online presence is a boon to great retail experiences, not a detriment. It helps drive qualified customers into physical stores.

The real issue with lab-grown diamonds shouldn’t be a moral conundrum, but the downward pressure on average tickets should be concerning.

If you are seeing fewer customers (and your conversion rate is not materially changing) and your average ticket is declining, that is troubling math, and we ought to be concerned about that.

I steadfastly encourage you to have a strategy to manage and mitigate anything that contributes to a reduction of your average ticket.

You are the captain of your ship, and you should steer a course, with or without lab-grown diamonds, that ensures the health of your business in the near and long term.

As for the good news from the show, there were two things that moved me.

Fire & Ice booth JCK Las Vegas 2024
The Fire & Ice display at the Luxury show at JCK Las Vegas 2024


In the first instance, my client, Fire & Ice, reintroduced the diamond brand, first launched 10 years ago, to great fanfare from current and prospective clients.

There was no shortage of irony in witnessing such excitement for a story in a natural diamond brand against the backdrop of all the lab-grown noise. It’s the most excited I’ve ever been about a finished diamond story.

The second big theme for me was the sheer number of retailers who enthusiastically shared their plans to build new stores.

I’ve attended JCK for decades and I cannot recall a time when there was this much enthusiasm for innovative retail developments

Having retailers walk me through their plans is always fun, but even more so when the quantity of them is exceeded only by the quality of most of the projects.
 
We’ve seen a gradual decline in the total number of retailers for years, even as total sales in jewelry and watches is today far in excess of pre-pandemic highs. 

There is no question that we are experiencing a significant shift to quality in our business, and I’m all for it.

Happy retailing!

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