Just Desert: Centurion 2015 Recap

You know, there may be something to that “mindfulness” stuff my mother talks about. It teaches you to feel gratitude and be alive in the moment — every moment — and that’s exactly how I felt during my first ever trade show.

Yep, I was the rookie. The newbie. Wide-eyed and slightly terrified, I made my debut in this larger-than-life world of equal parts glamour, artistry, and hard-core business. And believe me when I tell you that I loved every second of the whole experience, and that it has served to fuel an already raging passion for what i (we) do.

I decided to recap this trip in one lengthy post, so I’ll be skipping some of the actual details (morning and evening speakers, what we ate for dinner, who had the best/worst photo on their badge, etc.) in order to concentrate on describing my impressions of the whole shebang.

Day One: My bags are packed, I’m ready to go…
…and at 3AM, go we did. A snowy and sleepy drive to the airport was followed by a packed but uneventful flight straight to the land of cacti. We were met at the airport by the hotel shuttle and a gaggle of fellow showgoers, and were chauffeured to the beautiful oasis-like resort. Rooms found, luggage delivered, and sandals firmly on feet, we explored the grounds and lunched poolside in the sun. This did much to aid in recovery after a long day of travel, and allowed me a chance to catch my breath before the real fun would begin.

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Cup of coffee and a quick map check

Day Two: Walk This Way
This was it. First real day, first appointments, first impressions. Anxiety and anticipation mixed in my stomach with the morning’s coffee and breakfast. It seemed like everyone else knew each other, everyone felt totally calm and at ease, and my tight smile and clenched hands would be a dead giveaway for my nerves. Two deep breaths and a short walk later, we arrived at ground zero.

I will not go into excruciating detail about each appointment, for the obvious confidentiality issues as well as a desire not to bore my readers. But I will say that each moment of the day was a wonder to me: business conducted, questions asked and answered, hundreds of pieces of beautiful creations flashed before my eyes. The warmth and hospitality extended to us by nearly every vendor was a welcome surprise, as was the gracious introduction by my bosses to each new face I could finally put with the names and voices I knew so well.

This day was a mix of current and potential lines, so I made sure to pay close attention to what was said and done in each booth. Meeting after meeting, hour by hour (break for lunch — hello, 75 degrees, it’s been a while!) we looked, listened, and talked. Well, they talked, and I occasionally spoke a few syllables when asked. My energy was directed at learning the ropes ASAP so I could potentially be more than another user of oxygen and actually contribute something useful.

Sleep that night came quickly, and I felt like I’d run a marathon. Twice. In heels. Well, I suppose I did, in a way, and man oh MAN did my feet hurt.

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Shine on, pretty things. Coming to a store near you...
Shine on, pretty things. Coming to a store near you…

Day Three: Hit Me, Baby, One More Time
A change of dress (and shoes), another coffee-fueled breakfast speaker, and the next full day of appointments was on. I felt better — slightly more in control of my nerves, definitely clear about the tasks ahead, and totally absorbed in the business of doing business. The day went much like before, with fascinating people to meet and gorgeous baubles to behold.

A highlight of this whole experience was definitely the pleasure and privilege of meeting many of the designers of these miniature works of art. Each was as different as could be, but was the true embodiment of his or her own brand. I met a bold and audacious woman with hair and makeup as vivid as her colorful gems; a friendly and earthy artist who knew each and every detail of her extensive collection; a young gentleman groomed to within an inch of his life but with the charm and charisma of a born politician. Meeting them, however briefly, was meeting many of the celebrities of this industry, and it was an honor and a pleasure to do so. And hell, it was pretty damn cool.

That evening we politely applauded the winners of the show’s design awards while keeping up a running commentary on the many personalities and cultures around us. I find people fascinating on an average day, but the concentrated diversity represented here was truly astonishing.

Day Four: When It’s Over, is it Really Over
One day more, and I was exhausted but terribly sad it was ending already. We had appointments to keep in the morning hours, then a bit of “free time” in which to run right back to some of those new lines and attempt to frantically write up orders before the show officially closed. I sensed the rise in stress across the board, retailers and vendors both running near empty and determined to milk every last second of what felt like the fastest three days in history. Tempers were clearly being kept barely in check (or not at all) by a few, but most seemed to embrace the madness. I was stressed and still rather overwhelmed, but had never felt more involved in the turning of the world.

The show came to a close, bags were packed, and we trekked back up the hill for a final evening farewell. Special guest former president (W.) Bush spoke to a captive audience, then we were released to dine under the desert stars and next to heaters on a beautiful closing night. I toasted my two bosses and attempted to articulate my thanks, but I’m not sure anything I said could convey my true gratitude for the entire amazing opportunity.

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Like I said, beautiful pieces of art.
Dinner al fresco
Dinner al fresco

To summarize the experience, the word whirlwind comes to mind. I have had some pretty high-energy work events in my career (I’m looking at you, store grand openings) but nothing matches the high-velocity intensity of this three-day adventure. The jewelry was stunning, the accommodations luxurious, and the pace record-breaking… but nothing can top the wonderful people and their collective hard work and incredible dedication. Nothing about this was easy, which just goes to prove that it’s absolutely worth it.

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