Vegas: The Starting Gate

Rounding the final corner! Down the home stretch! Hitting his stride! Photo finish!

I blame it on my birthday** but I’ve always appreciated horse racing metaphors. There’s something so universally appealing about them, so evocative of a brief but heart-pounding excitement shared by a crowd that seems to hold its collective breath until the race is over.

That’s a bit like how I feel about Jewelry Week, hosted annually in Sin City and attended by thousands of industry professionals in a business and social whirlwind. It’s a fast-paced week, requiring immense amounts of energy and serious willpower to both get stuff done and have fun doing it.

For those of us on the non-retail side of the booth, the connections and sales generated at this show can make or break an entire year’s worth of business (but y’know, no pressure). It’s an opportunity to meet with clients in person, announce new and exciting things (!!), and yes, scope out the competition.

Buyers who attend are also on a mission: spend well, spend wisely. The glitter of the show is an easy distraction for the spendthrift store buyer, as it washes everything in an enticing aura of beauty and incites a covetous round of gotta-have-it fever.

This is, of course, the point. Any show is only as successful as its revenue generation — in this case, not for the show itself, but for the sellers who attend it — so a careful eye is kept on the general mood throughout the week. Trends are spotted, new and innovative offerings are critiqued, and dollars are measured.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the changes facing the industry right now, including questions about what retailers in particular should do to attract consumers of all ages and levels. It makes me wonder: what can both buyers and sellers learn from this show? What makes it so successful as an event, and how do we generate that kind of madhouse, leave-your-inhibitions-at-the-door vibe in our own businesses?

Something else to consider: the show has added a new area to the already-crowded floor, dedicating a space to what was once “crossover” and is now called simply “bridge” jewelry. This category consists of sterling-and-gold pieces with fashion and trendy appeal, at prices intended to be higher than basic fashion jewelry but lower or just approaching that of the fine category. It’s the stuff millennials buy for themselves (in theory), and it’s a popular but ever-moving target.

I’m interested to see the category perform in its own arena and not as second fiddle to its bookend price points. I will also be curious to learn if this one-size-fits-most approach feels like a fresh idea that just might save the middle of the market, or simply a rehash of the “entry level” model we see in the housing and auto markets. The former inspires repeat business, self purchasing, and aspirational purchases down the road. The latter sets buyers up for disappointment and frustration, stalling momentum and causing sales to drop. We’ll see which side wins this coin toss.

And as usual, there will be a significant amount of M-word (Millennial) dropping in the exhibit halls. This ties in directly with the two ideas I just mentioned, and the prevalence of a heavy generational focus has helped me formulate a kind of consumer theory I’ve been kicking around: shifting the focus too far onto the fashion/bridge category could hinder the long-term, aspirational level sales, preventing sellers from converting the $500 spenders into $5K+ consumers. I have found that when someone is sold on “good enough,” it can be all the more challenging to grow them into larger or more frequent purchasers.

So as the flag is raised on this year’s show, I’ll be keeping in mind these questions (and other thoughts) to revisit after the fact. Here’s hoping it won’t be heavy going for attendees, and that everyone will have free rein to buy and sell and enjoy themselves. I know I’m chomping at the bit to be on my way!

 

**Kentucky Derby Day. Every year without fail, my father-in-law (a horse racing fanatic) asks me to name the winning horse, who also happened to be one of only three fillies to ever win the Derby.

The Missing Mentor

Conventional wisdom states that in order to be successful in business, a person with little experience should seek out a person with lots of it, in order to obtain some sort of magical guidance/tutelage/oracle cocktail that will propel the budding young star into a galaxy far, far away.

Or something like that.

The truth is, long-term mentoring relationships are both rare and difficult to come by, particularly for anyone working as a minority of any kind in his or her field. Those partnerships take time, patience, and dedication to build and manage; the mentor and mentee need to feel equally invested in each other in order to sustain a mutual professional bond.

As a writer, I’m fortunate that many of my role models are relatively accessible people, at least in the sense that some of them are public figures and active industry leaders — I can always find their work, and with a bit of effort I can occasionally meet them in person at trade events. This doesn’t make them mentors in the traditional sense, but it provides some building blocks for my career direction that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

In addition, I find the good folks of the jewelry industry to be pretty forthcoming with advice, all things considered. There is the sense that a rising tide will lift all boats, and as I make forays into the realm of connection-building with an earnest desire to learn, I’ve received mostly warm welcomes from both men and women. (Mostly.)

Unfortunately, my immediate work sphere has no such people available. First of all, are exactly zero female “higher ups” at my current company of about 150. Nada. Goose egg. I work in an environment that is totally dominated by Category: Straight White Male, Subcategory: Privileged Millennial, and it shows.

You’d have to be fortunate enough to live off the grid in order to escape the genderized buzzwords of the modern tech world. I can #PowerPose, #LeanIn, #AskHerMore, and go #AllInForHer to my little heart’s content (I could even be married to a man who’s #HeforShe), but would Tweeting any of those get me closer to a tech exec? Unlikely.

In an odd twist, I’ve had about a half-dozen women at my own company go out of their ways to discuss this very issue with me. Keep in mind, I don’t work in HR or People Operations. Either those power poses are really working, or I’m simply much more outspoken against the downright absurd lack of women in general and in leadership in particular.

(True story: when I paraphrased The Notorious RBG’s famous quote about the number of women on the Supreme Court it will take to satisfy her — all of them — I got laughed at. Actually laughed at for daring to argue that all-female anything is not a crazy idea.)

So what’s the deal? There are many theories, but right now I’m eyeing the thoughts laid out in this post. Essentially, we might need to rethink our approach to the mentoring function entirely. While building a solid connection with a few select people should still be on the radar, it may be more beneficial to “create mentoring moments right around you.” This means paying attention to the people who are most easily accessible — yes, including your peers — and seeking out a more impromptu mentoring dynamic, easing some of the pressures that come with long-term relationships. This advice is founded in a pragmatic approach to the ways and means of business today.

My personal preference is still to pursue a more lasting bond, one that must be built on developing trust and a deeper understanding between the people involved. But perhaps it’s in my best interest (and the interests of women everywhere) to take the growth opportunities when we can get them.

P.S. The header photo is proof I’ve been Power Posin’ since 2008, folks.