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.

MJSA Expo Recap: Spring Forward

Hello, NYC. We meet again! Your trains were under construction, your Ubers were late, and your weather threw a hissy fit… but your bagels are delicious, your architecture never fails to impress, and your impact on business was trending positive. So altogether, thanks again for confirming my love/hate affair.

This show was my second opportunity to stand on the other side of the counter, and I’m happy to report that it changes my love of trade shows not one bit. I managed to speak with some fascinating people, meet digital friends in real life, and even make progress in some personal goals — a successful outing by any standard.

One of my favorite things to do at shows is walk around a few times, sometimes stopping to say hello to old friends and make new ones, but often simply to observe how exhibitors and buyers are interacting. You catch some interesting things by casting a wide net, not seeking any particular insight.

For example, it seems that companies who make it their business to fully educate and build relationships (real ones) with their clients have a much more welcoming atmosphere at the booth, even when they’re swamped with people. When I watch a sales rep turn to a lurker and tell them, “I will be happy to explain this further, and you’re welcome to listen to what I’m saying to Ms. Smith here, just please give me a few more moments with her” I see an immediate change in that lurker’s body language. They adjust from a defensive, stop-ignoring-me-you-idiot posture into a polite and attentive listener, willing to wait because they’ve been prioritized.

On the other hand,  I myself stood at a booth full of reps for 4 minutes (yep, I counted) before my presence was even acknowledged. My badge was not immediately visible, so they had no way of knowing if I was a buyer, a competitor, or someone lost on her way to the food court. When someone finally came over, I was reading a piece of literature and he planted himself directly in front of me, crossed his arms, and said (I kid you not), “is there something you want?”

I’m not sure how successful that is as a sales tactic, but you can bet it didn’t go over well with me.

Like I said, you learn a lot walking the show and observing. I felt the overall pace was upbeat and sustained, despite some sleepy eyes on Day 1 due to the nation-wide inexplicable loss of an hour’s sleep. In speaking with a few well-respected and longtime industry salespeople, I learned that interest in a new and improved approach to doing business continues to grow.

It’s always nice to see nodding heads when I talk about integrating updated technologies with time-tested techniques, but I’m starting to see designers and retailers walk the walk. Many visitors to our booth had at least two generations in attendance, and more than one “Jr.” could be heard emphatically arguing in favor of the latest CADsoftware and CAM instrument while “Sr.” looked a little worried, a little confused, and not a little proud.

Spring forward: yes, it was a good trip after all.


Vegas Virgin No More!

What do you do when you realize all your dreams have come true?

Pay back old sleep debts!“**

…Well, that’s the response you’d get from me, anyway. I’m back home and back to work after a fabulous, grueling, exhausting, productive, fascinating, and altogether too short trip to Jewelry Week in Las Vegas. Many who know me are aware that attending this show has been a dream — a serious goal — for some time, and it’s easy to say that the entire trip did not disappoint.

I briefly considered writing some kind of day-by-day recap post, detailing the hours spent in supplier meetings, lunch offerings by category, and what time we went to bed each night. While I’m sure that would make for some riveting entertainment, I’ve decided to withhold that kind of information to maintain the mystery. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprises for any future show-goers out there.

Instead, I can offer my impressions of an industry that is so vast, it spans multiple convention spaces in multiple hotels across a week of 10+ -hour days (this would be where the “exhausting” part comes in). It’s far more than glittering jewels, dazzling trays of diamonds, and ropes of precious pearls. It’s an international community, a unifying purpose, a parade of fashion from ultra-conservative to runway couture, a lifestyle and modus operandi that creates its own rhythm for everyone to move and dance to.

Many things surprised me: the variation in personality types from one rep to the next; differences in approach and business model that are totally opposite but equally effective; the integration of modern technology into an ancient craft. I received an almost daily shock each time I checked my watch, thinking it some sometime before noon, then realizing it was rather closer to 6pm. Also, it turns out that walking all day in heels is something I can do, but probably not something I should do (my feet haven’t looked so mangled since my time as a ballet dancer).

In essence, this show reinforced the idea that business and beauty are not mutually exclusive. We accomplished so much for the store in looking at both the short and longer-term goals, but did so in a way that felt refreshingly true to the highest standards of ethics, quality, and service. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to stand amidst the madness and quietly learn at the elbows of industry professionals, and in that regard it’s a privilege to be counted as a member of such a dynamic group.

In the process of making my way from one end of the show to the other and back again more times than I can count, I discovered that it takes a very particular brand of dedication to really achieve success here. In fact, I’ll throw in the good old p-word: passion. Yawningly overused it may be, but the word is apropos for the type of energy I felt. Frankly, I’m not sure how anyone could sustain the kind of hyper-fast pace and intensive focus that is required to just make it through the day, let alone a lifetime of business, without feeling a true emotional connection to the work.

**Bonus points for Name That Film. No cheating!

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.

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.


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.

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.

The Storm: Before and After

Whomever pioneered the concept of the “calm before the storm” was probably highly observant of the weather, but definitely did not work retail.

I have always found that large-scale events in the B2C world begin long before the advertised dates, and that the preparation and planning stress often outstrips the challenges of the event itself. Perhaps that’s good in a way, as it allows the frenetic energy to dissipate so workers can settle down and concentrate on being effective and active when it matters most.

In my own work history, I’ve been a member of both large-scale store grand opening teams and (more recently) non-closure liquidations, and find the preparations similarly hectic and equally exhausting. The events themselves have very different tones, of course, but both involve high levels of attention to detail, energy expenditure, and precise time management. That’s a deadly combination that directly affects personal sanity and team morale, and can turn even the most even-tempered worker into a hair-triggered nail-biting workaholic (a.k.a. me).

Something new to my experience is the difference in post- event recuperation. After a grand opening event, the store begins normal, day-to-day operations very quickly because it must, in order to establish solid working practices that will continue into the future. But an established business that essentially interrupts itself to run a special event seems to take a different kind of recovery approach, where things return slowly to normal and any changes are integrated into daily routine over a period of time.

From my perspective, special events provide some of the best, most concentrated forms of high-intensity training: when you’re forced to learn, adapt, and think quickly and efficiently, you can apply those skills to future work in a way that can only enhance effectiveness. I have certainly acquired new skills and polished old ones during the aforementioned recent event, particularly related to stress management, task prioritizing, and delegation (my coworkers are rockstars**, for the record). Nobody enjoys learning that you can’t do it all on your own, but the lesson is certainly a lasting one.

With this experience behind me, I can finally focus on the next big event in my career: attending my first industry show! At the moment I’m every combination of excited/nervous/anticipatory/stressed/didImentionexcited, but most of all I’m humbled by the opportunity and grateful to the people who are allowing me the chance to reach a goal I’ve held for quite a while.

I love me some terrible puns, and one of my favorites that I like to tell customers is how multifaceted this job and industry can be (oh c’mon, it’s funny!). But joking aside, the many and varied jobs-within-jobs are what keep me glued to this work. And though I may be occasionally convinced that it will kill me, I love it just the same.

**Rockstars. Get it? Get it??!! 🙂