Just Another Week in Paradise (NV)

April showers bring May… tradeshows. And June tradeshows. The ones that take place in a desert city mirage, full of glittering monoliths and towering representations of fairy tales and larger-than-life fantasies. Food, drink, and sparkling gems at every turn battle for dominance with late nights and long walks down streets that glow with neon promise.

In other words, fifteen-plus-hour days in heels with ceaseless talking, extensive walking (83782 steps), desperate hunger and thirst, exhaustion, dehydration, pain, stress, and general desert malaise. We call it Jewelry Week.

This year was a good one, all things considered, both for the business I was there to represent and for my own interests. I feel extreme gratitude for my show team, who collectively practiced their best “patience faces,” brought their dress-up clothes, and tolerated my singing and dancing at the Margaritaville table.

Additionally, I was honored to attend this year’s #VegasGems evening out — a dinner table full of some of the coolest, most intelligent, interesting, and influential women out there. Just listening to your stories was a pleasure, and I wish we’d had so much more time so I could continue soaking in your fabulousness and learning from the very best.

Oh, and I discovered that running a 5K up and down the strip at 5:30am is a little different from walking it, no matter how hard you train or how much water you drink. Time doesn’t fly quite as fast without conversations about broadway musicals. Who knew?

But as always, surrounding myself with the people and things of the jewelry world gives me a refreshment and renewed sense of purpose. If nothing else, this show brings me back to my center. When I manage to take a brief tour around the other halls of the show, greeting the folks I’ve come to know and giving myself some time to absorb the atmosphere, I feel reconnected to the pulse of what I love to do.

So now it’s back to the grind: day job, studying gems in the lab, freelancing, and building that little business into something bigger.

 

Under the Tucson Sun: Show Recap

Sunshine. 70 degrees. Palm trees mixed with cacti of all shapes and sizes. Fruit on the trees, vivid sunsets. Sounds like a vacation to this hardy New Englander.

Between wine and tequila tastings, evening stargazing, and too much guacamole, there was also this show called JCK Tucson.

This was my first time exhibiting at the lovely JW Starr Marriott Resort, and I enjoyed the smaller size and slower pace of this show compared to many of the larger ones. I actually had time for lengthy conversations with clients, which allowed me to really soak in their perspectives on everything from CAD/CAM integration and technology adoption to social media, synthetic diamonds, custom design, transparent sourcing, and the future of the global industry.

Subjects near and dear to my little heart.

Tradeshows are a great opportunity to take an industry’s temperature, and they provide a snapshot of both the financial and more personal sides of the business. In this case, I felt a general sense of positivity: things might not be the best they’ve ever been, but they’re not the worst and might be getting a little better. Many clients have taken the last few years of heavy industry closures and market uncertainty as a sign that they need to carefully consider and execute a plan for long-term sustainability. Many have concluded that adopting the right set of new technologies and breaking old, bad habits will serve them well in the immediate future — a clear sign of hope, and at least a tiny drop of faith in the industry to keep pushing forward.

This was the first show where my newly-acquired technical knowledge was equally as appreciated as my jewelry insight. Perhaps it’s due to some of the confidence bred of reaching a work milestone, but I felt significantly more comfortable discussing the inner workings of design, sourcing, production, and manufacturing along with the usual business content. Everyone, it seemed to me, is looking for efficiency in their process and a road map for reaching the next wave of buyers.

Maybe it was all that vitamin D after so many months without, but I’m feeling the groove right along with these intelligent and innovative thinkers. If every show could bring these feelings, I call that a true sign of success.

Love in Three Countries

Berlin, Madrid, Paris.

Three unique cities in very different countries, each borrowing a border and crossing a few spice palates but somehow remaining totally distinct.

I admit that I had originally anticipated feeling more out of place at a foreign trade show, but after the first day everything felt familiar (except, y’know, in Spanish). It was wonderful to interact with more members of the international community, and while Europe certainly faces many of the same issues we see here at home, they do so from a rather different perspective.

The brief exposure I had to Berlin leads me to believe that innovation will come there, fast and hard, but that the culture will struggle to embrace it. Germany has an austere, rougher style of living that felt difficult to penetrate. I will need more time and thought to sort out my feelings about this place.

Madrid was a classic dichotomy of old and new: the under-35 crowd spoke English, dressed with an international flair, ate and drank merrily, and seems to embrace the new waves of technology and openness that are becoming the hallmarks of that generation. Their older counterparts have elected to remain single-language speakers, and as a group tended to distrust the progressive and ignore the innovative. This made for some interesting conversations about jewelry and 3D printing, let me tell you!

I was in Paris for pleasure and not for work, but even as a consumer I’m never really off the clock. My husband and I were both pleasantly surprised by our preferential treatment — wonderful and attentive service, friendly conversation, pleasant bi-lingual interactions — and utterly sickened by the blatant racism displayed toward members of minority groups.

Travel serves to inspire and educate, and I felt the impact of both on this little adventure. The international jewelry community (and larger luxury group) is in desperate need of some unification in order to strengthen the message that we are a cultural and economic force for positive change. We can have such a profound influence on the future of our environment, and by definition our massive reach across so many cultures and countries should mean that we can collectively shun the isolationist policies that are howling at the door to civilization.

This may all sound heavy-handed, but it’s hard not to wax eloquent after such a broadening experience. I certainly consumed my share of German Rieslings, Spanish Cavas, and French Champagnes (all of which I’m happy to chat about, should you ever be interested) but the important takeaways from this trip will remain long after the last taste of chocolate and bubbles have faded.

Anticipation

September.

Yes, I think some visceral awareness of the calendar changing over to fall still lingers in me, triggering a kind of atavistic reaction born of decades (centuries?) of educational clockwork.

I vividly recall the first August I spent completely outside of the school system, neither student nor teacher for the first time. I couldn’t sleep, had trouble concentrating, and was snappish and stressed… for absolutely no reason. My mother was the one to finally solve the problem, pointing out that I had been anticipating the start of the school year for the overwhelming majority of my life at that point.

For a few precious years I was able to lose most of that embarrassingly painful reaction, blissfully unconcerned, only noticing the season change by falling leaves and early evening chill.

But now, it comes again.

I’m not heading back to school full time, or taking up teaching again. Instead, I’m heading off to Europe on a multi-week journey that will land me on a total of 5 flights and 3 major cities (not including layovers and day trips) and only one country in which I’ll be able to converse somewhat fluently.

Berlin. Madrid. Paris. I’m coming for you!

The first two cities are specifically work-related, which makes them doubly exciting. Our EU HQ is in Berlin, and I’ll be visiting very briefly to train my sales counterparts in the finer points of selling to the jewelry industry.

That will be followed by a tradeshow adventure in Madrid — my first international show! — to train a Spanish reseller on… the finer points of selling to the jewelry industry.

The remaining portion of my time abroad is to be spent avec mon mari, wining and dining and reveling in a city I have dreamed about living in visiting for my entire life.

To say that this is an incredible opportunity would be an understatement, but that doesn’t remove the tiny bit of anticipation I’m feeling as I make my packing lists and take care of all the pre-travel details. It’s the old butterflies-in-the-stomach, fingers crossed I picked a cute outfit, ohmygodwhereismypencilcase feeling rearing its obnoxious head.

I can safely say that facing down this beast as a confident and capable adult is making it much easier. But I’m open to any advice my more experienced readers might care to offer, and I don’t just mean the reminder to buy and pack a converter that works in all 3 countries (check!). How did you manage your first solo travels abroad, and what did you do to make a great first impression? What should I bring with me or leave at home? Did you survive on a single carry-on and laptop bag, as I intend to do?

Feature photo courtesy of mon père, who will certainly remind me to take my own version when I get there!

Are You an Exhibitionist?: Jewelry Week 2K16

They meant “exhibitor.” I’m almost positive. Then again, this is Las Vegas…

My second trip to the big show resembled my first in only one significant way — I learned a whole hell of a lot — but in all other aspects, this could have been a completely different show. Traveling with such considerations as booth setup/breakdown, package arrival coordination, general booth management X2 (more on that later), and a personal agenda all mixed together make for a busy, buzzing brain. And yet, it’s still one of the highlights of my year.

Like other bloggers, I think it’s best to break up a longer recap into more manageable, bite-sized bits. This year in particular I’ve had a million things to think about, so it will take some time to corral them into some kind of order, sort, press, fold, and eventually stack them neatly for future reference.

As a gentle introduction, I’ll share with you a special little secret I’ve been keeping: thanks to far too much childhood exposure to Dr. Suess, I’m a dedicated closet rhymester. There’s nothing I love more than rhyming couplets, so to keep myself amused I’ve acquired the habit of crafting little phraselets and writing them down, usually never to be shared or seen again. But this time I’m putting them all together — no alterations, no edits, and in chronological order — to form a poetic tribute to my 8 days in the desert.

High heels, aching feet
Snapping pics to Insta-Tweet
Shaking hands and toothy smiles
Feeling like I ran for miles
Greeting friends, toasting “cheers!”
More fun than I’ve had in years
Early morning walk with friends
Talking Broadway, techy trends
Colored gems are back in action
Millennials are gaining traction
Selling, buying, closing deals
Debating diamonds: fake or real?
Sultry evening in the sand
I finally got to hear that band
Fresh designers go all in
Mandalay, the Trop, the Wynn
Packing up could take all night
We stayed awake until our flight
Business over, time to run
I hope next year is half as fun!

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.

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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.