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!

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.

Spongelike: A Learning Addiction

I love to learn.

While not the most overused sentiment in history, it’s probably on the eyeroll-inducing list. Nobody likes a know-it-all, and that’s often the perception of someone who goes around declaring an undying passion for acquiring knowledge. It’s taken me years to get over that and embrace my addiction to learning, for which my parents deserve equal parts thanks and blame. (They’re both know-it-alls, too.)

When I first spoke to them after Vegas — at about 12:30am local time — they valiantly tried to ask the requisite travel questions. How was the flight? (Fine.) Are you sure you have everything? (Yes.) Are you hungry? Do you want us to stop somewhere? (Yes. No.) But once those pleasantries were safely out of the way, my father asked his favorite two-parter: How was it? Learn a lot?

I suspect neither of them are conscious of it, but the fact remains that nearly every experience I’ve ever had has been met with this question. Whether I spent a day at a symposium or summer camp, one or both would ask what I learned. Not if I learned — that was a given — but what parts of the day proved edifying (and, it was implied, worthwhile). This emphasis on treating life like a big open classroom has stuck with me over the years, and I’m now able to contain, spongelike, every droplet of experience and turn it into stored information for later use as knowledge, wisdom, or anecdote. Useful, no doubt, and probably the sole trait that prevents boredom from overtaking my life.

So I answered them as best my tired exhausted brain would allow, which involved a version of, Yes (yawn) Dad, I learned a lot (yawn), and it was an awesome (yawn) experience (double yawn). He took the hint, and I drifted off.

I think I’m finally ready now, as I settle back into the daily workload, inch my way toward my G.G., and return to normal sleep patterns, to give my parents the answer they deserve.

Mom and Dad, I learned more in this past week than in the last year. I observed different kinds of business being conducted by as many personalities as there are facets on a diamond. I watched hordes of people begin to glaze over as they paraded past hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise. Even the security guards appeared unfazed by day three. I talked with designers who are so devoted to their craft that they take a “five minute chat” and turn it into an hour and a half meeting. And some company representatives appeared to care so little, I wondered why they bothered to show up. I watched as some people warmly embraced the next big idea, new generation, novel trends. And some blatantly rejected the presence of women, of youth, and especially youthful women. I was ignored and dismissed by some, but welcomed, encouraged, and treated as a full equal by others. Disorganization was frustratingly rampant at times, and a clear, concise meeting was a refreshing change. I learned that it can be equally difficult to keep my mouth shut as to speak up, and that I should balance a gut feeling with my knowledge of social politics. I learned how fast and how long I can walk in heels in a freezing cold room while hungry, thirsty, sleep-deprived, and stressed… and that I can still function at a reasonably high level while doing all of that because I love it, it excites and drives me, and that I would do this all day, every day if I could.

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!