Hearts On Fire Amps Up the Tech at Its Annual Retailer Conference

The dog-eared show schedule and daily pamphlets endemic to professional conferences were conspicuously absent at Hearts On Fire’s 15th annual Hearts On Fire University.

Instead, attendees roamed Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel during the three-day event held Sept. 27–30 with iPad minis in hand.

“This year, we really wanted to inject the event with a…huge digital emphasis,” says Caryl Capeci, Hearts On Fire’s VP of marketing. “It was pretty much a paperless event—everything was digital, and the information about the entire event was in the app.”

The iPad minis, which the company hopes retailers are now using as a resource when selling Hearts On Fire in their own stores, displayed daily personal agendas (education tracks were tailored to owners, buyers, managers, and sales associates), big-picture events, worksheets for certain educational seminars, and a comments feature that allowed for real-time communication between attendees and show organizers.

“If there was something we wanted attendees to vote on, the results would show up on the screen during a session. It was really cool,” says Capeci. “And retailers found it was a great way to connect with each other. The iPad had lots of fun social [opportunities] built in.” For example, she adds, “you could scan someone’s badge, and their information would populate their contact form in the app. We had a lot of fun with it.”

All that feedback helps the company shape its programs throughout the coming year. “Our whole goal is to interact with as many retail partners as is physically and humanly possible,” Capeci says. “It absolutely helps us set our goals.”

The close contact with retailers also influences the styles the brand develops and sells. “We have product classes where retailers review and see all of our products,” explains Capeci. “We share the inspirations and stories of how pieces come to life. Then they vote on what’s missing, what they like, what they think they can sell best, what they think they can sell more of. We use that as we develop our design plans for next year. We take so much away from those three days.”

Folk-rock singer Jewel performs at Hearts On Fire University in Las Vegas. (Photos courtesy of Hearts On Fire)

Highlights at this year’s event included a surprise performance by singer Jewel (attendees hashtagged their guesses of who would be performing); dynamic speeches by UNthink author/graffiti artist Erik Wahl (who created a work of art while speaking on stage); Susanne Conrad of Lululemon Athletica; and a six-hour intensive session for store owners with Scott Galloway, an NYU Stern School of Business professor and co-founder of L2 Think Tank, on how brick-and-mortar stores can excel in the digital space. Roughly 80 percent of the speakers at the conference hailed from outside industries.

The company also publicly recognized its top-performing retailers at the event, as is its tradition. The award for Global Retailer of the Year (and also Northeastern Retailer of the Year) went to Bernie Robbins Jewelers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; Midwestern Retailer of the Year went to Wimmer’s Diamonds of Fargo, N.D.; Southern Retailer of the Year went to Thomas Markle Jewelers in Houston; Western Retailer of the Year went to Simmons Fine Jewelry in Meridian, Idaho; International Retailer of the Year went to Majesty Jewelers in St. Maarten; and Rookie of the Year went to Beaverbrooks of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“It’s three days of tons of energy, passion, motivation, inspiration and education,” says Capeci. “You couldn’t possibly find a better way to connect with your retailers.”

Bernie Robbins Jewelers staffers picking up their Global Retailer of the Year award.