JA Show Competes with Weather, Events, Economy

The calendar was not kind to the JA New York Winter Show 2009.

It had the misfortunate to be scheduled for the same days as the NFL playoffs, the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday, the opening of important international luxury watch shows in Geneva, Switzerland, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama as the 44th U.S. president, which emptied the floors Tuesday  as attendees watched the historic moment on TVs on the lower levels of the Javits Center.

In addition, snowfall dampened opening day attendance—as did the shaky economy and dismal holiday sales results as pre-registration was down 15 percent.

Given all that, many say that the show was somewhat better than they feared. But they all stressed they did not expect a lot.

“It’s exceeded our low expectations,” said Chuck Lein, president of Stuller. “Monday ranged from dead to pretty lively. It’s slow [Tuesday] but the last day of every show is slow.”

He said the mood of retailers is “reserved. The luxury sector is going to continue to get stressed.”

The first day, Sunday, was moderately busy, said some of the approximately 600 exhibitors (according to show figures), but tapered off Monday. On Inauguration Day, most aisles were empty.

“Given an extremely challenging market, we’re satisfied with the attendance level today and the general buzz on the floor,” said JA Show group director Drew Lawsky on opening day. “There are people doing business, and in this economy, that’s all you can ask for.”

There were certainly vendors who did good business at the show. The Hong Kong pavilion may have been the show’s busiest, with a number of retailers filling in inventory with lower price-point diamond jewelry, most notably hoop earrings. Elsewhere, a gift galley, including fur coats and costume jewelry, seemed busy.

Obama family bronze medallion by Lucoral & Lupearl GroupAmong vendors, the Lucoral & Lupearl Group attracted much interest with an Obama-look-alike and the show’s only Obama-related products: a bronze medallion (with a reversible center with the President on one side, and he and his family on the other); a display of pearl jewelry worn by First Ladies; and a limited edition 24k bill with Obama’s image ($350 each), all by designer Deborah LePearl Clark (lapearl_clark@hotmail.com).

The Hidalgo jewelry company did well with its white and black ceramic watches. Elle—which relaunched its women’s contemporary watch line in October (stainless steel, instead of sterling silver; $150 instead of $190, aimed at independent jewelers and some chains—did good business. “We had a phenomenal holiday season for our jewelry and watches, and now a terrific show,” said Patty Price, vice president of Brands Eighty Eight.

Charles May of Gabriel and Co said, “The show is a little bit slow but busier than we thought,” he said. “All things considered, I’m impressed.”

He said the retail mood was “not as bad as one would think, but not chipper.”

Sebastian Velasquez of Sales One said “Sunday was good” and the show “looked better than last year.”

He said “retailers are holding back a little. They are still buying, but they are not buying as much.”

But some exhibitors agreed with the words of Jim Sheridan of Tara and Sons, who called the show “as bad as we expected.”

He said a lot of the traffic was “consumer press” and “personal shoppers.”

He found retailers were “optimistic, but very much taking a wait and see attitude.”

He hoped that the new administration will “hopefully encourage optimism.”

Main design trends at the show were lots of color, using pretty but inexpensive gem materials; and lots of oxidized sterling silver mixed with high-karat gold, again to keep price points down. The oxidized silver is very black, giving a kind of biker-chic look to otherwise expensive jewelry.

Succeeding in this recession—the most severe in decades—was a recurring theme, not only between vendors and retailers, but also in the show’s events. Indeed, “Survive 2009/Thrive 2010” was title of the general session Monday and Tuesday, presented by the JA New York show and National Jeweler magazine (later posted on DPS.org.).

The program, presented by James Russo, vice president of marketing, The Nielsen Company, and Emmy Kundo, director of Market Intelligence Planning for the J. Walter Thompson agency, the Diamond Trading Company’s U.S. marketing arm, was attended by several dozen people on Monday. It charted consumer behavior, trends, and spending in this recession and told jewelers how to exploit opportunities now and when business improves again. (Since 1948, 11 recessions have been followed by years of expansion.)

Similar-themed Jewelers of America seminars included: “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Take Action!” by training veteran Brad Huisken; “Selling in Challenging Times,” by JA director of Education David Peters; and “Market or Die: How to Grow Your Jewelry Sales in a Challenging Economy,” by marketing strategist Rafael Mael. Others seminars focused on how to sell jewelry in a non-jewelry store; working with gemstones at the jeweler’s bench; quality control issues in jewelry,  presentation techniques and overcoming bad habits of sales people in closing sales.

Another highlight was the “America’s Best Jewelers Retail Benchmarking Symposium,” focusing on marketing, operations, and human resources, and in which jewelers, fresh from the holiday season, shared their best-practice ideas for difficult times. (A common denominator: offering sales or discounts brought in traffic.)

An awards luncheon honored 58 U.S. independent jewelers with the ABJ title for scoring high marks on National Jeweler’s first-time benchmarking survey (by independent research firm MPI Group of Ohio) on best practices in the jewelry industry, in areas ranging from operations to customer service.