As the Tucson GemFair enters the home stretch, the mood of buyers and exhibitors is more upbeat compared to last year’s fair. With an economy that seemed to be in a freefall and a transition of power in the White House, there was good reason to fear the worst in early 2009.
A year later the economy still has its share of problems, but retailers are starting to realize the benefits of selling down their inventory, reducing their open-to-buy budget to be more in keeping with leaner profits and are buying more strategically. Even if retailers had a flat or somewhat up year in terms of sales, many have reduced operational expenses on many levels and are in “doing more with less” mode in response to today’s challenging economy.
Anil Maloo, president of Baggins Inc. summarized it well: “The retailers who are at the show this year are the ones who had a better than expected 2009,” says Maloo. “They are buying carefully and are cautious about the future, but know they need to restock for 2010. Retailers remain cautious, but at this show it hasn’t stopped them from buying.”
For the Los Angeles-based pearl company, it has been a particularly good show with Thursday the best day for sales so far. “We were busy in the morning but really busy in the afternoon,” says Maloo. “Buyers this year seem more positive.”
Pearl buyers at the Baggins booth are leaning toward the classic designs such as 8mm to 9mm pearl earrings and necklaces. Maloo is doing well on the low end with wholesale priced goods under $500, and on the high end. “It’s the middle range from $700 to $2,000 [wholesale] that continues to be a problem,” says Maloo. By Friday, some medium-range goods were selling at his booth, but: “not up to par as compared to previous years.”
Some good sellers at the Baggins booth include long pearl ropes that are a mixture of not only colors but shapes. “The necklaces with a mixture of shapes are the keshi and Tahitian pearls, which are selling well for us,” says Maloo.
Mark Smith of Bangkok-based Thai Lanka Trading was another exhibitor saying that: “business at the booth has been steady.” For Smith many people have shown a strong interest in peridot from Pakistan at his booth as well as spinel – mainly sourced from Tanzania. “Reds and pinks are selling well, but people are showing a strong interest in the lavender and purple color varieties,” says Smith.
For Smith, Japanese buyers are showing a strong interest in moonstones in both white and blue color varieties, with a partiality to the blues.
Another Bangkok-based gem dealer having a good show was Nomad’s Co. Josh Saltzman commented that buyers were: “more positive this year,” and that “in general buyers were more deal conscious.”
Top sellers for Nomad’s were spinels, tourmalines and garnets. For the last two years buyers have been showing an increasing interest in spinels. “New finds from Tanzania are bringing more goods into the market and that’s generating the increased interest.”
Once again red and pink spinels are inexpensive alternatives to ruby and sapphire for most buyers this year. Blue, mint and pink tourmaline colors are also doing well. “We’re also doing well with peach tourmaline and indicolite tourmaline,” says Saltzman.
In the garnet varieties African demantoid was selling well for Nomad’s as was Mandarin Garnet. “There’s also been interest in Tsavorite garnets as well,” added Saltzman.
Buyers are also on the lookout for more unusual items. Nomad’s prides itself on better-cut colored stones. “We have some really talented cutters and a unique cutting process,” says Saltzman. “People like our cuts and the color really pops. At this show people are focusing on fine colors and fancy cuts at our booth.”
As the AGTA GemFair reaches its final days, Friday was a good day for Bear Essentials. “It’s been our best day yet,” says Cara Williams. “People are buying less than normal, but there’s definitely buying going on.”
Spinel seems to be a popular seller for Williams, but only in red. “For spinels it’s red, red and red,” she says. Bear Essentials is also seeing a strong interest in blue zircon in finer colors.
“Pink tourmaline is also doing well and peridot is getting some attention,” added Williams.
Williams characterized buying at this year’s AGTA GemFair as: “The bigger, blingier sales are gone. People are buying ring sizes, with sizes mainly falling in the 8mm x 10mm range. And, quality goods are first and foremost.”
With regards to the retailers buying at the show: “We’re finding that the retailers buying at this year’s show aren’t working smarter instead of harder. They’re working harder and working smarter than ever and that’s why they’re here buying very strategically for their store.”