Show Time!

In the opening sequence of the film All That Jazz, Roy Scheider slides dramatically toward the camera and utters the key theme for the jewelry industry heading into the end of 2008 and early 2009: “It’s show time, folks!” It is show time, literally and metaphorically. As you read this you’re probably on your way to Las Vegas or already there. You may have done New York, Atlanta, or Basel, and the JA summer show is right around the corner.

By all accounts, show booths are filled with jewelry that’s salable, fresh, and fashionable. Given the price of precious metals and gloomy consumer sentiment, designers and manufacturers are leaning out the weight of metals, using more decent-quality small diamonds for greater sparkle, and pumping up the “happy colors” quotient with larger semiprecious stones and some great looks in enamel. While these will be better for your margins and offer a fresh look compared with last year’s conservative offerings, be sure they don’t feel too light, look flimsy, or have unfinished edges. Jewelry consumers are smart and won’t accept lesser quality in exchange for holding the line on prices. If you dumb down quality, they’ll spend their disposable income elsewhere.

This also is the time for retailers to put their own show in order for the coming holidays. That means sourcing fresh merchandise and making plans for marketing and advertising to support fourth-quarter initiatives. Make this year’s show buying a different experience. Branch out, guard your time ferociously, and shake things up in your show routine. Virtually nobody in the jewelry industry can continue to do business the way we’ve been doing it, and it starts with ditching many old habits and safe practices.

I hope you’ve arranged a series of appointments for the upcoming shows. Do not, however, have lengthy meetings with your current main vendors. If you’re important to a vendor, a phone call will quickly bring a sales rep to your store with the latest product samples. Instead, meet your core business vendors for coffee before the show day starts or for a drink or dinner after show hours, not when you should be exploring new sources for product.

Be sure someone on your show team is walking aisles and scouting for new and interesting product, taking notes, and reviewing them with you during the day. They should use their cell phone cameras to take pictures of merchandise (with permission) and get booth numbers, names of key contacts, and business cards in case you can’t get back to them during show hours or they’re busy when you return.

While walking the aisles, watch for repeating visual trends and thematics in the bigger show booths from the leading jewelry brands. They will likely be the most on target in terms of style, look, and hot manufacturing techniques, because they’re big enough to have fashion and style experts and colorists on staff or retainer.

Don’t just look at jewelry; look at how it’s presented and laid out. Use ideas from layouts and lighting techniques to freshen your own store displays, in both arrangement of product as well as point-of-sale elements that hold and showcase product in new and creative ways. Ask who their POS vendors are, get the contact info, and be sure to tell that vendor who told you about them, because what goes around comes around.

If you avoided some of the international pavilions in years past, don’t skip them this year. With the weak dollar, you need to take advantage of offshore sourcing and the pricing power that engenders. What was cheap and cheery in years past has been replaced with some beautifully cut stones, state-of-the-art manufacturing technology, and well-trained stone setters capable of producing highly salable jewelry that gives you a decent working margin in today’s razor-thin world. Countries like Brazil, China, India, and Turkey are now focused on the U.S. market.

Be sure also to spend time, early in the show, with Platinum Guild International, Diamond Promotion Service, World Gold Council, and some of the other key trade associations like Jewelry Information Center, Jewelers of America, and Jewelers Vigilance Committee. They’ll have the latest in market trends, fresh product ideas, consumer sentiment research, and business issues facing today’s jeweler. They’re your best sources for information to help you make informed decisions and sharpen your focus as you walk the colorful blur of aisles.

Do This, Not That

In the Store
Use ideas from show booths to freshen displays.
At the JCK Show
Don’t have lengthy meetings with current vendors.