The Venerable SJTA Show Changes With the Times

Through good times and bad, one constant in the jewelry industry has been the Atlanta Jewelry Show, managed and owned by The Southern Jewelry Travelers Association (SJTA).

The only show founded by traveling salespersons, this regional event has enjoyed steady growth throughout the past 50 years. During that time the show has moved, grown, and changed to keep pace with the needs of the industry.

The show is held twice each year at the Cobb Galleria Centre in the Atlanta suburb of Cobb County, the show’s home for the past five years. The most recent edition took place Feb. 24-26, when more than 850 exhibitors filled the convention center in the Galleria. SJTA doesn’t release the number of attendees, but executive director Carol Young says the number remained steady compared with the previous year’s figure.

Young, who has been running the show for the past four years, says its success can be attributed to the organization’s ability to provide excellent customer service and meet customers’ changing needs. Since Young joined the organization, the show has added an educational program for buyers and sellers, a designer gallery, a gala, and other innovations.

“Our key is customer service,” Young says. “We strive to get things done and to meet the needs of both the buyers and sellers.”

Down-home lookin’. Keely Grice, SJTA vice president, says people like the show because the easy-going atmosphere allows plenty of discussion between buyers and sellers. It’s a relaxed, friendly feel that reflects the atmosphere of the South.

“It’s a show steeped in the Southern tradition,” Grice says. “It’s an easy show to make appointments and very easy to shop.”

Jim and Vicky Shaw, owners of Shaw & Son jewelry store in Canal Winchester, Ohio, can attest to the relaxed, homespun atmosphere. They attended the show for the first time in 16 years, driving down from Ohio on their way to make other appointments.

“We were very surprised at the quality of the show,” Vicky says.

Adds Jim, “The vendors were warm, friendly, and relaxed. Fortunately, we found a number of brand-new items. They treated us like royalty.”

Tammy Williams, a gemologist and jewelry designer, is the owner of a small home business, J.D. Jewelers, where she designs, buys, and evaluates jewelry for individuals in the Atlanta area. She has been coming to the show for the past four years and, as usual, she bought several pieces.

“It’s getting much better,” she says. “There’s good variety and plenty of quality merchandise. I like the fact that they are constantly changing suppliers. It has a good blend of finished product, loose stones, and semimounts, so I can custom-build my own pieces.”

A smart move. Another plus for the show is its location. Atlanta is one of the most traffic-heavy areas of the country, and rides to and from downtown Atlanta are long and difficult. Moving the show from downtown Atlanta to Cobb County turned out to be great idea.

“It’s car-friendly, and that’s important to me,” Williams says. “The security is wonderful. They’ll walk you to your car if you need it. I feel very comfortable coming and going.”

Morris Spil of Samuel Spil Co., Charlotte, N.C., agrees. “The fact that it is in the suburbs makes it easy to get to, affordable, and safe,” he says.

Exhibitors, both new to the show and veteran participants, get enough business and prospects to make the show worthwhile. All of the sellers interviewed said they would be returning next year.

“This is a wonderful show,” Spil says. “There’s lots of business, and much of our customer base attends.”

Frank Reubel of Frank Reubel Designs (FRD), Flagler Beach, Fla., has been attending the show for the past three years and is planning on staying. His booth is one of 28 dedicated to the “Point of View” designer gallery in the middle of the convention room floor.

“It’s a good show because the people here care about you,” Reubel says. “And it offers me the opportunity to meet with a different type of customer.”

For Reubel, the show also provides the opportunity to aggressively introduce designer jewelry to a new market.

“We needed to break the ice for people in the Deep South who are afraid of designer jewelry,” he says. “In the past year there has been a great increase and interest in our designs. The retail buyer is aware that he needs a certain area dedicated to designer jewelry.”

Rafi Sabounjian of European Display & Boxes, Paterson, N.J., is attending the show for the second time. He said he would be exhibiting for at least two more years.

“People are attracted to the designs we make,” he says. “We are getting traffic to our area and we are getting good leads.”

Herbert “Bert” Yuttal, a veteran of the watch industry, made his first appearance at the show in 30 years. He has recently become the North American representative for a line of collectible Swiss watches, Auguste/Raymond, Lake Dallas, Texas, and is attending shows around the country to introduce the watch line.

“I used to do it 30 years ago and decided it was time to come back,” Yuttal says. “I’m looking for new customers, and I’m willing to take some chances.”

He adds, “The people [SJTA staff] here have treated me well. They treat you the way you would want to be treated.”

New energy. Grice notes that the organization has been energized in the past few years—developing new marketing strategies, changing the layout of the show floor, and improving the gala.

“A few years ago the organization was stoic and set in its ways, and that has changed,” Grice says. “Carol [Young] and the officers and board have done a tremendous job of instituting change.”

The marketing activities since Young has been on board include a 20-page advertising supplement in the major trade magazines, individual ads, a direct mail campaign to 20,000 Southeast jewelers, a mailing of the show directory to 10,000 Southeast jewelers, and personalized invitations to all exhibitors.

Both newcomers and show veterans have noticed the improvements.

Michael Basham of Best of Time, a watch repair company in Louisville, Ky., is a first-time exhibitor. The company has 53 accounts throughout the United States. Basham says the show was recommended and that so far it’s been a good suggestion.

“The show is laid out real well, and we have been treated fairly,” he says. “There are a lot of people who don’t have a watch repairer, and we hope to meet some of them at this show.”

One person who knows the SJTA Atlanta show inside and out is Gene Callaway, executive vice president of Namano Inc./Southeastern Findings.

“I’ve been doing the Atlanta show for 20 years, and I can tell you that it has improved,” he says.

Callaway says the biggest improvement is the layout of the show. Before moving to the Cobb Galleria, the show layout was fragmented. Promotion is also much better, he notes.

“Carol has done a very good job with the show,” he says. “She promotes it in a very classy fashion.”

Looking to the future. The organization is moving into the future with that same energy. The Cobb Galleria convention center is expanding, and the show will expand with the new space, say Young and Grice.

With the expansion will come more alliances with other industry groups and organizations.

“We just developed a retail advisory board made up of 15 nice-sized independent retail operations from five primary states,” says Grice. “We’re looking at new markets and other areas of the industry that are interested in participating.”

Adds Young, “You can’t just sit on your laurels. We’ll keep anticipating what the jeweler needs and work to bring them here.”