Time For A Treat

  • To buy.

  • To scout new products and new lines.

  • To learn.

  • To schmooze.

  • To take a break from the store and spend some time in the January sun.

Those are all good reasons for a jeweler to attend a jewelry show. And, if a jeweler needs to do some post-Christmas restocking of both inventory and personal batteries, Florida is a good place to combine business and pleasure.

At least that’s what jewelers seem to be saying by way of the pre-registration figures for the JCK Orlando Show, to be held Jan. 17-20. As of late October, buyer registration was running slightly more than 50% ahead of last year at the same time.

Buying and planning to buy are, of course, the name of the game at any jewelry show. The first task is to bring in fresh merchandise for what has long been touted as “the second season”– that period that includes Valentine’s Day (there’s still time to place an order in January and get delivery!), Mother’s and Father’s Days, graduations and the late spring marriage boom.

With the holiday frenzy over, this is a good time to check out what’s new, to try out a few out-of-the-ordinary items and judge customer reaction. A good response leaves plenty of time to order for fall 1998.

The winter shows are lower-key than the summer ones and generally smaller, as well, so you’ll find it easier to get around to check new merchandise and new ideas. Even so, it’s still critical to plan ahead to get the most from a visit.

Pre-planning. Some planning is pretty basic. If you want to get the most from a show visit, you must know how to use your time productively and plan how you’ll cover the show. A reasonable first step is to identify all the exhibitors on your “must see” list. These are the firms from whom you buy most of your merchandise. Then identify companies you’ve heard about, ones that someone told you offer something special you might want to see. List all the names and mark them off on your show atlas when you arrive in Orlando; this makes getting around the show more productive – and much easier on the feet.

If time permits, it’s good to do an aisle-by-aisle walk. Veteran show shoppers suggest you keep your eyes focused on the display cases, ignoring company names and hand-extending salespeople. Keep walking until you see a display so interesting that it forces you to stop. Then look up to see whose exhibit so appealed to you.

Planning goes much further than just plotting a journey through the show. It’s critical to know what items you need to buy, what ones you’d like to buy and whether or not the resources will be available to pay for any orders.

This means before going to the show, you must check inventory to see which items are moving, which are stagnant and which dogs you need to move out. You also must look at your sales forecast and your business plan.

In mid January? With the dust still settling from the last frantic days of December?

The answer is “Yes” on both counts. A good, workable sales plan is a continuing and vital part of business planning; by Jan. 1 it should sketch out anticipated sales for each month of the coming year. Similarly, you should have put a good business plan for 1998 in place no later than fall 1997, and probably sooner. (There will be some shifting of dates, depending on whether the company is on a fiscal or calendar year, but no matter when the financial year ends, sales projections should be in place months in advance.)

Naturally, volume in November and December will affect your future plans. If business fell below expectations, then your open-to-buy will have to be trimmed. If sales boomed, then the open-to-buy will expand. The point is that any jeweler should go into the new year with well-thought-out plans and should consider those plans closely before setting out for Orlando.

Examples of how planning can help:

If a store sees an unanticipated need to give February sales a boost, the owner may decide to add or beef-up a Valentine’s Day sale. With this in mind, the need to select and order appropriate goods that can be delivered on time becomes a show priority.

If a store wants to reach a certain type of more affluent customer, the show could allow you to arrange for a designer trunk show. Now’s the time to study which designer’s lines you’d like to have and then see if the one you choose can fit an unexpected personal appearance into a busy schedule.

Supplier help. One of the most common complaints suppliers make about their customers is that so many retailers fail to take advantage of the help they offer. In planning your selling year, never overlook what your suppliers can do for you. In some cases the goodies are so good that you may want to sign up with a new source just to take advantage of its merchandising program.

The help may come in many forms. Co-op ads are one of the most under-utilized, suppliers often say. Be sure to check what’s available and to discuss with the supplier how best you can use the cash the company has set aside for the program. Many vendors also prepare statement stuffers and other literature that provide colorful come-ons for your customers.

Supplier firms can help in other very practical ways, too. As a long-standing and/or important customer, a jeweler can qualify for special privileges on deliveries, terms, returns and so on. These issues can be critical in the planning process.

The jeweler who wants first pick of new merchandise and who needs to know that the right goods will be delivered at the right time must plan well in advance. Early planning minimizes (though never totally eliminates) last-minute hassles. It means advertising plans can be laid out well in advance. It means there’s more time to get the staff prepared for special selling occasions and more time to alert special customers about incoming merchandise. Early commitments also help the manufacturer schedule production efficiently.

The learning side. The first JCK Orlando Show, held in February 1997, brought a totally new idea to show education programs, the Touch the Future concept. The 1998 show takes this innovative idea to a new level.

The goal is involvement. This occurs in part because the format of Touch the Future centers on one-on-one contact. Experts in various fields will be available each day to answer questions from individual jewelers. There’s also plenty of room for discussion among small groups.

Along with involvement comes challenge. Jewelers who attend the sessions will be asked again and again to look at old problems with new eyes, at times to think the unthinkable. For example, Janice Mack-Talcott and Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts, a new firm whose prime goal is to help jewelers run a more successful business, will give a new twist to the hiring story. They want to offer guidance on hiring more effectively, making the point that it’s critical to identify the candidate who doesn’t just enjoy sales, but enjoys the whole concept of retailing and thrives on a retailing environment.

Eln Albert of StyleQuest, another newcomer to Touch the Future, believes that some of a business’s best ideas may come from its staff. Many jewelers pay lip service to this idea, but how many actually go out of their way to draw ideas from their own workers?

Jeff Taraschi, formerly of QVC and Town Country and now a consultant, may open a few eyes with his ideas on jewelry industry competition. John Kennedy of the Jewelers Security Alliance will urge jewelers to think like thieves as a good way to beat them.

There also will be a range of formal seminar presentations. They cover everything from customer relations to marketing to computers to fashion and the Internet. And it’s all free!