Trade Show Roundup

CANADIAN SHOWS DRAW FEW AMERICANS

With the American dollar worth nearly $1.50 Canadian, one would expect Americans to turn out in droves for Canada’s summer jewelry shows. Curiously, this wasn’t the case. Although organizers of one Canadian show – Expo Prestige 98, held in Montreal Aug. 22-25 by the Quebec Jewellers’ Corporation (QJC) – made a special effort to invite Americans, U.S. attendance was sparse at that exhibition as well as at trade fairs in Toronto and Edmonton.

The show that attracted the largest number of Americans was Jewellery World Expo ’98, held in Toronto Aug. 9-11 and sponsored by the Canadian Jewellers Association. According to show coordinator Linley Casson, 21 U.S. exhibitors and 37 U.S. buyers were among the total of 190 vendors and approximately 1,600 visitors. At the Alberta Jewellery Show in Edmonton, held Aug. 14-16, there were three U.S. exhibitors among the 124 total, but virtually no Americans among the nearly 900 attendees, according to show chairman Russ Wickstrom. “Nobody knows of us; we’re kind of a regional show,” Wickstrom explained.

Organizers of the Montreal show, using a strategy devised by the McGill University Marketing Club and with financial support from the Quebec government, subsidized the visits of American journalists (including JCK) as well as selected U.S. retailers. However, only two of the 10 invited U.S. buyers accepted the airline tickets, and only a handful of others came at their own expense.

There were two American companies among the 125 exhibitors at the Montreal show – Universal Gem Traders Inc./Royal India USA Inc. of New York and Crafford Precision Products Co. of Riverside, R.I. While QJC officials claimed that 1,750 people attended the Montreal show, traffic in the aisles was sparse – particularly on Saturday, when many of the booths were closed for the Jewish Sabbath.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Crafford’s Roy Gessman, whose company exhibited for the first time this year in Toronto as well as in Montreal. Gessman, interviewed during a lull at the Montreal show, was demonstrating his company’s Laser Workstation. “People are interested in the machine, but the currency difference is tremendous,” he noted.

Not all exhibitors found the activity level at the Montreal show to be low. “We’re doing better than we did in Toronto with less traffic, so go figure,” said Terrence Rowe of Kulu Trading, an Ottawa company specializing in handcrafted sterling silver and semi-precious stone jewelry. “We have our own niche – original designs. If you have a niche, you’ll do okay.”

At least one American attendee took full advantage of the quiet Montreal show. Julian Rose of Marks Brothers in Chicago, who traveled at QJC’s expense, said after the exhibition that he was glad he went. “So much of the industry moves in one direction; it’s interesting to go somewhere else to see if there’s anything you’ve missed.” However, he noted, “if you didn’t take the time to talk to people, you wouldn’t find the original pieces. You didn’t find people jumping over the showcase to pull you in.” Marks thought it was wise for the Quebec association to invite him: “Definitely, I think it’s a good approach; otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken a look.”

With the Canadian dollar weak and unemployment high, many exhibitors at the Montreal show were thinking about entering the U.S. market. Michel and Richard Rouiller of R.M.R. Inc., a Montreal jewelry manufacturing and design company, were among those seeking advice. “We’re looking for a salesperson in the States,” explained Michel Rouiller.

Canadians hoping to sell to Americans should do their homework, said Habib Malo of Créations Malo, a Montreal suppplier of gold, diamond, pearl, and gemstone jewelry that has had American customers for two years. “They’re getting attracted by the dollar difference, but they don’t know what the customer wants. You have to be prepared – you have to visit [U.S.] shows and understand how to [set] the pricing.”

Canadian and American consumers have different tastes, according to retailers and manufacturers. Canadians are more conservative; many prefer 10k gold and small diamonds, even for bridal jewelry. “Their priority is somewhere else,” said Marc Thibaudeau of Création Thibaudeau, a Montreal fine-jewelry design company that serves American as well as Canadian customers. “It’s not because they’re cheap; it’s how they’ve been raised. Jewelry is not an important value.”

Robert Plourde of Robert Plourde Bijoux Design, a Montreal designer specializing in silver jewelry, said that he gets orders for silver wedding bands that sell for $42 Canadian. “That’s the market here, and I don’t mind, but we always have to think of it when we design.”

Marks Brothers’ Rose, however, noted that vendors who planned to sell to Americans offered a selection of items in 14k gold, 18k gold, and platinum. “A lot of what I bought was 14 and 18 karat, and that was how it was priced,” he said.

Several exhibitors at the Montreal show wondered whether three Canadian exhibitions are too many. “They’re better off charging more for a booth and having one good show,” commented François Courchesne, a Montreal representative of Connoisseurs, a supplier of jewelry cleaning and carrying products.

Canadian show organizers, however, maintain that retailers want three shows. “They serve entirely different markets,” said Karen Bassels, CJA president. Edmonton show chairman Russ Wickstrom agrees. “I don’t think you’d get people from the west coast going to central Canada,” he said. “We have a little niche out here.”

Ironically, it’s easier for some American retailers to come to the QJC show than it is for some “local” jewelers, said Thibaudeau, noting that people from Vermont or upstate New York “will have to drive much less that some of our Quebec customers from up north. Some [Quebec retailers] will drive six, seven, eight hours, because this is a big province.” –

Barbara Spector

ASIAN CRISIS HURTS HONG KONG SHOW

Asia’s prolonged economic slump was foremost on exhibitors’ minds at the Hong Kong Jewellery and Watch Fair in September. There were numerous signs of the crisis’ continuing impact on Hong Kong’s multibillion-dollar jewelry market at the fair, Asia’s largest jewelry event:

  • Dramatic drops in Asian jewelry sales. In a speech during an Antwerp Diamond Conference presentation, Leung Sik Wah, president of the Hong Kong Diamond Bourse and chairman of the Hong Kong Jewellers’ & Goldsmiths’ Association, said that Hong Kong diamond jewelry imports dropped 29% for the first half of 1998. Meanwhile, total exports showed slight growth, thanks to double-digit gains in Europe, Australia, and the United States. Major exhibitors reported sales drops in Asia ranging from 20% to 50% compared with last year. Most said they have shifted more business to the West to pick up the slack in their ailing Asian markets.

  • Store closings. Most of Hong Kong’s largest jewelry chains are closing stores in some of the harder-hit regions, including 85-store Tse Sui Luen Jewellery Co., which will shutter five stores in Malaysia and possibly others in Singapore.

  • A slower-than-usual show. Although final buyer numbers had not been reported at press time, it was evident that attendance was off the first two days of the five-day event. The number of buyers seemed to pick up during the next two days, but numerous exhibitors expressed disappointment with the overall quantity, and quality, of the turnout.

  • Few U.S. buyers. Although show organizers reported prior to the event that preregistration of Western buyers was up this year, exhibitors repeatedly remarked on the lack of U.S. buyers attending the fair.

  • Principals not at the fair. Top executives for many major Hong Kong manufacturers were back at their offices or factories during the show. Most of these firms didn’t expect to see their major Western buyers at the show.

While many Hong Kong manufacturers intend to step up business in the United States – particularly with U.S. high-volume jewelers – they expressed concern over how long the U.S. prosperity would last. Several recognized the need to set up offices in the United States to work with major U.S. buyers directly, rather than through agents or importers. However, they also said they were reluctant to do so. Already burned by plummeting sales and profits in Asia, some fear bearing direct responsibility for the generous return policies demanded by many U.S. mass retailers. – Glen A. Beres

CAUTION MARKS JAPAN JEWELRY FAIR

On the day the Japan Jewelry Fair opened in Tokyo, Sept. 9, the Tokyo stock market had just staged a halting retreat from a 13-year low and the government announced an interest rate cut to one of the lowest points in history: 0.25%.

The economic news preoccupied the reported 223 exhibitors and 13,415 buyers at the fair, creating a cautious climate.

Retailers were buying at or below replacement rates in most types of jewelry, exhibitors said. There were, however, some bright spots.

Basic diamond pieces costing less than $2,000, including De Beers-advertised “simple diamond” (solitaire diamonds in the U.S. campaigns) items, remained strong sellers. “Japanese consumers have put themselves on a strict budget, but they’re still buying certain things, and business is getting done,” said Michio Fukui, president of Fukui Diamond Trading of Tokyo. “Unfortunately, many of the things they’re buying are the most price-competitive items, such as the simple diamond pieces. This means margins are down.”

Long-established local companies such as Kashikey and Tatsumi Shoten also reported better-than-expected sales.

The number of foreign exhibitors, however, plunged by nearly half from last year, as many Hong Kong and French companies stayed away.

Stephen Dann of Asch-Grossbardt, New York, found established clients still willing to buy from his line of designer enameled gold jewelry, but at far below last year’s volume. “If someone bought 12 pieces last year and sold seven, they only want to add two or three – they’re that cautious even with proven sellers,” he said.

Kuni Watanabe, show manager, said the Japan Jewelry Association encouraged exhibitors to create fresh designs to attract buyer interest. “The theme of the show is ‘Creating A Trend’ to stress designs that will appeal to consumers who have become very selective.”

Exhibitors noted that designer jewelry remained popular as long as the price fell below $3,000. – Russell Shor

TAPPING A NEW MARKET: COUTURE LATIN AMERICA

Over-the-top,” “big and bold,” “over-ornate,” “too much design.” These were some of the opinions offered by jewelers during the second edition of Couture Latin America, an upscale, by-invitation-only show that took place Aug. 30-Sept. 2 at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, Boca Raton, Fla.

The show featured 103 exhibitors from around the world. Manufacturers from countries such as Thailand, Switzerland, Israel, France, Spain, the United States, and Italy showed a keen interest in the Latin American market. In addition, attendees could review the latest research on platinum, take classes on subjects such as building brand power, and learn about key industry forces and their potential impact on the luxury retail market in the Americas.

As to the show’s success, opinions varied. Some manufacturers did no business, others did moderately well, and those already known in Latin America did very well. But everyone agreed that the show offered an opportunity to learn about Latin American tastes, which tend to be simpler and less ornate than U.S. tastes. (Latin Americans also insist on 18k gold for all jewelry.) Many exhibitors already have decided to return next year.

Attendees, who numbered around 150, were pleased with the show’s organization. Most, however, would have preferred greater variety and more mid-level jewelry, which is more popular among their customers.

Many visitors noted the abundance of designer jewelry, a concept not well developed in most countries. Latin American jewelers understand that few of their customers are willing to pay extra for the privilege of owning a designer name.

Visitors were pleasantly surprised by new platinum designs and modern lines for young customers. Jewelers were happy to discover that platinum is no longer reserved for “top-quality jewels.” They agree that platinum jewelry might be the next trend, but they also believe platinum is difficult to work with, so they’re waiting to jump on the platinum bandwagon. Although 1998 will be remembered in many countries as the white year in jewelry, in Latin America many people still prefer yellow gold.

The “Ambassador Program,” introduced this year, provided information on exhibitors, including merchandise and price ranges. It also offered visitors the opportunity to be introduced personally to exhibitors. Another noteworthy element of the program: Translators were always available. –Teresa Andres

DALLAS SHOW FOCUSES ON THE BASICS

The Dallas Fine Jewelry Show by MIDAS was held Sept. 12-14 at Market Hall in Dallas. Nearly 400 exhibitors and 3,800 buyers attended, according to Janisue Maynard, executive director of MIDAS. Exhibitors said attendance on Sunday, traditionally the show’s strongest day, seemed to be rather light. A few attributed it to the fact that the Dallas Cowboys were hosting the archrival Denver Broncos Sunday afternoon in Dallas.

Merchandise exhibited at the show consisted mainly of bread-and-butter items and closeouts of basics like gold chains, gold earrings, promotional diamond jewelry, and pearl strands. For jewelers seeking higher-end merchandise, there were some quality lines of imported 18k gold represented; a few firms offered high-fashion styles in platinum and diamond or white gold and diamond.

The premier social event of the show was the annual 24 Karat Club dinner dance, held Saturday evening at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel. Two early-morning educational seminars were offered: one on synthetic moissanite and one on the Internet. – Hedda T. Schupak

PACIFIC SHOW HIGH ON SPIRIT

The Pacific Jewelry Show in August tried to reinvent itself with a new location, a new executive director, Alberta Hultman, and a new conference program. But it lacked two key ingredients: sufficient numbers of buyers and certain major exhibitors.

The lack of buyers (1,000 attended, according to show officials) upset some exhibitors and prompted threats that “we won’t be back.” But many seem ready to give the show another chance at its new location, the Disneyland Hotel complex in Anaheim.

More than 200 firms took booths, among them Gori & Zucchi, Mastoloni, Allison-Kaufman, and Jose Hess with jewelry displays and Citizen, Bulova, and Wittnauer on the watch side. Also present were Fabrikant and Stuller Settings, with Stuller reporting good sales. Stuller also used the show to promote its Los Angeles service center.

A company new to the industry as well as the show, Leslie & Co. of Irvine, Calif., drew as much interest from other exhibitors as from buyers. The company displayed a large selection of attractive green, diffusion-treated topaz. The company claims that the treatment, done in California, produces a consistent color and that the process can be used successfully in mass-production of these stones.

On the social side, JCK sponsored the welcoming reception Friday night and the California Jewelers Association (CJA) held a lavish Caribbean celebration party on Saturday. Robert B. Westover, former CJA executive vice president, was honored with an award for service to the organization and with the establishment of a Gemological Institute of America scholarship in his name. – George Holmes

COLUMBUS SHOW BOASTS STRONG BUSINESS

Business was good and attendance strong this year at what many consider the best regional trade

show in the country for independent jewelers – the Columbus Jewelry Show (CJS), held Aug. 28-29. Run by the Ohio Jewelers Association (OJA) and held in the Columbus Convention Center, the show had 370 exhibitors – including several foreign firms – and attracted a record 3,462 buyers.

All 15 members of OJA’s board were on hand to help attendees and vendors, and most of its 900-plus members attend and buy at the trade fair. (The show is OJA’s major source of revenue, a big reason why its dues are low.)

The show was overseen by veteran show manager Adriana Sfalcin, with active support from Craig Forcell, OJA show committee chairman; Jack Siebert, OJA president; and the OJA board. “We’re jewelers ourselves and know what jewelers want,” said Siebert. “We’re not amateurs or hobbyists running this.”

Taking a hint from larger national shows, the show floor was designed to make it easy for buyers to work and vendors to attract the right customers by grouping similar products together in designated areas of the show. There was a “Gems Corner” and a “Technology Center.” The center of the show, both literally and figuratively, was the popular Designer Pavilion, with some 30 upscale designer jewelers and manufacturers. “It’s a user-friendly show for both the exhibitors and buyers,” said designer Patty Duanis, a long-time participant.

Like many smaller shows, the CJS included vendors with close-outs, special purchases, and pro- motional wares. It also offered high-quality upscale jewelry, well-known brand names, and established vendors seeking new markets. “We are always trying to raise the image and level of excellence of the show,” said Siebert.

The show’s operators have an intentional “slow growth” policy and don’t plan to “pack the aisles [of] the CJS” with vendors, said Sfalcin. Despite a waiting list of firms, both domestic and foreign, OJA will expand the show only if attendance continues to grow, say show and OJA officials.

Also well-attended were the show’s educational and social events. Social events included the opening night reception sponsored by JCK, the American Gem Society’s invitation-only party, and the CJS “Jewelers’ Night Out” ball, which drew several hundred people. Also on the schedule were CJS’s Jewelry Design Contest as well as a golf outing and silent auction. – William George Shuster

JCK SHOW TEAM CONTINUES INVOLVEMENT

Reed Exhibition Companies has announced that five consultants who have contributed to the success of The JCK International Jewelry Shows have signed new contracts with the shows.

The team consists of:

Ed Coyne, Exhibitor Relations: Coyne develops and coordinates exhibitors’ promotional efforts and responds to exhibitors’ questions during the shows.

Cindy Edelstein, Design Center: Edelstein administers the Design Center, the Rising Stars Section, and the Designers’ Live Auction.

Earl Lynch, Special Events: Lynch oversees the JCK Welcome Receptions, the Keystone Classic Golf Tournaments, and JCK functions across the United States and abroad.

Simone Lipton, Buyer Registration and Publicity: Lipton manages pre-show and on-site buyer registration. She’s also in charge of the press room and public relations for the JCK Shows.

Charlotte Preston, Education Program: Preston coordinates the Touch the Future and educational conference programs.

Coyne, Edelstein, Lynch, and Lipton have been with the JCK Shows since their inception in 1992. Preston joined the team in the second year of the shows.

U.S. VISITORS TO BASEL NOW ABLE TO PREREGISTER

For the first time, visitors from the United States will be able to preregister for Basel 1999, the World Watch, Clock, and Jewellery Show in Switzerland. The 1999 Basel fair will begin on April 29.

U.S. attendees can preregister by filling out the reply card that accompanies all Basel trade publication ads. To receive a folder of fair materials, including a preregistration card, contact ACL Consulting Inc., 4804 American Dr., Durham, NC 27705; (888) 574-2233 or (919) 383-1780, fax (919) 383-5597, e-mail: aclecl@earthlink. net.

WHOLESALE MARKET IN NEW ORLEANS

The International Jewelry Fair/General Merchandise Show will be held Nov. 21-24 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the first three days of the show. On the final day, the show will close at 3 p.m.

Wholesale buyers will have the option of immediate merchandise delivery or order taking. Approximately 400 vendors are expected to participate.

For information, contact Helen Brett Enterprises Inc., 1988 University Lane, Lisle, IL 60532; (630) 241-9865, fax (630) 241-9870.