Travelers’ Tales

On the 50th anniversary of the Southern Jewelry Travelers Association, Atlanta, Ga., members say much has changed for jewelry salespeople on the road since the SJTA’s inception. SJTA members with whom JCK spoke revealed the 10 biggest changes for traveling jewelry salespeople in the past 50 years:

  • Back then, nine out of 10 customers would be happy to see you making a sales call. “Now seven out of 10 are unhappy to see you because they owe you money,” says Sheldon Harrison, president of ShelGem Ltd., Roswell, Ga., and former SJTA president.

  • Salespeople are treated as second-class citizens. Customers think nothing of breaking appointments.

  • The road is a more dangerous place. “Thieves are packing guns,” says Roy Conradi, president of Conradi Communications, Atlanta, Ga., and one of the original members of SJTA.

  • Travel is more expensive. Whether it’s hotels, meals, transportation, or incidentals, everything costs more now.

  • Salespeople are less professional. “They come into your store and ask you for a pencil,” says Herman Beck, a retired jewelry industry veteran and also an original SJTA member.

  • Companies make their losses public when traveling salespeople are robbed. “That shouldn’t happen, because then thieves think all jewelry salesmen carry lines with as much value,” says Charles Cole, a 50-year industry veteran and SJTA member since 1953.

  • Security at shows and during sales calls is tighter. Vendors escort each other to their cars to ensure safety. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks theft rings and sets up sting operations to trap thieves.

  • SJTA members now convene at the Cobb Galleria, 10 miles north of Atlanta, for biannual shows. SJTA moved the show out of the city for a better variety of hotels, restaurants, and entertainment.

  • Fewer people attend the Saturday night, SJTA-sponsored banquets during the shows. “They used to throw one heck of a party,” says Conradi. He admits it’s tougher for many original members to keep such late hours now. Plus, newer members get out and about more during the shows and don’t want to be “stuck” in a banquet hall for a whole night.

  • Camaraderie has lessened among members. “There used to be more of a genuine interest from one member to another,” says Brian Fleming, a 10-year SJTA member and one of the owners of Carla Corp., Providence, R.I. The once-sincere relationships between vendors and retailers have changed as well, he adds: “Now, the atmosphere is more competitive.”