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ANYONE WHO HAS SPENT more than a minute buying or selling in the jewelry industry likely knows that trade shows can be exhausting and stressful. At times, says Scott Kaufman, vice-president of jewelry manufacturer Allison-Kaufman, it may feel like you’re engaged in a battle, whatever side of the booth you’re on.

However, wholesalers, retailers, and experts agree that a trade show shouldn’t be contentious. If approached with intention, it can be a way to forge and reinforce relationships while building a big-picture strategy.

Kaufman wants to partner with retailers for an extended period. He takes the long view. “An extended period is not one or two or three years, but decades,” he says.

Professionalism goes a long way on both sides to initiate and deepen those relationships, while hangovers, painful shoes, lack of sleep, missed appointments, skipped lunches and stalking-style selling just add to everyone’s stress.

DATA-DRIVEN DECISIONS

Kaufman is surprised that some vendors and retailers still prepare for trade show appointments as if they’re ready to do battle. In the past, he says, this tension has been driven by retailers beginning the conversation about old inventory they want to return. “Their view was, ‘Help me, and then I’ll buy new stuff,’” Kaufman says.

More recently, though, retailers and wholesalers have access to reports from The Edge, ERA, and other data companies about what is specifically selling and not selling in individual stores. Kaufman says this should have eased any sort of adversarial relationship. Instead, vendors sometimes weaponize this data to continue the fight. “They say that for you (the retailer) to be part of our program, you must reorder every best-seller, whether you want to or not.”

It’s important to train and convince salespeople to understand that exchanges and returns are good for business. “We don’t want people to be stuck with merchandise. What we have found, especially in the past three or four years, is that our customers say they feel very comfortable working with us now.”

Jewelry Retailers and Suppliers Share How Both Sides can Reap Rewards from Trade Show Collaborations

Kaufman says data can be positively used to prove which items are fast sellers across the board and encourage retailers to buy them. Manufacturers can also use the data to drive product development and build collections around what is popular.

“We’ve been in business for 104 years, there are not a lot of new customers for us to get, so it’s our job to deal with and improve our relationship with our customer base,” he says. “If we lose one customer, we recognize that there is not another one waiting behind him.”

Kaufman says he would like the company to be viewed as a safe place to take chances by ordering merchandise outside of their comfort zone. “It’s not a final sale until they sell it at retail. We truly want to partner with our customers so we can succeed together, not at the expense of each other.”

Retailers agree that when used properly, the data can help them with buying decisions.

Kyle Bullock of Bullock’s Jewelry in Roswell, NM, says vendors who have data and stats from his store’s sales are the ones most likely to grow business with him. “They know where we need to go, what products they have we could try, and what products aren’t working.”

Jewelry Retailers and Suppliers Share How Both Sides can Reap Rewards from Trade Show Collaborations

Michelle Thompson of Craig Husar Fine Diamonds and Jewelry of Brookfield, WI, says suppliers should be prepared with data by region and by state, since regional trends and tastes vary. “What sells on the coast doesn’t necessarily translate to the Midwest, and vice versa.”

Don Unwin of Sterling Jewelers in Wethersfield, CT, says he finds it helpful when suppliers can relate the experience of some of their successful retailers and how they contributed to that success without revealing names. “I believe that a good partner will first mention a 1-to-1 stock balancing program and stick with it. Vendors that know how to manage these programs will succeed.”

A STRATEGIC APPROACH FOR RETAILERS

Andrea Hill, owner of Hill Management Group, a business management and marketing consultancy, says buying and stock balancing should be a jewelry retailer’s daily or weekly ongoing work, which can be done via email, phone, or Zoom. The work at trade shows should be about strategy and the big picture.

Retailers should determine what’s selling and what’s not before the show, as well as review customer feedback to understand what they could offer to differentiate their business from their competitors. If every retailer sells the same or similar product mixes, then the only thing they compete on is price.

“Retailers often think they’re competing on service, but good service is a minimum standard necessary to compete,” Hill says. “Assuming their service is good, what are they competing on? Are they offering products that nobody else offers? Are they offering experiences that nobody else offers? Supplier partners can be an important part of that equation.”

 

Jewelry Retailers and Suppliers Share How Both Sides can Reap Rewards from Trade Show Collaborations

Hill suggests retailers set goals for each show, such as a list of five things they’d like to accomplish to differentiate their business. “Retailers will look at the show floor differently if they approach trade shows that way, not looking for specific products they like, or that are like things they already carry, but for product experiences to help them create better experiences for their customers.”

Kaufman says retailers’ priorities on the show floor shouldn’t be just that an item is pretty and in their comfort zone. They need to know what’s missing from their showcase. If retailers believe they can sell diamond rings only in the $2,000 to $4,000 range, for example, they may hesitate to shop for $10,000 rings, but if they find vendors with whom they can develop a trust-based relationship, they can feel comfortable taking a chance on expanding the range of their inventory.

Kathy Grenier, vice-president of pearl supplier Imperial, says that as part of that strategic approach, retailers should also experience trade shows as an educational opportunity, particularly when it comes to a category of jewelry that may be new to them or underdeveloped. “I want them to have an open mind and spend a little time, so they can get a mini education and see what we’re focusing on,” Grenier says. “People may say, ‘We’re not self-assured about pearls. I will rely on you to help grow the business,’ and then not allow enough time to learn. If they do take the time, it will create greater sales success for them.” In the case of pearls, they may realize that modern pearl jewelry styles extend far beyond studs and strands.

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BUILDING A SUPPLIER ECOSYSTEM

Hill says retailers must also consider the number of suppliers they work with. Abe Sherman, CEO and founder of Buyers Intelligence Group (BIG), a jewelry industry supply chain analytics service, reports the average jewelry retailer has 200 suppliers. “Now, they may not deal consistently with all 200 of them, but 200 suppliers are a lot of suppliers,” Hill says.

More suppliers increase the merchandising cost and decrease the ability to be important to suppliers. Trade shows are an opportunity to review the supplier mix, have conversations with existing suppliers about how they can work together to improve merchandising strategies, or identify opportunities to work with different suppliers that might check more of the boxes of what is important to the retailer, Hill says.

“If a retailer has three or four bread-and-butter suppliers that provide them with generic merchandising or generic products, and then has a dozen or so suppliers that provide them with differentiated goods not carried by their competitors, that’s an interesting mix,” Hill says. “If instead they have a dozen or so suppliers that are providing them with generic merchandise, and very few suppliers that provide them with differentiation, that’s not helping their business.”

George Prout, president of JB Bhanderi, the largest CVD grower in the world and maker of the Surreal Diamond brand, has lectured on the topic of how to have fewer suppliers and be more important to the ones you keep. In general, he says, the main difference between a $1 million-per-year store and a $5 million-per-year store lies in each one’s respective supplier ecosystem. Low-volume retail stores, he contends, buy from different suppliers than high-volume retail stores.

“When retailers attend a trade show, they aren’t just buying stuff to resupply their showcases,” he says. “They’re creating their company’s supplier ecosystem. So, it makes sense to try to connect with the suppliers who are supplying stores possessing revenue streams to which you aspire.”

Prout recommends reviewing the Edge Retail Academy KPI report. In the vendors yearly tab, there is a list of the top 25 suppliers selling to the more than 1,400 stores that auto-report sales. Then make a point of visiting the ones you don’t know to gain an understanding of what you might be missing.

“There’s a reason these specific companies are in the top 25,” he says.

He also recommends running Edge Retail Academy reports on each supplier the retailer intends to visit, looking at sell-through data on their top sellers, how many stores carry each SKU, and how quickly it turns. “There’s no guarantee that every SKU that sells in lots of stores will sell in yours, but that’s the way to bet,” he says.

Prout suggests setting an open-to-buy level for each supplier you’re going to meet with and artificially reducing it by 20 percent at the beginning of the meeting.

“Inevitably, the salesperson will try to sell you more than the level you announced, so by announcing the artificially reduced level, you’ll set up a friction-free win/win,” he says. “The salesperson will feel good that they elevated your purchase above your announced expenditure level, and you will wind up buying at precisely the level you intended.”

Prout says to include stock balancing as part of the deal every time you make a seasonal purchase. It’s the only way to prevent accumulating dead stock, and the best time to do it is when you are making a meaningful purchase.

Jewelry Retailers and Suppliers Share How Both Sides can Reap Rewards from Trade Show Collaborations

Ask suppliers about their trade policies, service approach, terms, and stock balancing, Hill says. Do they support advertising? Do they participate in events? The answers to these questions enable retailers to ask themselves, “Are there opportunities to do a better job than the suppliers I’m working with right now? Am I already engaged in the best possible relationships?”

Illinois retailer Monika Clodius has one rule for new suppliers that’s non-negotiable. She asks about diamond knowledge and transparency. “When I sit with a new vendor, and I say to them that it’s imperative that the diamond quality and weight must be on my invoice for each item, I mean it is imperative,” she says. “My data entry person is not a skilled diamond analyst. It’s unfair that she must call 10 times while the merchandise sits in my safe because we can’t get quality information from the vendor.”

Beth Greene, store manager of Conti Jewelers in Endwell, NY, seeks transparency about terms, return policies and stock-balancing options. “It would also be beneficial if those terms could openly be revisited every couple of years, based on the brand’s success,” Greene says. “For example, 2-for-1 stock balancing the first three years; however, if the retailer becomes one of the wholesaler’s top five accounts, they could offer 1-for-1 stock balancing, or vice versa if the relationship isn’t working out.”

Hill says the best possible relationship gives a retailer the greatest return on investment for their merchandising purchases, along with the most frictionless buying experience, because the cost of doing business varies from supplier to supplier. Trade shows are a great time to explore those things.

Ed Waters of Kelly Waters, a jewelry manufacturer, suggests allowing vendors to communicate effectively to nurture new relationships and to take advantage of free marketing materials and social media posts. Too often, he says, clients ignore his emails or send them to a spam folder. “It’s the main way we communicate with them about new products, trade shows, and other news. Our emails can be valuable, especially our post-of-the-day emails.

Cut-and-paste marketing for social media is so easy.”

If you do find a brand you’d like to add to your ecosystem, be prepared to answer questions to determine which assortment will do best in your store.

Sarah Johnston, U.S. sales director for the jewelry brand TI SENTO, will ask questions about what other brands the retailer carries and how TI SENTO can complement the mix.

She will also ask about the retailer’s customers’ preferences and behaviors, such as the average purchase price when it comes to gifting or self-purchasing, whether they are more classic or trendy, whether they love colored stones, and whether they are more interested in gold tones, silver tones, or mixed metals.

She may also ask what the staff likes. “We know if their sales team loves the brand, they will sell it, so we like to consider that as well. Once we know all that, we put together the best assortment — a mix of bestsellers, core collection and new collections — customized for them.”

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BE CURIOUS

Independent jewelers make a mistake, Prout says, when they look away from the booths they don’t usually buy from as they walk down the aisle.

“When I work the Hong Kong or Vicenza shows as a buyer, I take the first two days and walk the entire show floor,” he says. “I make eye contact with someone at each booth that’s interesting, and I ask a simple question: ‘Tell me in 30 seconds why I need to work with your company.’ If what they have to say is interesting, I may extend my stay a little to learn more. And then, I will end the discussion by saying, ‘Thanks very much. I’m walking the show over the next two days, and I’ll stop by on the third morning to make an appointment.’ Don’t let them push you around. You’re in charge of your time, so you’re in control.

“You will miss important potential relationships if you’re not rigorous in finding out why each company exists, especially the ones with busy booths.

Always find out why a specific busy company has such a busy booth.”

The other thing retailers should do at trade shows is learn about what’s going on in the industry, Hill says.

Jewelry Retailers and Suppliers Share How Both Sides can Reap Rewards from Trade Show Collaborations

“The smartest merchants ask everyone — whether exhibitors, retail peers, or consultants — ‘What’s going on in your market? What’s going on with your customers? What do you see that you think is unusual? What do you see that’s concerning?’ A trade show gathers an entire community of experts in one place, and the smartest retailers mine that environment for insight.”

One part of assessing what’s going on is to ask “why,” says Hill. Figure out who is listening to end consumers and offering something new and different.

“Even if those products are not something retailers think would work in their store or market, they should pay attention and take the opportunity to ask, ‘Why did you decide to offer this at this time? Why are you the only one offering this? What are you thinking about this product or this product category?

What are you seeing that made you think this product or product category was needed?’”

Perhaps the supplier won’t have a good answer because either the salesperson doesn’t know or the company is just making things that are interesting to them. But some of them will offer useful insight into why a particular product is being offered, and retailers can learn from that, Hill says.

BE PREPARED

Prout warns that retailers will dramatically reduce their importance to a supplier if they insist on being a “drive-by” and not making an appointment. “I know it’s inconvenient to have appointments, but just as you don’t have time to meet in your store with salesmen who are making an uninvited cold call, a high-value supplier won’t likely be able to devote their time and attention if you insist on just showing up at a random time.”

Sam Samuel, president of Midas Chain, says it’s particularly important for new retail clients to make an appointment. “That way, you can be sure to have all the time you need to go over extensive lines of jewelry such as ours,” says Samuel. “We really appreciate it when retailers come with data regarding their sales. They come to the show hoping to find the right trend-forward styles for their customers, and we’re always prepared to fill that gap.”

Jewelry Retailers and Suppliers Share How Both Sides can Reap Rewards from Trade Show Collaborations

Susan Klemt Williams of Artistry says she appreciates retail partners who know who they are in their given marketplace. “If our team is given a clear picture, we are then equipped to present the most appropriate product categories and collections best suited for the retailers’ requirements,” she says.

To be in this position, retailers should run their reports and understand their on-hand inventory. “What do you have in the showcases? What do you need? It is most helpful to ensure that you come to shows prepared to buy products you believe will sell in your store or where you have legitimate needs.

It can be hard for vendors when people buy things that they like without any real regard for whether they truly believe they will sell in their store.

“Many of our most successful clients come to trade shows with their reports, but they also fully understand what is in these reports. Preparing for meetings in advance by all parties allows our meetings at trade shows to be extremely productive,” she says. The Artistry team also spends a great deal of time studying reports and preparing for meetings to try to help retailers make the best buying decisions possible, she says.

ADVICE FOR SUPPLIERS

What retailers are looking for from suppliers at a trade show is often the kind of polished and welcoming sales experience their customers would find in their retail stores.

Mark and Monika Clodius of Clodius & Co. Jewelers in Rockford, IL, say there’s often a disconnect between what suppliers say they offer and how their merchandise is presented and displayed.

“Give me an experience, please,” says Monika. “Don’t tell me you have great packaging, but it’s not presented in any way in the booth. Don’t tell me you’ve got great social media and wonderful ads when your booth looks like it’s stuck in the 1970s! Don’t show me birthstone jewelry, tennis bracelets and diamond studs unless I ask for it. I want to see your new things, not something that has been a staple for the last 30 years.

“Being organized in the booth would be very helpful,” she says. “When it gets jumbled up like a tornado has been through, it wastes everybody’s time.”

Mark Clodius says curating booth displays and selections simplifies shopping. “Most vendors try to display as much product as possible,” he says. “It can be hard to know their strengths just by looking at everything all at once. It’s helpful if some thought is put into organizing and displaying the product.

First, show us what you do best. Then, your best sellers, new items, trending styles, and collections. Group them into suites or display by styles, highlighting, by how it is displayed, important, special or interesting items.

“Entice me visually and I might spend time with you,” Mark says.

Jewelry Retailers and Suppliers Share How Both Sides can Reap Rewards from Trade Show Collaborations

Many issues involve etiquette. “Everything we learned in kindergarten applies,” says Monika. “Mind your manners, be polite, respect people and listen to them. I don’t like it when I’m walking down the aisle having a conversation, and [vendors] are just barging in and interrupting,” Monika says. “If you can’t respect me when I’m walking by, how can I expect respect when I do business with you? When you have people breathing down your neck, it’s not an inviting thing for me to even want to stop.”

If she does approach a booth only to feel as if it is “guarded by attack dogs trying to bite” her ankles, she is likely to retreat. “Some of those particular business habits haven’t changed, though our trade has changed.”

Mark Clodius says another turnoff is when he’s talking with a vendor and is dropped like “a hot potato” because someone who is perceived to be more important stops by.

To ensure a proper greeting, Hill says vendors should stand behind their booths. “If you’re seated and suddenly jump to your feet to attract the attention of passersby, that is very intimidating and can create bad energy,” she says. If you remain seated as they approach, that can be seen as dismissive. If you’re already standing, you’re prepared to make eye contact and smile. Sitting also is a good way to drain your energy.

To keep on your feet and clear your head, take breaks from the booth at least three times a day. Try 15 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes for lunch and 15 minutes in the afternoon. If you don’t have backup, get together with several solo exhibitors to hire a booth buddy to cover for all of you.

Taking a lunch break will ensure no one is eating in the booth. “I don’t know that anyone has a brand that says, ‘We chew in other people’s faces.’ So take a lunch break,” Hill says. Adds Monika Clodius, “I couldn’t treat my clients like that in my store! They wouldn’t come back.”

David Blitt of Troy Shoppe Jewelers in Calgary, AB, warns against a used-car-salesman approach, such as saying that every SKU is a great seller, or how much the guy ahead of him purchased.

“Show me data that backs up sales for similar stores in similar areas,” he says. “Then offer a 1-to-1 trade-back. Decent delivery of special orders in under three weeks. And be honest about what is being offered. If the goods use SI2/I1, say so. Not that they are VS. In other words, be honest.”

Greene says many retailers have back-to-back appointments and are trying to get a lot accomplished quickly.

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“If we’re being pulled in multiple directions and held up trying to get to the next stop, we’re much less likely to return to a wholesaler to browse,” she says. “I had a wholesaler grab my 19-year-old employee’s arm while she was walking to an appointment,” she says. “We did not go back to his booth.

However, we purchased from the wholesaler beside him, who politely asked him to let her go.”

More advice for trade show exhibitors from Andrea Hill:

You’re there to get leads. An important part of that is connecting with people you didn’t know existed. Collect every customer’s information that comes by your booth. If there is a scanner opportunity at the trade show, it’s worth investing in. If not, take a picture of badges or business cards or collect cards. Entice people to leave a business card by having a giveaway, if allowed.

Do some things better each day than you did the day before. Figure out what worked, what didn’t work, and what can you do better.

Never pack up and close your booth before the show has closed. The customer you’ve been waiting for could be the one who shows up in the last 20 minutes. When you leave early, you’re leaving money on the table and it makes a terrible brand statement. It says, “We take shortcuts, we’re in a hurry.”

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