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Podcast: Jen Cullen Williams Enters “The Barb Wire”

Industry trade shows, motherhood, and the challenges facing professional women are on the agenda.

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THE BARB WIRE EPISODE 2: JEN CULLEN WILLIAMS (61:38 MINUTES)


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IN EPISODE 2 of The Barb Wire, host Barbara Palumbo chats with Jen Cullen Williams, managing director of Luxury Brand Group, a leading luxury and jewelry brand communications agency.

The aim of The Barb Wire is to allow listeners to eavesdrop on engaging jewelry industry conversations that range the gamut, as real-world conversation do, from personal to business issues.

Says Palumbo, “My favorite thing is when my guests actually forget they’re on a podcast, and it’s just like we’re kicking back on the phone. “ This episode achieves that standard throughout its duration — in fact, at one point, Jen reacts in surprise over an intimate revelation she has just made, “Wow, that was really personal!”

The episode includes in-depth discussion of industry trade events — including the dangers of “trade show arrogance” as well as the opportunities for industry events to better serve their audiences with new technology and focused education.

But there’s also lighter discussion of trade show dress codes, the importance of careful shoe management during a trade event, as well as the towering personal confidence provided by zero-humidity “Vegas hair”.

On the personal side, Cullen Williams, who has a 1-1/2 year old daughter, shares her experience of having a child while in the midst of building a career, as well as the pros and cons of being married to a fitness industry entrepreneur. (Cullen Williams’ husband runs a California-based group of fitness businesses.)

Industry members who get shout-outs in this episode include Frank Proctor, Peggy Jo Donahue, Rebecca Moskal, and last month’s Barb Wire guest John Carter. Also mentioned: bygone teen idols Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Palumbo shares her surprising(!) celebrity crush as a teenager.

Enjoy this episode of The Barb Wire!


SHOW CHRONOLOGY
  • 3:10 The uniqueness of the Tucson gem show experience.
  • 4:25 Jen learns a lesson about Tucson’s very different dress code.
  • 6:40 The fine details of swapping out shoes, and alternating pressure points, to minimize blister pain during a multi-day trade event.
  • 8:25 Jen and Barbara discuss a major challenge for professional women — choosing the best time to start a family while still managing a successful career.
  • 9:35 How women with children, especially those who travel frequently for work, can sometimes be interrogated as though they are neglecting their children.
  • 11:15 Jen on planning for her first child. She had been with her husband for more than a decade, but each year, they would decide to focus on their careers — deeming it “the Year of the Hustle”. Finally, they decided they were ready.
  • 14:30 Jen tells a “really personal” story of how she learned she was going to have her first child right after JCK two years ago.
  • 18:30 Discussion of Jen’s husband’s career as a fitness business owner, and what degree of dietary oversight a fitness professional imposes on his partner. Jen is addicted to exercise, but concludes: “I don’t look like a gym owner’s wife. I could be a lot more cut and fit and be a better marketing advertisement for him. But I like wine.”
  • 24:30 One poster-worthy motto of her husband’s gym business: ”If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
  • 25:40 Jen shares her special motherhood motto, as well as her motto for getting through challenging periods at work. It’s just two words, but there’s power in its brevity.
  • 30:20 At trade shows, the importance of treating show attendees (and journalists) with care and empathy, and making every person feel like they’re being paid attention to. And what happens when some shows — ahem, ahem, BASEL! — stop taking the best possible care of their customers.
  • 35:00 Jen on the continuing importance of trade shows in jewelry, as well as the need to continue to innovate in the field.
  • 36:30 How technology is adding new wrinkles to the trade show experience.
  • 38:00 Jen took the Harvard Business track at the GIA Symposium, which she loved, and wonders what Harvard accreditation she can truthfully claim — “I’m not really a Harvard grad, but I like to say I’m a Harvard grad.”
  • 40:10 Why trade show education is important and what happens to a business owner’s slice of the business pie if he or she stops learning and lets their business grow stagnant. Says Jen: “It’s not going to be a pie anymore … it’s going to be an empty plate.”
  • 43:05 The importance of creating partnerships between vendors and buyers at trade shows.
  • 45:35 Who would Jen like to have dinner with, alive or dead, in the jewelry industry? She mentions two possible choices — one an iconic French fashion designer/businesswoman of yesteryear, and the other the current French CEO of one of the world’s top watch brands.
  • 48:40 Print magazines or online publications? Jen is a big fan of magazines, and refers to a “Scrapebook” she created in her teens stuffed with clippings about her favorite stars of the day — including a few nostalgic mentions of former idols from “Party of Five” and “Home Improvement”. Barbara also reveals her surprising, and surprisingly short, top crush from her own teen years.
  • 50:40 Jen’s biggest influence? Her parents, first and foremost. And then her “career tribe”.
  • 52:00 Jen lists some of her biggest fans — with her sister coming in on top, being her “best biological friend”.
  • 54:20 The five-minute meditation exercise that Jen starts her work day with.
  • 55:15 Jen shares her favorite industry event. It’s not a specific trade event — but it’s a special kind of experience that only happens during trade events.
  • 57:10 The accessory that Jen won’t leave the house without.
  • 59:20 Gold or platinum? Jen makes a choice, and then immediately tries to take it back.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 76 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at editor@instoremag.com.

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The Barb Wire

Podcast: Luxury Retailer Nick Linca Drops Into ‘The Barb Wire’

Florida retailer has perfected the concept of the jewelry store as “third place” for his customers.

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THE BARB WIRE EPISODE 6: NICK LINCA (53:27 MINUTES)


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THIS MONTH, the Barb Wire welcomes innovative jeweler Nick Linca, a managing partner with Provident Jewelry, a seven-store jewelry retailer.

The business launched 25 years ago as a jeweler specializing in estate goods. However, in 2008, it moved in a new direction by opening a luxurious, state-of-the-art store in Jupiter, FL selling higher-end branded goods.

Linca, who had been a manager at Zale in the late 1990s and a sales manager at Hamilton Jewelers from 2000 to 2008, was brought on to lead the launch of Provdent Jewelry’s new Jupiter business.

Over the past 11 years, the group’s Jupiter location has achieved status of one of the country’s most impressive jewelry stores, selling brands like Baume-et-Mercier, Bell & Ross, Breitling, Carl F. Bucherer, Cartier, Chopard and more, while featuring luxurious amenities like a fully stocked bar and cigar bar for customers.

Chatting with Barbara, Nick talks about the background of the business (2:00), and the importance of opening a store around the right people rather than the other way around (4:00). He discusses the mindset in opening the Jupiter store of creating a “third place” for customers, a la Starbucks — a place that is not work and is not home (6:45). Barbara raves about the opulence of the drink bar and cigar bar at the Jupiter store (8:50).

Nick loves that his customers can finish a round of golf, then invite a friend over for a post-round drink and cigar at the jewelry store (10:30). He shares how the team at Provident likes to “blow it out” and have fun with store events, including an upcoming “Bubbles and Bling” party (14:20).

Barbara and Nick discuss Provident Jewelry’s wide-ranging charity activities (14:30), including dog adoptions. And Nick shares the reasons why, over time, he has connected so much with independent watch brands (18:50) over time.

One reason is loyalty. After a 2011 robbery in which Provident Jewelry lost more than $15 million in inventory, and were uncertain to survive. During that stressful period, Nick saw how some brands acted like partners, and others didn’t (20:30).

Watch discussion continues with Nick sharing how he used FaceTime to make direct sales to customers of newly released watches while in Basel (24:00). He also tells a story of an extremely unusual trade-in he received on a high-end watch recently (31:30).

In the later portion of the podcast, Barbara asks her regular series of standard regular questions. In this section, Nick shares his dream industry dinner partner (33:50), refers to his 65-year-old clients as “millennials” (35:20); tells of the useful people skill inherited from his father that helps him (38:00); identifies his biggest fan (38:40); and shares his favorite four-letter industry word, which we think could become yours as well (40:10).

He shares his favorite trade event (41:00), and talks of a few shockingly extravagant parties he has attended at this event over the years, as well as revealing the details of a fiendishly brilliant prank played with a chili pepper on a member of his travel party (44:10).

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The Barb Wire

Podcast: Millennial Gem Trader Dave Bindra Steps Into ‘The Barb Wire’

Meet the gem expert and owner of one of the industry’s coolest Instagram accounts.

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THE BARB WIRE EPISODE 5: DAVE BINDRA (50:27 MINUTES)


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THIS MONTH on The Barb Wire, host Barbara Palumbo welcomes a rising star in the jewelry business, gem trader Dave Bindra, vice-president of B&B Fine Gems. Still in his early 30s, Bindra has built up an impressive resume, serving as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the GIA Alumni Association, member of the board of directors of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, acclaimed AGS Conclave speaker, not to mention running a seriously cool Instagram account @gemfluencer. (Come for the awesome collection of gemstones, stay for the awesome collection of color-coordinated shoes.)

Enjoy the newest episode of The Barb Wire. It’s talk radio for the jewelry business.


SHOW CHRONOLOGY
  • 2:00 Dave shares a short bio, explaining how he was “born into the business” when his father started selling gemstones after immigrating from India to the United States.
  • 3:50 Dave, who is in his early 30s, was asked recently how many years he has been going to the Tucson gem shows. He said he thought it was his 29th year. Receiving a shocked expression from his conversation partner, he explained that he used to “sleep under the showcases” as a kid while his parents sold gems at the show.
  • 5:10 Dave talks about his strategy of colored gemstone curation. He emphasizes: “We are not here to sell a commodity; we are here to sell a precious item.”
  • 8:30 Barbara reveals herself to be a huge fan of Dave’s Instagram account, @gemfluencer.
  • 9:20 Gemstone of the moment? Dave says spinel, noting that it has been “undervalued for centuries” and often misidentified as ruby in high jewelry through the ages.
  • 15:20 Other gemstones whose moment is on the horizon? Dave says garnet, which is following spinel’s path. Durable, highly transparent, a solid supply of material. Also, paraiba tourmaline.
  • 19:50 Discussing the lack of control over gemstone terminology, Barbara shares a funny story from her teenage years of how a QVC line of cubic zirconia with the alluring name of “Pink Ice”, became a phenomenon amongst the girls of her high school class.
  • 26:20 Barbara asks Dave what he feels the most important thing that his generation has added to the jewelry business. Dave says technology. He tells of his industry friends who, within a few years, have built social media followings in the hundreds of thousands. In a lot of cases, Dave emphasizes, these are people who wouldn’t otherwise have had exposure to the world of gems, jewelry and watches.
  • 27:50 Barbara and Dave commiserate over not being able to attend Basel this year.
  • 31:10 Barbara asks … what would happen if our current social media platforms suddenly went away? Dave bemoans a system where people’s importance is judged by how many social media followers they have. “You know first-hand, there are a ton of people out there who 2-, 3-, or 400,000 followers … half of them are bots.” He concludes, “We have to be very careful of how much value we place on this avenue and on this platform. And everything has a shelf life.”
  • 37:10 Dave selects one jewelry industry person and one watch industry person, alive or dead, he’d want to have dinner with. For jewelry, he picks Frederick Kunz, the famed minerologist who sourced gems for Tiffany at the turn of the century. And for watches, legendary executive Jean Claude Biver.
  • 40:35 Who is or was your greatest influence? Dave says his father. “I never wanted to join the family business. He never wanted me in the family business, to be honest with you. So it’s kind of funny how things worked out.” His biggest fan? His mom.
  • 43:10 His biggest morning needs? Coffee and meditation … the latter before the former.
  • 43:50 Favorite trade show? Tucson. He calls it “fun, laid-back, and color-centric.” And he also gives a shout-out to AGS Conclave.
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The Barb Wire

Podcast: Michael O’Connor, Jewelry’s Perfect Spokesman, Visits ‘The Barb Wire’

Learn how he grew from salesperson into one of jewelry’s most visible commentators.

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THE BARB WIRE EPISODE 4: MICHAEL O’CONNOR (58:09 MINUTES)


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MICHAEL O’CONNOR drops into The Barb Wire this month to chat with host Barbara Palumbo about his life in the jewelry business — which has featured one of the most unique career paths imaginable.

The two discuss Michael’s progress from Toronto teenager to jewelry salesperson, to New York-based jewelry designer, to jewelry marketer, to QVC on-air presenter, and finally, his ultimate transformation into celebrity stylist and on-air style commentator for numerous major media brands. The long-time industry fixture now runs Style & Substance, his own marketing and communications firm supporting quality lifestyle brands.

Other discussion topics include techniques for staying young, the importance of eliminating the BS in business relationships (and non-business relationships), as well as this year’s Oscar trends.

Plus, we get fun dish on Michael’s many celebrity relationships — including details on which member of the Desperate Housewives cast is most fun to drink margaritas with.

Enjoy the newest episode of The Barb Wire. It’s talk radio for the jewelry business.


SHOW CHRONOLOGY
  • 2:00 How long has Michael been in the business? He began in 1979, “when diamonds were discovered,” he quips.
  • 3:00 How does Michael stay looking so young? “It’s nothing that anyone couldn’t do with [the help of] $50,000 worth of plastic surgery,” he jokes.
  • 4:05 Barbara admits that she actually made a batch of popcorn for this interview.
  • 4:20 Michael shares his range of experience in the jewelry industry. He’s done … just about everything. He shares the story of his introduction to the industry, as a teenager in Canada, when he opportunistically turned running an errand for his father into a job as a jewelry salesperson.
  • 12:30 After working in sales, design and at the bench, Michael finally comes to America. (And yes, he does have a green card.) He gets experience with what he calls “a few small, unknown companies” like Gucci, DeBeers, Frederick Goldman, etc.
  • 15:30 At this point, in the late 1980s, he moved away from designing and into marketing. With many companies moving away from full-time “house designers”, as well as the increasing prevalence of CAD design, he felt that marketing would be a more valuable career to be in than design.
  • 20:20 Michael takes on a role as senior vice president with Platinum Guild International and begins to see increased exposure as a television personality.
  • 21:40 On the importance of being no-BS in the jewelry industry … and life.
  • 23:10 How the hell did Michael get on television, Barbara asks. He started by pitching a brand for Frederick Goldman on QVC over a span of about two years. The brand never took off, but Michael’s TV career did, as he did more work for QVC, as well as additional TV projects including his own TV series, MovieStyle with Michael O’Connor for Reelz.
  • 29:50 Michael begins to cover celebrity fashion on TV, and his agency suggests that he also begins working directly on styling and placing fashion items with celebrities. He drops a few names of celebrities he has worked with, like Amy Adams.
  • 31:20 All-time favorite clients included the cast of Desperate Housewives, with particular affection for Nicolette Sheridan, who was good at promoting the product and also didn’t mind a margarita after the events were over.
  • 32:20 Other casts that he has worked with — the cast of The Office and Orange is the New Black. (And he remains friends with many of them.)
  • 34:00 Do all celebrities expect payment for wearing a specific jewelry brand to an event? Michael says no. He takes pride in the fact that celebrities regularly call him, without expecting payment, to ask what he can accessorize them for an awards show.
  • 37:10 Michael shares his predictions for the Oscars red carpet, explaining the difference between “trends” and “fads”. His basic assessment? Jewelry is getting much bigger, size-wise.
  • 42:50 Barbara and Michael touch on the “man-brooch” trend that Michael may have created at one awards show a few years back.
  • 45:40 Michael selects the one person, alive or dead, he would most want to have dinner with. While first mentioning two dearly missed friends he’d cherish seeing again (the late Cindy Edelstein and Robin Rotenier), his choice is a Russian jeweler who was one of the most famous designers of all time.
  • 48:00 Michael shares his greatest influence. It was someone in his life who had a great work ethic, and was brutally honest — two qualities Michael believes he has carried into his professional life.
  • 51:00 Favorite industry show? JCK. It’s the one show where Michael feels he can see everybody.
  • 55:40 Gold or platinum? It would be a serious upset if the former senior vice president of the Platinum Guild wasn’t #teamplatinum. Of course, he’s #teamplatinum.
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