In its second year at the Mandalay Bay, the 21 percent increase in attendance for the JCK Las Vegas Show over two years was a part of what created a consensus among buyers, exhibitors, and show organizers that the overall mood of the show was upbeat and positive. Buyers and exhibitors alike at this year’s show are increasingly optimistic about the economy. But retail jewelers for the most part were fairly cautious about making orders, strategically buying bridal with a focus on traditional styles.Lucian Lee’s approach to buying at the show was similar to other retail jewelers. “Roughly 75 percent of our business is what we sell year in and year out,” says the owner of Hale’s Jewelers in Greenville, South Carolina.
The steady sellers for Lucian - that were part of his buying strategy for the Las Vegas Show - are bridal, followed by diamond and colored stone basics. He didn’t venture too far with new styles, and met with key vendors to restock mainly traditional styles he was confident could sell in the event newly-purchased inventory didn’t turn as fast as he’d like.
“These days it’s less about margins, and more about turn,” says Lucian.
For Lucian and his direct group of industry peers, their consensus is the economy is slowly but surely improving, and that conditions are better than they have been in the last several years.
“Some of the jewelers I spoke to at this year’s show see an improvement over where they were in 2008,” says Lucian. “But like me, they’re concentrating on what’s been working well for them over the last five to six years, and are simply happy to be here at the show doing some buying, meeting key vendors, and catching up on new trends.”
Even though Lucian is part of the “cautiously optimistic” crowd, he did spend some time in the technology and equipment section of the show sizing up new showcase possibilities. Like many jewelry store owners, Lucian recognizes the need for remodeling and upgrades to his store, but is doing so in stages, and is sticking very tight to his budget.
Rex Solomon, president of Houston Jewelry, was another jeweler who was focusing mainly on buying bridal at the Las Vegas Show. But, the Houston, Texas-based jeweler did most of his bridal buying and researching of new vendors at the Luxury Show.
“For me, the JCK Show’s bridal section is set too far back on the exhibition floor,” says Rex. “As a result, I didn’t see much activity there. The industry’s main bridal vendors, designers such as Tacori and Ritani, weren’t in that section to draw in retailers. These well-known vendors were exhibiting at Luxury.”
For this and other reasons, Rex preferred Luxury over JCK for his bridal buying and exploration. “Luxury has a simple [floor-plan] grid that’s easy to navigate,” says Rex. “And, it’s a good-sized venue with just the right amount and a good cross-section of bridal vendors for me.”
Luxury was also a preferred showcase for bridal over the Plumb Club for Rex. “The layout for Plumb Club, a new floor-plan that was developed in the last year at the Sands, is horrible,” says Rex. “The floor-plan, designed to keep buyers in the area, is a maze that’s difficult to navigate. Each time I walked the Plumb Club, I quickly found myself going over to the Prestige Promenade to do my looking and buying.”
Rex accomplished his main bridal goals of restocking inventory gaps, and took on Le Vian as a new bridal vendor. “Le Vian does a great job with consumer marketing and I want to capitalize on that,” says Rex. Rex concentrated on bridal jewelry ranging in retail price points from $1,500 to $3,500.
Although bridal is a “trend-conscious” product category, similar to Lucian, Rex concentrated on bread-and-butter bridal, with just a dash of experimentation in new styles for this year.
In addition to spending a day at Couture to do some high-end buying for bridal and color fashion, Rex looked at some laser welders. “Prices have come down about 40 percent in the last five to six years, from $40,000 to $50,000, down to $15,000 to $18,000, making the decision to buy one more within reach for me.”
Rex also met with Harmon Group to discuss another Christmas catalog campaign for the top 10,000 customers in his market. “Catalog Christmas campaigns have been very successful for us in showcasing our top brands, which we can only see quickly, conveniently, and safely, here at Vegas, a must-attend show.”
Carol Brady, a sales associate at Exclusively Diamonds, missed last year’s Mandalay Bay debut. The Mankato, Minnesota-based retailer attended this year’s show as part of a “scouting mission,” to better navigate Mandalay Bay next year when she attends the show with other staff members from the store.
She liked the newness of the Mandalay, but found the layout of the exhibition floor-plan to be “haphazard,” adding that the exhibition sections were often “confusing to retailers” and felt “confining.” To the show organizer’s credit, Carol liked the red carpet that helped guide buyers in certain areas, and found the “Ask Me” staff incredibly helpful.
Bridal was Carol’s main focus at this year’s JCK Show. Carol visited IGC Group’s booth. Her store purchased some bridal jewelry from the company before Vegas, and Carol wanted to see other pieces. Carol also replenished her inside-out hoop earrings at the Gordon Brothers booth, a Boston-based company known for its good closeout deals.
Some fashion buying was also done at sterling silver and enamel jewelry producer Belle Étoile’s booth. “The price points are fabulous, the quality is there, and so are the designs,” says Carol. She was also partial to Mercury Ring’s new Heavenly Halo Collection, crafted in different gold colors for variety, and Carol liked the versatility of the collection’s semi-mounts.
For this year’s fourth quarter, Carol is looking at diamond bridal, diamond fashion, and diamond staples to be her Christmas favorites.
With navy blue the store’s soon-to-be new corporate color, Carol shopped around for new gift boxes. She also stopped by the GemEx booth to check out the company’s latest ION technology, a service that produces a holographic image of any choosing inside a diamond.
“Girdle inscriptions serve several customization and security purposes,” says Carol. “But this ION technology appeals to the hyper-personalization bridal demographic, and it’s just plain cool.”
After walking the JCK Show and accompanying events during her recent trip to Las Vegas, like other jewelers, Carol saw foot traffic on the exhibition floors, crowded aisles, and busy booths.
“For the exhibitors and retailers I spoke to, overall they said this year was a ‘good show’ for them,” says Carol. “No negatives whatsoever.”