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How to Hold a Virtual Trunk Show

With live events off the table during the pandemic, industry experts offer advice on socially distanced ways to share your wares.

Nov 10, 2020 5:21 AM   By Jennifer Heebner
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RAPAPORT... Two weeks after New York’s Museum of Art and Design (MAD) closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Franci Sagar hosted the Store at the MAD’s first virtual trunk show. It was far from her last; MAD has conducted virtual selling events about twice a month since April.

“I never thought we’d sell a dollar — I just thought we’d keep people engaged,” admits the vice president of brand and retail development. But with sales exceeding six figures and online guests numbering as high as 100, Sagar knows virtual events are worth it. “We’ve done $106,000 so far.”

Others in jewelry are also realizing the significance of virtual sales. Retailers and designers alike are giving them a go in order to stay connected with clients and keep revenue flowing during the Covid-19 crisis. Purveyors of jewelry are hosting sales on Instagram and Facebook Live, Zoom, FaceTime, StreamYard, Webex, YouTube Live, WhatsApp, and any other platform that clients are comfortable using. The results can be surprisingly profitable.

This has been the case for Jackie Cohen, founder of My Story Jewelry. In the spring, with her child’s schooling interrupted, fear growing over the coronavirus, and retailers temporarily closing stores, the single mom panicked. “I thought, ‘This is my livelihood, I won’t survive’,” she recollects. A friend suggested the idea of virtual events, so Cohen reached out to stores. By Mother’s Day, she had done eight of these shows. “I bought a tripod, and it was on,” she says. “Now they are an important part of my business.”

Meeting by appointment

The format for these events can vary. Some opt for a part-live, part-virtual affair with the store owner in the shop, a guest in the same space by appointment, and a designer on screen.

Jade Lustig of Jade Trau jewelry has used this format with some success. She ships a trunk of goods to the store and then acts as a virtual stylist to the shopper while the merchant hands them jewelry to try on. Lustig keeps a similar tray of inventory on her lap to show how items work together and make suggestions based on the client’s lifestyle. She also makes sure to leave the merchandise with the store long enough to let buyers decide. “People want to touch and feel,” she explains.

Of course, while many stores are open for business, not everyone wants to travel or visit others indoors until a vaccine is available, even with shops limiting the number of people inside. As such, another way Lustig makes sales happen is through one-on-one virtual appointments with clients. Early in the pandemic, she offered to meet with collectors gratis, but has now moved to a model of requesting a $500 down payment, which she earmarks for the final purchase. “It’s for the time and love and sweat equity put toward the initial phase of the design process,” she says.

Instagram and beyond

There’s also the Instagram takeover model, in which a store lets the designer use its Instagram account to present his or her jewelry for a given amount of time. This is what jeweler DC Johnson in Columbus, Ohio, had designer Melissa Kaye do for three days in April. Kaye showcased new styles on the store’s @dcjltd account while staff posted more in Stories. Kaye also offered a glimpse of her New York studio, both inside and outside.

“It was more of an education and reinforcing of her brand that turned into sales,” says store owner David Johnson, adding that this model keeps on giving: “We are still seeing residual sales.”

And it’s not only Instagram. Many are holding their virtual trunk shows via other social media and video chat programs, either on their own or through partnerships. Sagar’s MAD events feature one or two designers, herself and another staffer or two as hosts, and a planned presentation with both still images of the jewelry and close-up videos of models handling the pieces. Meanwhile, the artist speaks from his or her studio and answers questions.

Zoom is their platform of choice. Designer Julie Lamb also uses Zoom, setting up a miniature version of a trade show booth in her basement. “There’s no template for this,” Lamb notes.

Hosts can invite guests via email and social media. Cohen has done many of her events on Instagram Live — with a glass of wine. “It’s intimidating and weird,” she says. “You are talking to the air.”

Indeed, virtual trunk shows call for a healthy dose of grit and gutsiness. “You have to be able to talk to people and not be afraid on camera,” says Sagar.

On the buyer end, Mark Pasdon — the US distributor for jeweler Pesavento — experienced his first virtual presentation with the brand over the summer, and he has high praise for the format. He and a staffer logged into videoconferencing platform Webex, where the brand had them watch a three-minute prepared clip about the new collection, including a glimpse of a catalog on screen. Then a model tried on pieces of jewelry from a tray, with Pasdon directing her to show different angles.

“They nailed it,” he says. “As a man who has to make purchasing decisions, I could see how the jewelry lies.”

Pros and cons

There are advantages and disadvantages to all virtual events, which many expect will coexist with live ones in a post-coronavirus world. The pluses are abundant: a wider reach, reduced travel budgets, less time away from family, and a captive and targeted audience, considering that most stores and designers already have a following.

Of course, the negatives are plentiful as well: the lack of physical contact, an inability to experience firsthand how light dances off a piece, the inevitable learning curve of technology, a greater need to produce content for social media marketing, and the lost beauty of individuals coming together to celebrate art and friends.

“Something magical happens when you have 100 people in a store to toast the season,” Sagar acknowledges.

That said, businesses must adapt and evolve to survive. Some say virtual events are a great way to move old merchandise and sell down available stock. “I used to have 50 of something, and now I have two,” says Cohen. “I know it will be a good Christmas.”

The prep pays off

While not all sales will be final, participants still say these events are worth the massive prep work and practice they require. There are resources that can help novices out as well. Jewelry business consulting firm Flourish & Thrive Academy, for instance, offers a Virtual Trunk Show kit for sale, and Tracey Matthews, the company’s chief visionary officer, has watched clients and designer friends host myriad successful events.

Max Lent of fine jeweler Anthony Lent has also seen success. He did a summer virtual presentation with MAD that required a script and three practice sessions; during the event, a mother and daughter bought four pieces. One item was returned, as “it was a smaller and more delicate pendant than they expected,” he says. “But over the years, they have bought nine pieces from us.”

And when artists team up with companies in noncompeting categories, the results can be a strong substitute for some of the beloved community events that were canceled this year. “You can bring the art shows you used to walk in the summer right into people’s living rooms,” says Matthews.

Top tipsWant to host your own online sales affair? Here are some experts’ suggestions for how to make it a hit.

• Start preparing weeks in advance.
• Choose your platform and practice on it.
• Consider a theme. Make it fun.
• Have good photography, videography, and lighting; use a ring light.
• Script your discussion.
• Offer incentives, such as giveaways, to attend and stay through the end.
• Practice speaking in front of a mirror.
• Be energetic — really energetic.

This article was first published in the November 2020 issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: Julie Lamb’s at-home virtual trunk show setup. (Julie Lamb)
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Tags: Anthony Lent, COVID-19, David Johnson, DC Johnson, Flourish & Thrive Academy, Franci Sagar, Jackie Cohen, Jade Lustig, Jade Trau, Jennifer Heebner, mad, Mark Pasdon, Max Lent, Museum of Art and Design, My Story Jewelry, new york, pandemic, Pesavento, retail, trunk show, virtual trunk show, Webex
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