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Trade Shows: More ‘Hi’ Than Buy?

By Joyce Kauf


JCK Las Vegas is an opportunity to meet and greet, but the jury is still out on how much attendees will purchase.

Exhibitors and attendees agree that trade shows have a role to play in highlighting what’s new in the industry, but their relevance in the post-pandemic world may be declining. While not everyone is coming with a wide-open checkbook, all concur that there is value in renewing relationships.

New York: Getting creative

The decision to exhibit at JCK Las Vegas is a simple mathematical equation for David Rakower.

“I look at it as a marketing event that I spend X number of dollars on, and if I come out ahead, it’s a success. While not by leaps and bounds, it has paid off over the years,” said the president of New York-based manufacturer Joseph Asher Collection.

“Everyone in Vegas is a new customer,” he observed, explaining that his existing customers replace items year-round, but only new customers order the complete line at the Nevada show.

Exhibiting presents its own challenges. “You have to be adventurous and creative to stop someone in their tracks,” he said. In one early attempt to grab attention back when no one knew him, Rakower put a $100 bill on the floor in front of his booth. “When someone stopped to pick it up, they realized the other end was attached to a string that I was holding. I had to quickly tell them what my company was all about before they got angry [at me] for tricking them.”

Rakower doesn’t typically chase trends, but he agreed that JCK reflected the current state of the market, as evidenced by the sections generating the most traffic: “The two areas that are most visited are lab-grown diamonds, which are changing a large swath of the industry, and technology, which is by its nature new and different.”

Trade shows also offer a chance for attendees to rub shoulders with each other to gain firsthand industry and business knowledge. “It can be a huge piece of the puzzle, fitting into a larger view about what you need to know,” he said.

Houston: Extending relationships

“JCK will be the first trade show I’ve attended in two years,” said Gaurav Khandelwal, aka “GK.” The sales director of Union Gems in Houston, Texas — which specializes in fine-make diamonds — exhibited at the show from 2009 to 2019 but decided against it for the 2022 edition, as “the value proposition became less clear with each year.”

“Historically, we viewed the show as a marketing opportunity, and we made many lasting relationships. However, the continued increases in exhibition costs made it less and less worthwhile,” Khandelwal explained. Furthermore, the scene has shifted from retailers seeking new vendors to dealers looking for “goods priced below market.”

Still, he sees positive points in trade shows. “As a microcosm of the industry, it’s a way to take its pulse,” he said, adding that “the goal is always to extend your business relationships.” Rather than do so by standing in front of a booth, he plans to network with clients in more social settings over meals or cocktails.

Khandelwal does not expect to make big purchases at JCK. The product assortment is more limited, he said, as the market is smaller due to consolidation among cutting and manufacturing firms.

“Vegas is still relevant, but it’s not as important as it used to be,” he summed up. “Given that the industry keeps changing every few weeks, with the influence of politics and the Fed, there are a lot of moving parts — and there’s no clear path to running a business right now.”

Los Angeles: Wait and see

Having attended JCK “fairly regularly” for more than 30 years, Joseph Ladd has observed a “decline in the importance” of trade shows — especially since Covid-19. Even with pandemic-imposed restrictions easing, he continues to buy goods online as well as from the dealers who can now make sales calls at his office.

While in the past, he purchased a higher percentage of goods at JCK, Ladd — owner and president of wholesaler and manufacturer Ladd Diamonds in Los Angeles, California — does not rely heavily on buying at the show. “If I do not buy anything, it will not affect my business,” he stated.

Still, he credited his attendance at the show with helping to grow his network so he could secure the items he needed. He planned to set up appointments in advance with some of the online dealers to discuss his inventory needs. The show also presents the opportunity to “stop at booths and renew relationships with suppliers we have not done business with in quite a while,” he said.

Ladd agreed that JCK played a role in making people aware of upcoming trends by exposing them to “a large selection of choices under one roof.” But as to whether the show reflected market sentiment, he was taking a wait-and-see approach. In contrast to the “very limited” 2021 edition, he said, he expects to see a larger variety of merchandise this year. “If I find that there are goods I want to buy, I’ll place orders for sure. Maybe things will be on a roll again.”

Image: The 2021 JCK Las Vegas show. (JCK Events)

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2022. To subscribe click here.

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