The trade event that has allowed brands to showcase jewels for less.
When the economy stalled Irish retailers put a halt on travel expenses and the cost of sending reps to Ireland spiralled, so a group of manufacturers got together to create independent exhibition Ireland Jewellery Showcase that allows companies to take their wares to Ireland for less. Rachael Taylor travelled to Belfast to visit the show in its fourth year.
When the going is good in Ireland, jewellery shoppers buy big, making it a natural magnet for UK-based suppliers to tap up. But the going has not been good of late.
Ireland was hit hard by the downturn as the first Eurozone country to officially enter into recession. A pre-pop property boom forged from low corporate tax rates and low ECB interest rates left the country exposed, and so when the downturn hit it did so harder than in the UK.
Despite the gloomy economy, jewellers report that Irish customers are still buying, but that budgets have been drastically reduced and so stores are responding with jewellery that carries more affordable price points. Despite this, the jewellery reps have kept knocking on the doors of Irish retailers hoping to tap into the potentially rich stream of jewellery shoppers, waiting for an upturn in fortunes.
Companies such as CW Sellors, Domino and Gecko were all sending reps to the Emerald Isle, each of who could be spending up to six weeks at a time there, travelling round the retailers and selling their wares. The costs were substantial – travel, accommodation, food – and the returns were slowly diminishing as budgets dried up.
It was during this time that Pressman Mastermelt jewellery division head and BJA chairman Gary Williams, who at the time was working at wedding ring manufacturer Brown & Newirth, struck upon an idea that could save companies money while helping them to crack the Irish market.
“We’d just had Birmingham [The Jewellery Show 2009] and in the past there had been a very large Irish contingency come to the NEC but this particular year it was very low,” says Williams. “Business in Ireland was dropping generally when I was speaking to other manufacturers. My business was doing a hell of a lot in Ireland but this year was tight and business was in decline. I was talking to Barry Bennett from Gecko and we felt the lack of the Irish had affected the show. We were talking about what we could do about it and the feeling was that if the Irish retailers wouldn’t come to the UK, we’d take our products to them.”
Williams teamed with CW Sellors managing director Chris Sellors and Brown & Newirth sales director John Ball to organise the show that would become Ireland Jewellery Showcase. Together they pulled their resources and the show started out as a two-day exhibition in a hotel in Dublin populated by 12 exhibitors in 2009. “It was our closest friends really,” says Ball. “We gave them eight weeks notice, bought a mailing list and sent out an inexpensive invite and hoped for the best.”
Fellow founder Sellors was personally spending up to six weeks a year in Ireland visiting retailers and remembers that as the economic crisis deepened it became less beneficial to be spending that chunk of time away from the office. “I have been in Ireland for 22 years and I’ve got very close to the market,” he says. “As things got more difficult, the six weeks I was spending in Ireland, I just couldn’t do any more. This [Ireland Jewellery Showcase] is a way that I could keep in touch with the market in a shorter space of time.”
The show has grown steadily year on year and when it was held in August this year the show boasted a room filled with 44 exhibitors, which was more than double the size of the 2011 show. Brands in 2012 included Hans D Kreiger, Ungar & Ungar, Ti Sento, Gecko, Brown & Newirth, CW Sellors and Ortak.
The premise of the show was to create an affordable exhibition and that is a mantra that the organisers hold on to today. In 2012 the show cost just £1,440 for six days exhibiting in three locations – Dublin, Belfast and Cork, two days at each – with 24-hour security included. While the organisers of the show do take a cut of takings to reflect the time they take out of their own businesses to organise the exhibition – there is no full-time member of staff working on the show – the amounts paid are minimal and the organisers say that the show will never be a profit-driven machine. In fact, the team are working towards lowering the cost of exhibiting to below £1,000, something that could happen as more suppliers come on board to share the costs.
“We’re not in it to make a profit,” says Sellors. “We’re in it to help ourselves and help the industry. I want to see it continue to grow.”
But Ireland Jewellery Showcase is about more than saving money on sales reps’ expenses, it is a collective push into the Irish market, which can be difficult for jewellery companies to crack.
Reps at the show uniformly report that dealing with retailers in Ireland carries with it a completely different culture to dealing with retailers in the UK. For example, Irish retailers don’t like to make appointments far in advance, making it hard for reps to plan a block of time effectively. There is also the issue of trust. Again a report that files in uniformly from all the exhibitors at Ireland Jewellery Showcase is that retailers in Ireland want to know that you are committed to the market and want to know the people they are buying from before they would ever consider placing an order.
David Fell runs distributor DAF, which controls brands Amaze by Isabell Kristensen, Ungar & Ungar, Hans D Kreiger and Stockert et Cie. The 2012 show is his second time at Ireland Jewellery Showcase and he is certain that familiarity plays a role in securing stockists in Ireland. “What I find is that the Irish like to buy from people that they see again and again and again,” says Fell. “They have a higher comfort level. So this show is helping.”
This can be difficult for companies based outside of Ireland to achieve. While the bigger ones have reps based in the country full time, such as Gecko who has had Scotsman Alan Henderson stationed there for five years, for smaller organisations winning the all-important trust can be hard.
One way that companies can do this is by appearing regularly at an event such as Ireland Jewellery Showcase, says Ball, adding that companies should be prepared to stick it out to win favour rather than hoping for a quick order. “You can’t come here once and sell,” he says. “You have to show that you are here to stay; you can’t give up on it in year one because it doesn’t work. In the good times everyone used to land here and bring a bag, and now in the tough times they want support.”
Williams believes that this need for a familiar face is not just limited to Irish retailers, however. He believes it is a market-wide shift. “I think selling has changed,” he says. “Commando selling is a thing of the past; you know, when they turn up out of the blue, grab an order and disappear, and then the agents and the reps don’t have anything to do with the customer until they want another order. Today it’s all about very strong relationships. If you don’t understand their business, their families, then unless you have the wonder product, you won’t do business.”
But getting retailers to turn up at shows can be difficult. After its debut year, which was limited to a two-day show in Dublin, the exhibition changed to a travelling show so that it would offer retailers around the country the chance to visit suppliers without having to travel too far. “We realised that they would not travel so far so we had to put a dot on the map,” says Ball.
In the second year the show added another location, Limerick, and then in year three in 2011 another location was added when the show docked at Belfast. This year the show visited Dublin, Belfast and Cork – Limerick being swapped for Cork this year as there was more demand from the Cork area – and in 2013 there are plans to repeat this line up.
A turning point for Ireland Jewellery Showcase came in 2011 when it signed its first major Irish exhibitor IBB Dublin, which already had a strong customer base in the country. The company, which is headed up by John Cooney, is the Irish distributor for some major jewellery and watch brands including Gc, Ti Sento, Frederique Constant, Nautica, Tirisi, Fope and Guess.
Ball describes Cooney, who he met through Ti Sento’s Judith Lockwood, as a kindred spirit. Not only did Cooney have a successful business and a strong customer base to bring to the show, he was previously a retailer in Ireland and could bring an insight to the event that it had perhaps been missing to date.
“We needed to bring in suppliers that have a strong Irish customer base and it wasn’t until year three that we brought on IBB Dublin and a few others and the show really had some big appeal,” says Ball. “In year three it really took off. We had a good year all round.”
Cooney says that he can see potential in Ireland Jewellery Showcase. “They’ve got the right idea but it could do with a few more of the major Irish suppliers,” says Cooney, adding that there might be opposition to such a move as there is a perception within the Irish jewellery community that Ireland Jewellery Showcase is a British show for British companies, a misconception that the organisers say they are trying to overcome.
“This is seen as a collection of British suppliers,” Cooney adds. “I’d really push to get people from Ireland, as in difficult times Irish retailers do try to buy from Irish suppliers.”
Despite the difficulties in getting into the Irish market, the exhibitors at the show still believe that, though it may be less of a boom time in Ireland than in previous years, it is a market that has potential. “It is still growing,” assesses Andy Spence, Gecko’s sales manager for the Northwest. “It’s going through the rounds at the moment but you can’t deny the potential there. They are looking for the next big thing and we want to get out there and get known. Any show these days is about PR and we are here to sow seeds not make money.”
Spence says that D For Diamond, Gecko’s children’s jewellery brand is doing particularly well in Ireland. “They are still willing to spend money of the kids at the moment,” he offers. He has also made a point of showcasing jewellery that caters for lower price points, such as Gecko’s 9ct gold range that carries retail prices of between £150 and £300, as well as fashion jewellery from Fiorelli that offers prices starting at £30 for rhodium-plated silver jewellery.
On the day that Professional Jeweller visited the show in Belfast the footfall was minimal. The organisers agreed that it had not been a highlight of the 2012 tour but said that previous shows within the six-day event had gone well, with Brown & Newirth reporting that sales in the first two days of the 2012 show had eclipsed total sales from the entire six days in 2011, despite Ball describing 2011 as a strong year. He also noted that 25 retailers visited the show in Dublin, including teams from Michels in Cork, Jack Murphy in Newry and Keanes in Cork and Limerick.
But the plan, according to Ireland Jewellery Showcase, is not for the show to become a high-volume exhibition such as IJL. It is about relationship building, however the show is on the hunt for new exhibitors that will bring a fresh dimension to the event. “There is no written criteria about the types of suppliers we would accept but they’ve got to add an attraction to the showcase or have a strong customer base,” says Ball.
There is no other jewellery trade show in Ireland, which has led to the organisers of Ireland Jewellery Showcase to be approached by events companies that can see the potential in the show, but for the team behind it the key is keeping the show affordable, and that means staying independent.
“If we go any bigger then we’d have to go to a convention hall and then costs would spiral,” explains Ball. “We want to keep it small and intimate. If you grow it, it loses its appeal.”
This feature was taken from the October issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read the issue online, click here.