INTERVIEW: IJL show director on what visitors can expect from this year’s event

Sam Willoughby Editor's Choice

Ahead of this year’s International Jewellery London, Professional Jeweller caught up with event director Sam Willoughby to find out what’s in store for the 2017 edition, and why it can’t be missed…

International Jewellery London has been thriving under the leadership of event director, Sam Willoughby, who works tirelessly to keep the show fresh, relevant, and supportive of the UK jewellery industry.

After eight years at the helm, Willoughby has announced she will be stepping down, but not before putting on one last dazzling event. Here, she reveals why the trade should be attending the 2017 edition of the show.

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Professional Jeweller: Why does International Jewellery London remain an important event for the UK jewellery industry?
Sam Willoughby: There are many reasons why IJL is important to the UK jewellery industry, both in terms of making orders and meeting new retail partners and feeling inspired and forging new connections. We’re now in our 62nd year, so it is important that we continue to offer a sector-leading service. Perhaps most obviously, IJL takes place in September — a key buying time for jewellery retailers looking to strengthen their offering for Christmas. Aside from the business benefits of attending IJL, we also channel our energies into making IJL a fantastic experience. This is exemplified by our fantastic, newly re-branded seminar programme, our KickStart and Bright Young Gems initiatives, our Editors’ Choice and Gem Empathy awards and our new Retail Experience and Jewellery LIVE areas.

PJ: How does IJL stand out from other trade shows taking place in the UK?
SW: From the moment the doors to Olympia open, we hope our exhibitors and visitors can see the attention-to-detail that has gone into every aspect of the show. Crucially, we stand-out by welcoming a fantastic range of exhibitors, including leading suppliers, multi-national brands, emerging designers and up-and-coming businesses. We also excel with our gemstone suppliers, retail services providers and technology experts who also showcase their expertise at the show. Aside from our exhibitors and visitors, we stand out by offering an amazing experience, including a packed seminar programme, daily catwalk shows, live music, restaurants, cafes and a dedicated Diamond Club lounge. The focus at IJL is more than just transactional, and I believe it is this factor that makes IJL the leading jewellery industry event in the UK.

PJ: Could you tell us about some of this year’s show changes?
SW: We really dived into our data at the end of 2016 and sought the feedback of our exhibitors and visitors to make the show as relevant as possible. We know that jewellery retailers are channelling their attentions into creating a fantastic experience for their customers, which is one of the reasons why we have introduced our new Retail Experience Area. This show sector welcomes a whole range of exhibitors specialising in visual merchandising, retail design and customer engagement, helping our visitors to enhance their high street presence. We have also introduced Jewellery LIVE for 2017 sponsored by Weston Beamor. A host of experts in the fields of CAD/CAM, hand-making skills and jewellery design will be on-hand to share their wisdom, allowing retailers, buyers and their staff to see a side of the trade often hidden behind closed doors. We have also completely revamped our seminar programme to include three new areas; DIGIfest, The Academy and Skills Lab, alongside our popular Inspiration Theatre and Trends Catwalk. All of these changes were made in response to feedback, especially the desire for more information on social media, digital communications and PR and marketing, which will be covered in DIGIfest. In contrast, The Academy is a hands-on, interactive workshop space designed to give everyone, but especially retail employees and designers, the chance to experience Gem-A, GIA and NAJ taster sessions, plus a range of insights into the likes of pearl stringing, identifying gemstones, and improving sales techniques.

PJ: Ahead of the show, how do you work with exhibitors to ensure a successful event?
SW: Every year we host a day of advice and insight for our KickStarters, hosted by the team at IJL and the NAJ. This year, we took things up a notch and worked with the Goldsmiths’ Centre to create a dedicated event for our KickStarters and Bright Young Gems. This day ended with a fantastic press evening, where our emerging stars mingled with the media, social media influencers and journalists. For our exhibitors, we hosted two debut Summer Masterclasses this year, including one as part of our Designer Support Programme. We know that designer brands invest a lot of time and resources into attending IJL, which is why we wanted to offer a completely free chance to get acquainted with the resources we offer and the extra marketing opportunities available. For example, we took time to walk exhibitors through our online Exhibitor Hub, which is an essential resource covering stand design, promotion, and all other aspects of taking part in International Jewellery London.

PJ: How have you been driving traffic to this year’s show to attract quality buyers visit?
SW: Our Diamond Club is a fantastic draw for quality buyers and retailers. To date, the Diamond Club comprises more than 500 UK and international members of the jewellery industry’s buying elite, including business owners, CEOs, directors and senior buyers from across multiple retailers, departments stores, high-end fashion boutiques, museums and galleries, and online only stores. We also work closely with our sister trade shows to broaden our VIP buyer network, including professionals from the United States, the Middle East, France and many more countries. Crucially, we are always open to inviting new international buyers to attend IJL, meaning the Diamond Club includes a great mix of long-term visitors and new faces. Individuals who are part of the Diamond Club receive a range of on-site benefits, including a dedicated lounge area with refreshments and Wi-Fi. We also offer accommodation, ensuring those travelling from overseas are shown the best hospitality possible. Crucially, membership of the Diamond Club is reviewed annually, which ensures everyone included is an active participant in the trade. We also did a data building campaign to find new retailers, not just jewellery independents but lifestyle stores who have a focus on jewellery.

PJ: What highlights do you advise visitors don’t miss at this year’s event?
SW: Where to start? We have around 150 new exhibitors at IJL this year, including NANIS, Bloch & Co, Insignety UK, Franco Florenzi, Nadine Aysoy and House of Gallants and it is always fascinating to see the range and breadth of collections on offer. We will also be outlining the SS18 trends and how these will impact jewellery on the Trends Catwalk — a useful tool for any brand thinking ahead to the next 18 months. DIGIfest will include four insightful sessions by IJL chief social media editor, Warren Knight, while the Skills Lab will give visitors the chance to book one-on-one advice sessions with experts across intellectual property law, photography, PR, sales training, pearls, security and social media. Our Inspiration is full to the brim of amazing speakers, including social media star Katerina Perez, jewellery designer extraordinaire Stephen Webster and trend forecaster Paola De Luca. We will also present a range of panel discussions on retail experience, regional marketing and women in business. I am also excited to introduce the inaugural Fair Luxury series of seminars at IJL. Hosted by Fair Luxury, this engaging two hours will cover aspects of ethical sourcing, responsible business practises and marketing stories of provenance to customers. This is certainly not to be missed!

PJ: How do you measure the success of IJL?
SW: Although we track the number of exhibitors and visitors taking part in IJL every year, we are more focused on honing our audience and bringing the right people together to make genuine and authentic business connections. Our retention rate of returning exhibitors and visitors is high and the numbers of exhibitors who are now choosing to exhibit only at IJL in the UK is growing each year. We are proud to have maintained our audience figures, even through challenging economic times, but we’re most proud of the success stories that come from our exhibitors who’ve met essential buyers and store owners they would have never come into contact with without IJL.

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