INTERVIEW: Sam Willoughby on IJL 2014

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PJ gets the low-down as the show makes a landmark move to Olympia.

International Jewellery London (IJL) embarks on a new era in 2014, with a move to the larger, brighter Olympia Exhibition halls. Event director Sam Willoughby tells Kathryn Bishop why the move marks a step into the future for the show as it welcomes new exhibitors, a fresh roster of seminars and launches its first late-night shopping evening.

Stepping into the Olympia Grand – the main hall at London’s Olympia, the new home of International Jewellery London – the first word that comes to mind is ‘light’.

The space totals 21,000sqm – much larger than IJL’s former home at Earls Court 2 – boasting natural light that floods in from roof windows in the main Olympia Grand hall and from floor-to-ceiling windows in the brand new Olympia West hall.

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Freshness also emanates from the recent renovation of the entire Olympia show space, with new carpets, a fresh lick of paint and a great deal of investment — a positive in the face of the tiring Earls Court 2 space.

IJL event director Sam Willoughby says the move was a long time in the making. She and the team at Reed Exhibitions, the organisation behind IJL, spent more than six months researching the space and working out how best to lay out the show ahead of its eventual move. Now in its 59th year, IJL will open its doors at Olympia on August 31, welcoming more than 140 new exhibitors, including a swathe of new names from the international circuit, up-and-coming designers and new show elements.

Sitting down with Professional Jeweller, Willoughby lays her cards on the table in response to the burning question of naysayers — in particular those who were perturbed by the IJL move and the fact that a large number of silver jewellery brands and tool, equipment and packaging companies were to be moved to the upstairs balcony and Olympia West space at the new location.

Says Willoughby of the unenthusiastic reactions to the move: “As an exhibition company that has experience of running shows across the world at different venues with three or four floors or five halls, I don’t believe a retailer that has made the decision to come out of their shop to the show is not going to walk around downstairs, look up and see all that is going on and think ‘I’m not going to walk up the stairs’.”

In response, the IJL team hosted a number of tours around Olympia for brands and visitors to show them how the space would work, and it seems all of those that attended were pleasantly surprised by the amount of space and how it has been improved.

Reed Exhibitions has even gone as far as installing a large staircase at the back of the hall to encourage the flow of bodies around the upstairs space, and the majority of the show’s features are in the upper parts of Olympia, including the champagne bar, Diamond Club area and a specially-built English tearoom, where visitors can have afternoon tea.

Willoughby says that she is “110%” confident in the new space, and anticipates that 2015 exhibitors will be requesting the upstairs space. “The new West hall is where half of the silver area is, and will also be home to the IJL exhibitor party and late night shopping event on the Sunday night,” she adds.

These new facets of the show sit alongside other changes, such as a reduction in the show’s duration to three days. However, this year’s IJL will stay open later on the Sunday night and on the final day until 5pm, rather than closing early as is typical of trade events. Willoughby says the formation of the late night shopping evening — which will be trade-only — came about as a way to offer visitors a chance to browse but in a different, less-hurried environment. “This is about the IJL experience, providing a more pleasing networking environment where you can pick up a glass of champagne, but still be there to buy,” she says. The late night evening will also feature special events, such as the BJA charm bracelet auction (featuring designs by Shaun Leane, Andrew Geoghegan and others), a runway of red carpet fine jewellery and trade offers that exhibitors will hold back until the evening, including unique pieces for the show.

The issue of cost has also been addressed in line the move, and to encourage exhibitors to take part and ease the impact of the venue change, IJL has aimed to hold its prices at the 2013 level. Willoughby says this was an important decision. “It’s actually marginally cheaper [to exhibit] this year than in 2013, as it was important for us to deliver this year’s show and demonstrate how good the move will be,” she says. “It is always a challenge in London to keep show prices down, but with IJL we believe you get what you pay for and we’re transparent with how we charge people.” Willoughby asserts that the show won’t offer discounted deals for exhibitors, even at a time when Reed Exhibitions is investing heavily in the event, in particular on aspects such as security and the services to visitors such as improved eating areas.

INTERNATIONAL GROWTH
The 2014 edition of the show will bring with it more than 140 new exhibitors, with many new names from overseas including Vendome Paris, CH Hakimi, Danhov, Endless Jewelry and special pavilions dedicated to Portugal, Hong Kong and Ireland.
“Bearing in mind that IJL has more than 140 new companies taking part in 2014, we also have a long list of loyal exhibitors that have been with us for 30 to 40 years,” says Willoughby. “The main thing is that we attract a lot of new companies and a lot of international companies, so there is a really great mixture of big brands, designers and luxury brands.”

Among these are Greek jeweller Iridan, Danish carbon fibre and diamond jewellery brand C6 and Crete jeweller K22. “We have some new international exhibitors with pieces priced from £10,000 to £25,000 and then British companies such as Links of London, for whom IJL is the only UK show they are taking part in this year,” Willoughby explains.

She concedes that IJL and its team have gone on the hunt for many new exhibitor and says this represents their efforts to build an IJL for the future — after all, the international aspect of its name means that international brands are crucial to the show. This year alone, IJL has had representatives seeking out new blood at shows such as BaselWorld in Switzerland and JCK and Couture in the US. “We have international agents and sales people around the world, and bought another agent into the UK team this year,” she states.

And it goes beyond the brands. For several months now, the team at Reed has been busy developing the international side of IJL’s VIP program, with the aim of bringing key international retailers to the “doorstep” of exhibitors. “We have invited department stores such as Luisa via Roma and Printemps, alongside leading jewellery retailers from Sweden, Norway, Germany, Spain, Holland and Russia,” says Willoughby. Those attending will be put up in London and will given bespoke guidance to ensure they visit brands and designers suited to their type of shop, as outlined for them by the team at IJL.

ADDITIONAL SERVICES
While finished jewellery is regarded as the main pull of the show, Willoughby reports that the services and solutions sector of IJL, featuring tools, equipment, loose stones and packaging, is burgeoning. Also growing is the loose stone and diamond section of the show, which will this year feature about 15 companies (triple the figures compared to a few years ago), covering precious gems and even synthetic diamonds from Diamaz, with synthetics set to be discussed in an IJL seminar hosted by the company.

The August show will also include sessions with the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad, who will be promoting security for jewellers at the show, with presentations from facial recognition software companies, a fog company and safe firm. “They will be there to advise on how to secure your business,” says Willoughby. “We have found that people are keen to see these types of service, which couple nicely with IJL’s seminars [hosted by a number of guest speakers, from companies such as Boodles and chocolatier Green & Blacks] and Advice Clinics sponsored by the National Association of Goldsmiths.”

The new Advice Clinics are a fresh addition to the 2014 show, and offer visitors free drop-in sessions to discuss ideas or glean guidance from a group of experts in fields such as marketing, security, staff training, branding and visual merchandising. Willoughby explains: “It’s important to us that IJL isn’t only about the jewellery halls, but also about improving functions behind the scenes, being educated and finding out what your peers are doing. We want everything there in one place so visitors can come away with not just the things they have bought but an educational experience too.”

THE BIG 6-0
In 2015, IJL will celebrate its 60th year. So, does it have any plans for this diamond anniversary event? “Obviously we will have a big party,” says Willoughby with a smile. “We would like to do a number of things that toast the events that are core to IJL and reflect our support for the designers and companies we have worked with over the years, such as F. Hinds with High Street by Design and the BJA with KickStart,” she says. This, teamed with the annual Bright Young Gems showcase where the careers of a number of leading British designers’ such as Tomasz Donocik and Imogen Belfield have started, nods towards a retrospective of sorts. “We have thought about going back to toast those special initiatives, designers and exhibitors we’ve worked with over the years,” says Willoughby. “Not many people know IJL started life in the Albert Hall, so I wonder how we can portray the show’s past – maybe an exhibition or an awards.”

Turning her focus to the impending August show, Willoughby is confident this year’s event will continue to lead the way for UK jewellery trade shows; with a bright venue for a new era that shines a light on the best of the UK trade and international namesto watch.

IJL at Olympia: The low-down

  • Olympia Grand main hall: 14,355sqm
  • Olympia West upstairs hall: 7,688sqm
  • Pavilion spaces dedicated to Portugal, Ireland and Hong Kong
  • More than 140 new exhibitors
  • Late-night shopping evening on Sunday August 31
  • New bistro-style restaurant and English tearoom

This interview was taken from the July issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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