Creative Connecting: The Dos & Donts of Pre-Trade Show Marketing

ColumnistsMay 09, 2023

Creative Connecting: The Dos & Donts of Pre-Trade Show Marketing

Creative displays and memorable packages tend to catch retailers’ attention while cold calls, emails and rude behavior should be avoided.

Columnists Duvall O'Steen and Jen Cullen Williams
Duvall O’Steen, left, and Jen Cullen Williams are independent communications strategists and senior consultants for the Luxury Brand Group. They can be reached at or
With the annual jewelry market week coming up in Las Vegas, everyone is brainstorming about how to stand out from the crowd and get more retail buyers to come to their booth.

We spoke to several buyers who attend the shows every year about what forms of communication are welcomed and which are not, as well as what they suggest as “best practices.”

The key, as always with this column, is creative communication.

Follow the advice offered below and your brand is more likely to attract the types of stores that are a good fit for your business.

DO: Enhance Your Social Media, Including Advertising
According to Stratton Hobbs, CEO of Stratton Jewelry in Huntsville, Alabama, “The best advice I have for brands as they prepare for the show is to put time and energy into social media platforms and setting yourself apart. Social media can be a big task, but it is so important to give people a visual of your style as they plan for the show.”

Be sure to tag show organizers’ Instagram accounts (@jckevents for the JCK Show or @by_couture for the Couture Show) or partner with trade publications and/or jewelry influencers on collaborations in which they feature your newest products in their permanent feed with reference to your booth number at the show.

Also, consider having influencers post 24-hour Instagram Stories during the show with tags to your account and your booth number.

Hobbs said she checks out JCK’s Instagram before the show to see which vendors she may want to meet.

“I am always looking for new brands with standout pieces and people whom I can build strong relationships with, and usually I can see a lot about a company by checking out their Instagram.”

Melissa Quick, president of Steve Quick Jeweler in Chicago, is finding social media a bit more of a challenge.

“I used to do a lot of pre-show browsing on Instagram, but the algorithms are so different these days that I never see what I want to see, let alone anyone new. So, until recently, it was definitely social media.

“Lately, I have been asking peers (other owners of independents who have a similar business to ours) who they are looking to see, who they enjoy working with, what new discoveries they have made.”

To overcome some of the algorithm issues, Alexis Padis, president of Padis Jewelry in the Bay Area of California, noted the importance of advertising on social media.

“Some of the more noteworthy channels on my radar tend to be targeted advertising on social media platforms. Instagram, in particular, is where I recall seeing advertising that affected whom I visited on the show floor.”

Lauren K. Levison of Mayfair Rocks in New York said not to worry if your company does not have a huge social media following. 

“As a buyer, I don’t care how many followers or likes a brand has. In fact, I prefer the designer or artisans or goldsmiths who are extraordinary, who are so busy crafting they may not have time for social media, someone sincere who is just trying to make the world beautiful with their art. Show me that person!”

“[Sales reps] say they’re returning your call, and when you return that call, you find out you have no idea who this person is … these are not great tactics to start a meaningful partnership.” — Lauren K. Levison, Mayfair Rocks 

Don’t: Cold Call and Email
The retailers we contacted unanimously agreed that cold calling is a waste of time.

Quick said, “I understand sales reps are doing their job by calling and emailing, but I avoid these forms of communication leading up to the show. Unless you are someone I have an established relationship with, you are probably not going to get through to me that way. 

“May is my second busiest month of the year, and I don’t have a lot of time to focus on Vegas. The phone rings off the hook with appointment requests, and my inbox gets flooded. The weeks before the show I get 200-250 emails a day. It’s an incredibly ineffective way to get my attention.”

Hobbs said, “I’ve found that cold calling and email campaigns have been less effective for us because we enjoy getting a true sneak peek into the personality of the brands that we are most interested in.”

Padis added, “Personally, pre-show emails and mailed flyers are so prevalent, they rarely make an impact.”

Joe Corey, president of Day’s Jewelers in New Hampshire, also pays little attention to cold-callers or emailers. “Since I get so much advertising, my usual contacts in the industry that reach out to me get the most attention.”

Levison said honesty is the best policy whenever contacting a prospective retailer.

“As a buyer, we receive aggressive marketing this time of year between Instagram, direct mail, direct packaging, phone calls, and messages saying we’re long-lost relatives. They also say they’re returning your call, and when you return that call, you find out you have no idea who this person is … these are not great tactics to start a meaningful partnership.”

Elizabeth Gibson of Eliza Page in Austin, Texas, added, “I’ve been extremely surprised by sales reps who have been aggressive and/or disrespectful when they are reaching out making sales calls.

“There are hundreds of jewelry brands and diamond wholesalers out there, and we make it a policy only to do business with those who treat our team with kindness, respect, and professionalism.”

DO: Research the Stores You Hope to Attract
Many buyers expressed the need for brands to do more research on the stores before reaching out to them. 

Quick advised, “Do some homework. Research the stores you hope to do business with, [and] not just a little bit. Make sure you think your collection will be a good fit. I can hop on a designer’s website and identify pretty quickly if they are something that could work with what we do.  

“Designers and manufacturers should do the same with stores. I research the heck out of someone before I add them to my store to make sure they will be a good fit. I would like someone who is wooing me to carry their collection to do the same.”

Levison concurred, noting how important it is for “designers and retailers to do their homework; to know, going in, who is suited to whom.”

“Do some homework. Make sure you think your collection will be a good fit.” — Melissa Quick, Steve Quick Jeweler

DON’T: Cast Too Wide of a Net
We cannot be all things to all people. As you do the research on the stores attending the show, narrow your outreach to those where you have the most chance of success. It is much more realistic and less likely to create waste in terms of resources and budget.

Quick suggested identifying a wish list of 20 jewelry stores you would like to open accounts with. With such a targeted list, you might be able to spend more time and money per store, creating more effective communication and garnering better results.

DO: Get Creative with Displays
All the retailers we spoke to agreed that more innovative marketing and booth displays get their attention more.

Gibson said, “The first thing we do when we hit the show floor is to take it all in, especially visually. We look for unique displays, design trends, and/or similarities in colors or design styles. We pay attention to booth details—light fixtures, décor, branding, graphics.

“If something stands out, we take note or take photos for inspiration. Booths that catch our attention are visually appealing and elegant. Because we are a design-oriented store and brand, we notice standout booth details and aesthetics.”

Levison said, “Today, the marketing is so, well, obvious, and obvious just wants you to buy something. It’s not about relationship growth or concern for the retailer as a partner.”

Quick noted, “While walking the aisles, I usually stop at the booths with a creative display. Creativity catches my eye. Beautiful, unique jewelry holds my attention.  We pride ourselves on being a little different and are always looking to add a little different to the store.”

Padis said, “Innovative and creative displays that draw the eye are always attention-grabbers when walking the aisles of jewelry. When I think of what stops me, it’s either an area of particular need for our stores or some new way of displaying merchandise. 

“One of my favorite booth displays of all time combined elegant dollhouse furniture, Legos and stunning colored stone pieces by Omi Privé to share their ‘mine to finger’ story. It was eye-catching, adorable, executed to perfection and also highlighted the Omi commitment to crafting and showcasing the finest of colored stones. To this day, when I think about the show, I think about Omi Privé’s booth at Luxury.”

In a recent webinar on standing out at trade shows hosted by the Women’s Jewelry Association Metro Chapter, all the panelists, including National Jeweler’s very own Michelle Graff, agreed the exhibitor’s booth should match the look and feel of the brand and the people in the booth should match the energy.

It was noted that buyers are drawn to booths like Kimberly Collins Colored Gems, which is located in the AGTA neighborhood at the JCK show. The booth is a rainbow-like explosion of color and positivity, and owner and designer Kimberly Collins and her team are welcoming, with big smiles. 

“We want creativity. We want a story. We want the why.” — Melissa Quick, Steve Quick Jeweler

DO: Get Personal
Quick said, “Once you identify these 20 stores you think would be a great match, write a handwritten note to the principal/decision-maker/buyer and tell them why. This has only happened to me a handful of times, but it has been incredibly effective each time.

“Several years ago, a designer sent out a box that contained a geode with a beautiful ribbon around it. Upon untying the ribbon, I discovered the geode was actually two halves that had a secret scroll stashed inside. This little hidden treasure map was an invitation to visit a designer whom we did not have a relationship with, yet. We went to see her that year and have done business together ever since! 

“We want creativity. We want a story. We want the why. If you can communicate one of those when you are trying to grab my attention, it will be seen and heard above the din of everything else.”

Padis agreed. “Memorable packages shipped to the office are impact-makers. New technologies incorporated into mailers like digital screens, mini bottles of champagne, on-trend tote bags, and thoughtful gifts like ‘Las Vegas survival kits’ have all made certain brands memorable.” 

Levison said, “I remember special hand-delivered packages or handwritten notes and/or invitations that showed me that the one seeking my business had done their homework. I appreciate that.”

Gibson added, “We often get a lot of generic mailers, promo gifts, catalogs, or other mailers that are not a fit for our store/brand. I feel badly that companies are spending so much on this kind of outreach when I know a targeted marketing approach might suit both the retailer and the brand in a better way.”

DON’T: Use Pushy Hosts in Front of Your Booth
Padis noted, “I’m not a huge fan of the catcaller on the aisle in front of the booth pressuring you to visit their booth. It tends to have the opposite effect and repels rather that attracts.”

Gibson said, “Be very friendly and respectful to all retailers. Pay attention to body language of attendees.”

DO: Get Specific
Padis said, “I’d recommend curating the selected pieces in the window display to highlight one or two particular areas of specialty. It’s crucial to attracting the right client and helpful to the browser with a mission in mind. 

“Less is more. Aisle after aisle of breathtaking jewelry is wonderful but at some point, eyes can glaze over. Las Vegas is an overwhelming smorgasbord of jewelry, so really pinpointing an area of expertise is particularly important.” 

Padis also recommended getting specific about your brand’s particular “story,” meaning, “what makes you unique, your company history, your work studios; anything to help differentiate from the sea of beautiful jewelry present in Vegas and anything that would help the retailer sell your piece on their own sales floors.” 

“If you have a strong social media presence, excellent photography, or other resources that a retailer can use for their marketing, be sure that is highlighted in your booth.”

Gibson agreed, stating, “Great marketing materials can give us a feel for the brand assets, jewelry details, and the stories behind the collection.”

“Aisle after aisle of breathtaking jewelry is wonderful but at some point, eyes can glaze over.” — Alexis Padis, Padis Jewelry 

DO: Plan Fun In-Booth Experiences
Hobbs said, “Aside from jewelry that catches my eye at the show, I am also drawn to unique experiences at the booths. For example, the piercing party Aurelie Gi did caught my attention, and we had so much fun meeting the team and getting ideas for how to make its product successful in our store.”

And, according to co-author of this article Duvall O’Steen, a fun or specific refreshment offering also can make your booth a destination. 

“I used to love one particular booth at JCK that made their own coffee with a Keurig and offered yummy mix-ins that made me want to walk out of my way to swing by their booth almost daily,” she said. 

Gibson added, “It’s nice when booths have water and mints for clients. It’s often a long day of talking and walking, and it’s a thoughtful touch.”

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