In August 2011, Rebecca Mercado took the reins as show director for the Buyers Market of American Craft, which takes place in Philadelphia each February, and at NICHE: The Show, a boutique show held during Las Vegas Jewelry Week in June. Now in its third year, NICHE: The Show will take place June 1-3 in the Celebrity Ballroom at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. We caught up with Rebecca to get her insights on the state of wholesale craft marketplace and what’s next for the industry.
ABI: The Buyers Market February show recently took place. What can you tell us about attendance numbers and sales results for the artists?
RM: Attendance was up by 12% over last year. Several exhibitors commented that it was their best show in 5 or 6 years, meaning sales that were back to pre-recession numbers. But that’s the high end of the spectrum. Overall, exhibitors were really pleased. Even exhibitors who didn’t make their sales goals at the show felt confident that the strong leads they acquired would become orders in the coming weeks.
ABI: Do you believe exhibitors and buyers are more energized now after going through a tough economic time?
RM: Absolutely. The vibe was very positive this year. Beginning about October-November last year, artists were sharing with us that they’d seen good-sized just-in-time orders come in for Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Buyers were also asking artists whether they’d see them at Philadelphia. Both really good signs. And, sure enough, that optimism carried onto the show floor in Philadelphia.
Since February, we’ve already received lots of artist inquiries for next year’s exhibitor application. Because of the interest, we’re releasing our 2013 application earlier than usual. This could mean a larger, more diverse Buyers Market next year.
ABI: NICHE: The Show takes place during Jewelry Week in Las Vegas this June, and this is its third year. What does this show offer exhibitors who make handcrafted lines?
RM: For those unfamiliar with Jewelry Week, it’s the first week of June during the jewelry industry’s largest trade events. Altogether, more than 20,000 buyers from around the globe come for about 8 shows in Las Vegas featuring gem dealers, equipment suppliers, estate jewelry and thousands of jewelry companies.
NICHE: The Show presents a new option to many independent jewelry stores that know they want something beautifully designed and truly unique, just as their customers don’t want the same thing everyone else is wearing. We offer a refreshing alternative to Pandora beads or bland diamond tennis bracelets and solitaire engagement rings.
The show is a small, focused selection of designer jewelry and gift-registry-appropriate items. In a sense, it’s specifically curated for jewelry retailers, though Southwest and West Coast craft gallery and museum buyers make up a big portion of our pre-registration. For jewelers, NICHE: The Show is an affordable way to debut their line to their industry’s world stage. In fact, we introduced a turnkey display package just for jewelers. Everything’s ready for you to walk in and be ready to show in minutes. It removes a big part of the stress and hassle of preparing for a show. For non-jewelers – especially artists making tabletop or desktop gifts; things that make great bridal or graduation gifts – NICHE: The Show is one way to expand into a new market that they might not have considered before.
ABI: You often speak with gallery owners about their needs and concerns. In your opinion, what are the most important things craftspeople should know about them?
RM: A big pet-peeve of buyers who attend our show is when an exhibitor lacks “booth manners” or salesmanship skills. Remember, retailers are sales experts. When they’re buying, they expect the same attentiveness that they give their own customers. Artists coming from the retail festival circuit often don’t realize how critical it is to be in their booth on time, to stand up, to SMILE… It’s amazing how just being alert and approachable will open you up to far more leads than someone who sits in the corner, reading a book and looking bored. (You know who you are!)
ABI: What’s your take on the direction of the handmade industry and its future?
RM: I believe there’s great potential for growing the handmade market. The sustainable and “buy local” movements are inspiring consumers to put real thought into virtually everything they buy – whether it’s a hand-carved wooden toy for their kid or locally produced artisanal cheese! Heck, people obsess over what’s in their toilet cleaner! (Are the ingredients non-toxic and biodegradable? Is the packaging made with post-consumer content and is it re-recyclable?)
We’re tired of empty consumerism, of our highly disposable lifestyle. Customers are seeking products with substance and a high perceived value. We want heirlooms, not just stuff. Handmade dovetails into that cultural shift so easily because (1) it puts a face to a company and (2) that company’s face has a story behind it. Both movements are centered on the belief that consumers having the right to be informed about where their products come from and how they’re made. Handmade things have a beautifully simple and often sentimental answer to these essential questions.
Photo credit Jim Burger