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Pandora at last year's fair, now a prominent figure in the jewellery industry
Pandora at last year's fair, now a prominent figure in the jewellery industry
Karin Adcock, Pandora president back in 2005, Pandoras first exhibit
Karin Adcock, Pandora president back in 2005, Pandoras first exhibit

 

20 years young

Deborah Jane Goon examines the growth and changes that have kept pioneering exhibitors of the JAA International Jewellery fair coming back for more each year
Once a year, the who’s who of the jewellery industry assemble in Sydney for the JAA International Jewellery Fair. This year, the much-anticipated event promises to be even more impressive as it celebrates its 20th anniversary with a private commemorative dinner for pioneering exhibitors who have attended the event every year since 1992.

The fair has continued to evolve since its humble beginnings, introducing new initiatives and updates while it remains firmly focused on the overall visitor experience.

To coincide with, but not exclusively due to the 20th anniversary, this year’s fair will see the introduction of a daily fashion parade, dubbed “Collection Preview Live” that will feature a cross section of exhibitors’ products in an intimate European-style catwalk.

The European-style fashion parade is testament to how far the event has come since the early days where low exhibitor numbers meant it could barely fit into half a hall at Darling Harbour.

Today, it has evolved into a three-hall exhibition that spans over 15,000 sq m. Gary Fitz-Roy, managing director of Expertise Events, which organises the annual fair, recalls, “When we first started the trade fair, it was developed from a small section of the much larger gift fair in Darling Harbour.”

Celebrating alongside the fair are 24 exhibitors who have shared the 20-year journey with Expertise and seen the show grow into the international event it has become. “A large number of the clients that started with us at that first event are still with us,” says Fitz-Roy.

As a sign of appreciation and respect for the companies that have been and grown with the fair over time, Expertise Events is hosting a celebratory dinner. “The aim is to keep it small and intimate for the 24 company heads and their partners. And rather than having a sit-down formal dinner, my aim is to ensure that it is as much about celebrating their success and ours [Expertise] as well as the fair’s success,” Fitz-Roy explains.

Indeed, the majority of the 120+ exhibitors at the inaugral event are no longer in business (see breakout) so it’s no wonder that the original exhibitors will want to celebrate their longevity in an increasingly competitive market.

Peter Beck, founder of the eponymous Peter W Beck, recalls that the fair was an exciting – and useful – event from the start. “In the old days, the fair was simply exciting! It was brand new back then and such a great opportunity for the industry to move forward,” he says. “As an Adelaide-based company it was a brilliant way for us to show our product and evolve with the rest of the industry.”

Another 20-year exhibitor, Malcolm Alderton, founder of software technology company ARMS remembers how the new initiative quickly became a permanent fixture on the industry’s annual calendar. “Although the industry was smaller in size than now, the trade fair rapidly became known as a major buying event that jewellery retailers Australia-wide marked on their calendar as a must-attend event,” he says.

That being said however, Alderton does believe that due to the advent of technology in recent years, there has been less need to attend the fair. “Although the fair is much larger than it was 20 years ago and the number of exhibitors and visitors has increased greatly, there is more competition in the form of both domestic and international trade fairs and also the ability of jewellery retailers to view product ranges online,” says Alderton.

He does however agree that the Sydney fair has worked hard to keep constant and current. “Collaboration with buying groups and the inclusion of seminars has shifted the focus from the trade fair being solely a central place for jewellers to research and source new product, to it being reinvented as a complete resource to meet the information and training needs of visitors,” says Alderton.

As with most trade fairs, the Sydney fair acts as a hub for jewellers from all over Australia and New Zealand to develop strong business connections and stay abreast of new trends.

“The fair has increased both its profile and their [exhibitors’] profile in the process. I’ve watched these companies and there are a number of them who were quite small that have grown in size as well. I think the reality is they’ve come on the same journey as us,” says Fitz-Roy.

Duraflex Australia was one of the original exhibitors and managing director Phil Edwards is well aware of Duraflex’s long association with the fair before he acquired the company in 2003. He believes the fair has become a fixture on the calendar that people in the industry look forward to. “The fair has become an institution and generally a launch pad into Christmas. More people are attending it now and so wholesalers and exhibitors are putting more effort into each year, which in turn brings in more retailers,” says Edwards.

Anyone who has attended any of the major overseas international jewellery fairs will say that the standard and presentation of the Sydney event is world-class, albeit smaller in size.

Colin Pocklington, managing director of Nationwide – the largest buying group in Australia – believes that the fair has upped its game in the face of stiff competition from international fairs. “The fair is run very professionally and definitely compares to international fairs in terms of quality and professionalism,” he says.

This year's Sydney Fair is expected to be even busier
This year's Sydney Fair is expected to be even busier

“More independent jewellers are looking to buy merchandise from overseas and this in turn has encouraged more international exhibitors to come to Sydney because they know there is a market here,” Pocklington adds.

Beck supports this view, saying that the fair has developed an increasingly global perspective – mirroring the influx of overseas suppliers to the Australian market in recent years. “Over the past 20 years, the product available and the exhibitors that were at each fair have gone from predominantly local manufacturers, to now predominantly international products and exhibitors.

“The success of the fair has interested overseas suppliers and has encouraged local suppliers and manufacturers to evolve to meet world standards,” Beck says.

Pocklington believes the changes in the jewellery market and an increased standard of living have paved the way for the pattern of growth at the fair itself. “We’ve seen Australia’s standard of living increase and this is reflected in people buying better quality jewellery and this shows in the quality of jewellery at the fair as well.”

One of the biggest changes to hit the market, and the fair, has been the rise of branded jewellery, according to Pocklington. “A lot more suppliers are beginning to carry branded merchandise. It started with Pandora and has just continued from there,” he explains.

Beck also highlights branding as one of the major differences in the market compared with when the fair first started. “20 years ago, other than for watches, brands in the jewellery industry were non-existent. It was the retailer who was in charge of the displays, and their product was generic. Today there are so many brands available that retailers must be aware of what’s out there,” he says.

Beck himself launched into the branded market last year, showing off his first branded range at the 2010 Sydney trade fair.

Michael Mishevski, chief executive of Showcase Jewellers, believes that another big change to affect the market and the fair is the advent of technology and increased interaction between companies and customers. At the fair, this advancement has has seen the use of better displays and tech-savvy additions such as plasma TV screens to show off jewellery products to their best advantage.

“The exhibitors themselves have all lifted their game significantly in the way they present their merchandise to retailers,” Mishevski says.

One exhibitor who agrees that exhibitors are now investing more and improving the appearance of their stands is Clayton Peer, national accounts manager at Opals Australia. “20 years ago we only used hired jewellery cabinets, but over the years we have changed our corporate image, promoted the Opals Australia brand and manufactured our own jewellery stand for the show.”

Bolton Gems director Brett Bolton tells a similar story – saying that his company is a lot more meticulous with planning , putting more investment in its stand at the fair in recent years. “20 years ago, only two staff members would attend the fair and preparation was minimal. These days, we begin preparing for the next fair the moment we return from the current fair and we have a minimum of 12 staff members at each fair,” he explains.

Although the cost of exhibiting at the fair has increased – in part because exhibitors have increased the standard of their stands and upped their presentation each year - Bolton is still adamant that the benefits and experiences gained by the exhibiting team are more important.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of the importance of the Sydney fair is the fact that the majority of exhibitors plan and co-ordinate their new ranges, launches and marketing campaigns around the three-day event.

“Gone are the days when wholesalers just came along and threw some product into cabinets and tried to flog it to buyers. These days most suppliers devise an annual sales and marketing strategy solely based around the fair,” Fitz-Roy said.

“They [exhibitors] know buyers are far more astute and savvy and they also realise how much more competitive the market is, locally and internationally,” he added.

According to Fitz-Roy, the Sydney fair has become more important as the whole industry has changed and continues to evolve. “We have seen the demise of the travelling salesman, especially in rural and regional Australia. Also the cost of employing sales reps has become more and more expensive. Add to that the issue of insurance for reps on the road, as well as their safety – it means that Sydney has become the one central focus point of the whole year.”

“But above all”, Fitz-Roy says only half in jest, “the jewellery industry likes a laugh and a drink. That’s what I have enjoyed the most over 20 years, wondering the aisles and catching up with everyone and having a laugh. It’s great that the fair has become the main focus of the year where everyone can catch up face-to-face and that personal aspect is more important as the industry changes courtesy of the internet.”

The JAA International Jewellery fair will be held from August 28 to 30 at the Sydney Exhibition Centre in Darling Harbour.

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Thursday, 12 December, 2019 04:19pm
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