Wednesday 30 July 2014

July 2014 Gem Expo... The Good, The Great & The Incredibly Bad & Ugly...

First of all, is down yet again, so I -- and you -- will have to make do with some unedited photos.

I had a fabulous time once more this past weekend at The Gem Expo, July 2014 edition. Many, many thanks to Salim and Zulekha of Blue Sapphire Beads for all their work -- and the work of their great kids who helped out by taking tickets and, most wonderfully, brought around pastries and drinks throughout the day to the vendors. That in particular was so very much appreciated.

On the road Thursday at 9:00 a.m., truck packed to the gunnels, and facing a 3-hour drive, but the sun is shining and I have a whole four days of what I know is hard work to look forward to, but also the mystery of which old friends I'll be seeing again plus a whole raft of new people to meet.

Because the setup time had been pushed to 8 pm at the hotel and with lots of time to kill, Ruth met me mid-Thursday afternoon at the wholesaler's where we hung out for a while. I've found another secret parking spot, so safe from being ticketed and/or towed we ambled over to the St. Lawrence Market where we had an early dinner and Ruth bought a bag of dark chocolate-covered ginger. I have to say that over the next three days those were the most amazing energy-blasting-without-being-sickeningly-sweet brain boosters I have ever eaten. I don't know the name of the bulk store (or what was in those chocolates) but it and they are located in the northwest corner of the lower level of the south market. (When in doubt, look on a map -- so, uh, no, your GPS won't work here :-p. It's Domino Foods.) I will be stocking up on those chocolate ginger things before every show from now on. Then we wandered over to the little parkette behind the Flatiron Building and sat on a bench watching the dogs, the birds and the people for an hour or so in the early evening sun. It was lovely.

On our way over to the Hyatt, I checked in at the Strathcona and found I had been upgraded from my Eco (b)room (closet) to my old king room on the 4th floor. After all these gem shows I've taken part in in Toronto, so having to stay in a hotel, I have to say that those ads are right when they babble on about "coming home to blah-blah-blah". I know where everything is in or out of the hotel, I don't have to wonder which way to turn coming or going: the Strath is now an equally familiar but far, far more fun version of my own home and locale.

Living a quiet(er) life in a small town as I do currently, but for many years a denizen of many large cities across Canada and in Europe, I really appreciate the opportunities presented by big cities and the people one can potentially hang with... even if they're only hanging on a wall, and even if for only a few hours or days. It's the potential...

Gawd I love that picture. Okay, back to reality...

...and, we're in. Time to settle down, find our booth and get to work.

That carpet is driving me insane.

All set up and ready for customers.

Even though this time I had a corner booth around a pillar rather than against a wall, I replicated the March setup where instead of butting two tables together which is the normal way to do things (I rarely do things the normal way), only the corners touched and I was able to set up the grids with all the strings so people could walk right in and get face to face with the beads. I reeeeeally like this setup.

The show started out well. Friday was incredibly busy for everyone. Way too busy to take pictures, unfortunately. My neighbour was Paul, owner of Nharo!, Fair Trade African arts, beads, stones, weavings -- he's got beautiful mud cloth -- and other cool stuff. All the sticky-up horns you see in some of my pictures are from African animal skulls. Paul knows every craftsperson personally who makes the store's goods, and the store is up on the Danforth. We've known each other for years, back when I first started making jewellery. Regular readers will know that food is a huge theme, for me anyway, at away shows. Paul and his crew and Ruth and I all shared Pringles, fresh local blueberries and chocolate-covered ginger: who woulda thunk they'd go so well together!? At 10:00 a.m. no less.

Many customers bring the piece they're working on to a show to find the perfect bead to finish it off. This is a soft-sculpted, free-form embroidered cuff and my customer found the perfect turquoise nugget to fill the sterling frame. I wish I'd taken pictures from different angles to show just how 3D this was. It was absolutely lovely -- and she told me it was her first effort at this type of free-form work.

After the show closed at 8, Ruth and I headed to the Strath Pub where we scarfed down a ginormous platter of nachos. I believe they are intended to be shared by six people...???

Gone in, oh, mmm... 20 minutes?

Saturday was another busy day with lots and lots of people in attendance, but for some reason it wasn't great for sales for a lot of us. Friday had been surprisingly good -- well-attended with better than average sales for a Friday -- and that seemed to be the experience of many of the vendors I talked to. It's not like we're being nosy per se asking other people how they did, but sometimes there's a small comfort in knowing that a given day ended up being a down day for other people, too, and it wasn't due to something I (or someone) did or didn't do. It just was.

One thing I am often called upon to do at least once during a show is string someone's purchase into a necklace or a bracelet while they wait.

Note to those of you contemplating your first show: bring your tools and a little kit of stringing wire, clasps and jump rings and a bead mat. This is a great service to be able to offer a customer: making up their new beads for them for pickup later in the day, the next day, to be dropped off later on the way out of town and/or mailed. In this case, Ruth offered to meet my customer Iris during the week if we (really, because Ruth helped with the stringing while I dealt with PITA Man -- more about him below) were unable to finish the work. There's almost always downtime during these shows.

In this case, Iris wanted me to make her a bracelet out of the pink quartz hearts she'd just bought from me. Because I was dealing with PITA Man, Ruth took Iris over to another vendor to buy some filler beads and discuss the design. Iris picked out a clasp from my private stash and said she'd be back later in the afternoon on Sunday to pick it up.

Another note to newbies: always, always, always get a contact phone or email address when you take a stringing order at a show, even if it's a case where they say they'll be back in half an hour type of thing. I can't begin to tell you the number of people who leave, even after paying in full, completely forgetting to pick up their item. It happened that just after Iris left we found a bag of beads left on the table right where we'd all been standing talking. Ruth was fairly sure they were Iris's. I was able to email Iris to ask if they were hers -- it turned out they were -- and she knew they were safe.

Ruth's and my deal is I swap all dinners and drinks, her choice of beads and admission to all three days of the show for her tireless and invaluable help over the four days of setup, show and packing up, plus I get to sample her mom's wonderful (and healthy) lunches of homemade soups, chicken and vegetables that she makes for us. Saturday night, released from the show relatively early at 6:00 p.m., we were too tired to decide on any of the restaurants along Restaurant Row which front the Hyatt, and we landed back at the Strath Pub.

These were really, really good potatoes!

Sunday morning the Gem Expo sleeps in:

By 10:00 the covers have come off, the lights are on... and right out of the gate I sold my bone bird and Afghan turquoise necklace to a lady who told me that, while she had a room full of beads at home, this particular show she wasn't here to buy more beads; she was here to buy herself a finished necklace. Out of the whole show, she picked mine.

What I found interesting was that over the previous two days I pretty much sold out of all my bone and shell bird beads just because of this necklace being on display. Good thing to note for next time!

Sunday was so busy I didn't even get around to take pictures of more of the vendors. You can see pictures of all the vendors on The Gem Expo Facebook page.

Late Sunday afternoon, Iris came back to pick up her two bracelets. Because we only used a few off of the string of peridot heishi between the pink quartz hearts, she'd asked if it would be possible to make a double-wrap bracelet of the remaining heishi. No problem. Note her black chakra/mala bracelet -- I saw this stacked wrap style with a single type of bead, as well as the single bracelet style, on so many people, and made many sales to people looking for one special focal bead to put on yet more bracelets that they were making. From what I saw, I was one of the few people selling individual beads at the show.

Stay tuned for pictures of new jewellery made with all the goodies I bought at the Gem Expo (coin silver, lapis lazuli, amber, agate, malachite and jade) -- and... my big, big excitement will be to see the shipment of Roman glass beads now winging their way from Afghanistan.

-------------------------------- Now for the tirade.

Yes... The Incredibly Ugly part of doing shows: the customer from hell, aka PITA Man.

A lot of discussion goes on both online and in real life about how to deal with difficult customers. None of the advice I have ever received could help me here, this being the show I had to deal with the winner of the World's Worst Customer Award.

PITA (or Pain-In-The-A--) Man was in his 40s or 50s, came to the show with his family (who all seemed very nice and friendly -- and more and more apologetic as the days wore on) on both Saturday, and alas for me, on Sunday, and his way of looking at merchandise was to literally rip $50-$75 turquoise beads off my display boards so that pins were flying everywhere. Displeased at what he was looking at, he would contemptuously fling those items down on top of bead strings on my table, then pick up $200 and $400 strings of turquoise beads and Hebron glass and throw them down with contempt, letting them knock on other beads and metal display units. He'd swish through the strings of turquoise beads that were lying on the table, and then stomp off leaving a mess behind. He behaved like a three-year-old on a single-minded rampage through a dollar store. Then he'd go around the corner to my second table, do the same thing, and stomp off again after expressing his contempt for both my beads and their prices.

After I'd put everything back, 20 minutes later there he'd be again, pulling things back off the boards, demanding discounts. I'd plug in a number on my calculator, he'd grab the calculator from my hand and plug in a number that was a quarter or even as low as a tenth of my number. He pretended he didn't understand the word "No." Repeatedly. "No! No! No!"

One time -- and, I mean, this guy was at the show ALL DAY and kept coming back -- I was standing on the aisle side helping a customer, he came past me and deliberately poked me in the bum, gesturing with a contemptuous flick of his wrist that he was back and to come and serve him! Technically, that's assault. But no one around to complain to, right?

He was a thief, as well -- and I found out later, he pulled this particular trick on other vendors as well. After I thought we'd reached an agreement he would haul out cash, and, taking his beads, he'd throw down on the table LESS than what we had agreed upon, $15 or $20 less -- and then, adding insult to injury, as he was stomping off he would GRAB MORE ITEMS off my table as his "gift" and disappear into the crowd. I had five, six, eight people still to serve, my booth was located in the far corner away from the ballroom entrance and Security, and the one other (male) vendor who was near enough and who could've helped me was busy.

The final time he pulled this, just before closing time, my vendor pal across the aisle from me happened to see what he did, and told me later she was shocked and couldn't believe her eyes: PITA Man took the tray of beads, stomped over to his long-suffering wife who was sitting by the wall, opened her purse that was on her lap and dumped all these beautiful and fragile turquoise beads into it, and stomped off, leaving her to follow in his wake.

I have had ignorant and rude people tell me over and over for years at markets and shows that my beads and my jewellery prices are too high. Hey. Fine. Get thee to Wal-Mart. I've also been informed many times with utter contempt that they can buy exactly the same stuff at Wal-Mart and Dollarama and who do I think I am? I don't know how that's possible since I am not a Wal-Mart and Dollarama supplier, but great. Fine. Go crawl back under your rock. But this. This was beyond the pale. And it went on for two days with this guy.

If PITA Man or his ilk ever show up again, I'll be prepared. This is not about some cultural differences around haggling and bargaining that I can learn about. I refuse to sell to him ever again and I will call Security immediately. For all our sakes, I hope PITA Man never goes to another bead show again and spares all the other vendors. He truly had it in for female vendors. The guys all told him to go away if he didn't like their prices, and he did.

That was truly the worst experience I have ever had with a customer. I'm used to bargaining. I'm used to bargaining in different languages (and where I don't even speak the language) and cultures and countries. I always give a courtesy discount to frequent customers and to one-time customers who buy multiple items. But this? This was beyond anything I could ever imagine.

------------------------------------ End tirade.

So endeth the July 2014 Gem Expo, truly the best of times and the worst of times. Just read this morning that nonsense with Ira Glass, the twit... I mean, tweeter dismissing Shakespeare. Good grief. But hence my occasional classical turns of phrase.

Thanks for looking!

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