What I Learned at New York International Gift Fair

For the past year or so, I’ve been working toward a successful wholesale jewelry business.  It’s been a slow build, which was perfectly fine during the first year, but now I need to ramp it up, increase my distribution, build my reputation and sell a heck of a lot more jewelry so I can be profitable and sustainable.

I’ll be showing my work in just a couple of weeks at Buyer’s Market of American Craft (BMAC) in Philadelphia.  I’m also considering if I should exhibit at the New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF) in August.  To that end, I decided to visit New York during the January show, so I could see it for myself and assess the opportunity.


The Javits Center, home of the New York International Gift Fair.

I’m happy to share some things I learned:

  • Most artisans are incredibly kind and generous people.  They will welcome you into their booth, and talk openly with you, even though you may be their competition next year.
  • When people are not nice, it’s best just to take a deep breath and move along.
  • The show is huge, with many different sections.  Most buyers don’t walk the entire show.  Finding and getting in to the right section where your right buyers will find you is important.
  • There are pros and cons to every section.  If you don’t get into the section you most desire, you can still have a good show.  I realize this sounds like a contradiction to my previous point, but really both things are true.
  • If you ask 100 artists how the show has been for them, you’ll get 100 different answers that vary wildly.  Every single artist has a different show experience.  There are lots of things you can do to help your experience tip toward the positive.
  • Being engaged, smiling and speaking to everyone that passes by will be a big factor in your success.  I saw many artists sitting in the back corner of their booths, checking their cell phones, and generally not being very approachable.
  • Jewelry artists have found hundreds of creative ways to display their work.  I was really blown away by the quality and variety of display solutions in the show.
  • Even so, some jewelry artists still manage to have boring displays.
  • If you try to be too clever with your displays or work too hard at expressing a theme for your booth, the displays can easily overwhelm the work.  Remember to keep the focus on what you’re selling.
  • This is not a retail show.  You don’t need to have your work under glass.  You want the buyers to touch the work, so keep it accessible and display it so it’s easy to pick up and then put back in place.
  • This is not a retail show.  Buyers do not want to flip through earring cards stacked in a tray or spin your revolving racks.  Everything should be easy to see.
  • This is not a retail show.  If you have a zillion pieces in your line, you must edit the collection before coming to the show.  Overly busy displays really junk up the look of your booth.  Also, if buyers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices, they will glaze over and keep walking.
  • Beige linen necklace busts are now ubiquitous.   I’m not saying don’t use them.  I use them.  I’m simply saying you should be aware that they are everywhere.  You must find a way to stand out from the crowd.  Pull in some pops of color somewhere to liven up the look or incorporate some other unique display elements to complement the linen busts.
  • Your displays and your entire booth should reflect your brand and match your visual aesthetic.  Don’t use lots of acrylic and shiny elements to display work that’s organic and earthy.  Don’t use lots of vintage and romantic looking display elements if your work is industrial modern.
  • Make the most of the first two feet of your booth space off the aisle.  I saw many nice displays that simply pushed the work up across the front edge of the booth.  An L-shaped display using the front and center of the booth can work well.  I also saw a number of great island displays with the work centered in the booth, but still pushed forward.  I found the most challenging arrangements to be the 10’ wide spaces arranged in a U-shape.  This may maximize your table space, but if forces buyers to step all the way into your booth to see the work.  At a busy show, that’s asking a great deal of buyers who are practically power-walking down the aisles.
  • It is possible to have a really nice booth without investing too much.  Remember that when you invest in displays, you’re not only spending the money for those fixtures.  You also have to think about where you will store them, how much it will cost to ship them to and from the show and how long it will take to set up and tear down.  I heard stories of artists that spent 12 hours setting up.  I heard stories of tears, angry husbands and structural disasters that required a complete re-configuration at the last minute.  I also spoke to an artist with a fabulous booth who brought everything she needed in two carry on bags, and rented the rest at the show.  It can be done.

For now, I’m still on the fence about doing NYIGF in August.  It’s expensive – much more so than BMAC – but if I have a good show and pick up lots of new accounts, it could definitely be worth it.  I need to get through this next show and process all I’ve learned before I can commit.

Were any of you at NYIGF?  How about BMAC?  Will I be seeing you there?  I think our metal clay community has a huge opportunity in wholesaling.  Won’t you join me on this adventure?


Wendy McManus

About Wendy McManus

As a metal clay addict, I spend most of my time working with, thinking about or dreaming about metal clay. I started the Metal Clay Magic project in 2009 to showcase amazing metal clay artists. In 2012, I engaged a diverse group of artists and converted the site to a group blogging project. You can find my jewelry at www.StudioMcManus.com


What I Learned at New York International Gift Fair — 6 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us, Wendy! I’ll be walking the BMAC floor in just a few short weeks, and I’ll keep all your comments in mind as I do my own investigation.

    I guess I would have hesitated to approach the artists, feeling that I would be interrupting. Obviously, you pushed past those reservations and benefitted from the information they could share. Would you share hints about how to best approach booths to get the friendly response?

  2. Your article was informative and very well written. You amaze me with the insights you pick up that would have never entered my mind to consider.
    I am very, very proud of you and your work.

  3. Thanks for this article, Wendy. Filled with good information. I’ve been considering for the longest time whether to enter the wholesale world. I’m so close to New York. Maybe some day…

  4. Wonderful insights. You just saved us all a trip. I do have a question. If you get orders, do you plan on making each piece by had, or send a single original piece out to have it made in sterling or even pewter? I’ve seen artists do both with very popular but intricate pieces.

  5. Donna, I fill production orders in two ways. Much of my line is made up of simple pieces that I can produce quickly in metal clay. My more complex pieces, such as the birdhouses and the leaves with wrap-over bails, are duplicated by my caster. Learning about how to design for casting is a whole other topic. Once you have the mold made, your caster can duplicate in many different metals.

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