I just had my first experience visiting Tucson Arizona, which hosts the largest Gem and Mineral show in the world. The show starts in late January and goes to mid February. The show is actually many shows in various venues, which are scattered throughout Tucson.
I’d heard that a great place to start was the Holidome. The Holidome is a 2-acre tent that sits next to the Holiday Inn, which is also full of dealers who use their rooms as booths.
This show was great for jewelry artists and beaders; with lots of beads, pearls, gems, and a ton of other stuff to make jewelry, including components.
I also visited the JOGS show, which had a bit of everything. Its a good place to shop for calibrated gems and cabochons.
What surprised me about both shows, was how much ready made jewelry (manufactured overseas) is being sold.
I did learn a few things from my first visit that could be helpful to a first time visitor.
Know What You Want and Need
The main way that I got ready for the gem show was to buy from bead shops and trunk shows for a few years. Yes, you pay more, but you also don’t have to fly to Tuscan and stay in a hotel! I really needed to work with different materials to find out what I liked (what I can sell), and to familiarize myself with pricing.
Pre-register and Bring Business License/Tax ID
The shows let you pre-register online and print out your badges at home. In order to buy wholesale at these shows, you will need their badge. You can register at the show, but you will need to stand in line. They want identification and other proof that you are a legit business. I used a business license, but I think the paper work from the IRS showing your tax ID should work or a resale license. Make sure to bring the paperwork with you in case you want to register and attend a random show. Check out the registration requirements for the Jogs show, which lists more options. You will want to get your pre-registration completed by early January.
This is a cash venue. I didn’t bring much money with me (only 1200 bucks), when I spent it all, I tried to use my debit card (all the booths seemed to offer this). My sale was declined…..of course it was! Most of the booths are international, which is suspicious to the credit card software. My debit cards got turned off for my whole visit. I did manage to get cash out of an ATM they had on premises where I used my card first.
A kind commenter below recommends to me that we call our credit card company before we go and let them know where we are going, and that charges will be happening from businesses located in a variety of states and countries. Make sure that they have your cell phone number on hand so that they can call you for verification (they do this).
Newbs Should Walk the Whole Show First
It’s daunting, but at the first tent I went to, which was 2 acres, I walked the whole show and only managed to spend about 50 bucks (I couldn’t help myself). Then I went back to my best booth picks and started to really shop. As a first time visitor, it’s easy to get excited (never having seen such good stuff at great prices) and spend too much, too early…take your time.
Expect discounts. Many booths will have the discount posted: 50% off, discounts at $100, $200, $300 etc. I am not big on haggling because I don’t like this in my own booth. I did learn to inquire about additional discounts by eavesdropping on buyers. If I walked into a booth that said 20% off the marked price, I would start picking things out then ask if there was an additional price break….usually, there was. I was buying strands of things, or 4 cabochons…it’s hard to get them too excited about giving discounts on such a small sale. In one instance, a metalsmith like myself kept wanting more discount from an east Indian gentleman, it was getting absurd, she never got it, but she did make the purchase. Then after she left, with a smile he told me that I was going to get an additional discount for being so patient and non-demanding.
Be careful with your purchases, and money. I stayed with friends, but if I had to stay in a hotel (and they didn’t have a safe), I think I would have to keep my purchases with me at all times. The locals told me that thieves watch folks put things in their cars and trunks, then steal them when the person walks away. Worrying about this really sucks, but luckily there are lots of people and security everywhere, so I felt safe. I like to have an old blanket, newspapers or a coat to throw over things in the car. If they can’t see what they are going to get, they will likely move to the next car.
I spent more money on materials than I ever would have at local bead shows. I spent more per strand and per stone, but the quality was vastly superior to what I’m used to seeing. I finally got my hands on really beautiful stuff. Often at trunk shows, the beads seem like they have rubbed each other too much, and many of the beads have chips, dark inclusions, or are the last few strands that have been picked over. I was able to upgrade all the gems and pearls that I use…yippee!
Next trip I am bringing a backpack or small suitcase with wheels. This is to carry my purchases, plenty of water, lunch and clothing. Food and drinks are available but I was trying to save all my money for gems.
Other Stuff To Bring
Bring your business cards; vendors ask for them when you make a purchase. They want to put you on their mailing list for next year. You may also want to bring a magnifier, gram scale, and calipers for measuring stones.
Where To Get Wholesale Prices Today
All the gemstones I purchased were from vendors that were visiting from India. It is worth noting that last year (2013) I did start making purchases on Etsy from India sellers. They seemed to have sprung up and taken over the gem trade on the site.
I figured out on my buying trip, that I can trust the Etsy sellers from India to deliver excellent quality at wholesale prices. Here are two that I buy from Gems and Beads Emporium and Beads and Gems (they don’t get high marks for name originality but have given me excellent service). There are a ton of other sellers and all very competitive. All my shipments have been by FedX and arrived within the week (well, except when there is a festival, then nobody works).
I probably did make some errors on my buying trip, but they were not bad errors. Next year I will visit a totally new show first, then see what they have to offer against the vendors that I met this year.
If you have any advice to share about the Tuscan shows please feel free to add your two cents below.
Kind Regards, Holly