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INDUSTRY Q&A: Sam Willoughby, event director, IJL

As International Jewellery London gets underway for 2017, Ruth Faulkner caught up with event director Sam Willoughby to hear more about what visitors can expect from this year’s show.

This is the 62nd year of IJL. How difficult is it to keep coming up with new ideas to ensure the show is current, fresh and relevant to today’s retail jewellery market?

Over the years it is not just the events industry that has changed but the trade we serve. The jewellery industry has weathered many significant positives and negatives in the past 10 years, especially with the rise of brands, improvements in CAD and 3D printing technologies and the more recent concerns over business rates, Brexit and the weaker pound.

Although IJL can’t solve these problems, we have dedicated ourselves to staying abreast of them and presenting the jewellery industry with an event that acknowledges the marketplace, while hopefully creating an uplifting and useful destination for business, buying and networking.

In recent years it has been our mission to transform IJL into a 365-day proposition, and I am proud to say that we have achieved this. We refuse to be a show that opens its doors and closes three days later. The team that creates IJL has a genuine passion for this industry, which is evident in our long-standing campaigns like KickStart and Bright Young Gems, and our involvement in the UK Jewellery Awards and the Goldsmiths’ Craft And Design Council awards.

Of course, the three days we spend at Olympia in September are vitally important for buying, networking and learning, but it is our 50,000 strong social media following and thriving online presence that proves we’re achieving relevance throughout the year. This is how we remain current, fresh and useful to the retail jewellery market today.

What changes can we expect to see at the show this year?

IJL 2017 is packed full of new features, led by the feedback we received from our 2016 show and our advisory board. We have introduced a new Retail Experience Area, which includes businesses specialising in visual merchandising, retail design and customer experience. Secondly, we have introduced a Jewellery LIVE! area, sponsored by Weston Beamor, where CAD/CAM and jewellery-making skills will be presented.

We have also completely revamped our seminar offering, introducing new spaces such as DIGIfest, Skills Lab and The Academy. The Inspiration Theatre is also back and better than ever with a new location on the ground floor at the end of the Boulevard.

What has been your main focus when preparing for this year’s show?

We really delved into our data at the end of 2016, taking into account the advice of our exhibitors and visitors. We know that, sometimes, investing in lots of new lines and brands isn’t an option for retailers experiencing a tough calendar year, which is why we have made sure that IJL creates an engaging balance of new brands, returning suppliers, education, inspiration and networking.

Your Diamond Club ensures that some of the UK’s best retailers visit the show each year. What benefits do you offer Diamond Club members and what buyers can we expect to see?

We’re very proud of our prestigious Diamond Club VIP buyer group, which brings together owners, CEOs, directors and senior buyers from leading independent and multiple retailers, departments stores, high-end fashion boutiques, museums and galleries, and online-only stores. We provide this select group of industry influencers with many benefits, including exclusive hospitality, special event invitations and, of course, VIP access to IJL 2017.

We appreciate that time is precious for this group of retailers, so our dedicated Diamond Club membership manager, Laura Heather, is always on hand to assist with fast-tracking their registration process and organising complimentary hotel accommodation for those members who come to the show from outside London.

One of the biggest challenges for retailers today is to offer their customers an ‘experience’. Do you believe this also applies to trade show organisers?

Absolutely – in fact, I don’t think trade show organisers can afford to offer anything else! For us, a great customer experience starts months before we even set foot in Olympia. Our team works hard to ensure the needs of our exhibitors and visitors are met, while also offering marketing and social media support, media opportunities and engaging newsletters. This year, we launched our debut KickStart and Bright Young Gems event at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, followed by a meet-the-press champagne reception. We also hosted our Designer Support Programme day and our Exhibitor Masterclass.

When it comes to customer experience at the show, we hope that the many new areas we have launched, plus an emphasis on visual impact, which includes state-of-the-art screens and video walls supplied by LG in conjunction with MCS UK, easy-to-navigate show sectors and a dedicated Diamond Club lounge, will speak for themselves. Whether you are attending for one day, or all three, we believe this year’s show will be our most engaging yet. 



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