Shows have never been my favorite. (Read: very least favorite). Trade shows, trunk shows and as far back as the little craft shows you start with, the all felt necessary. Especially in an era where social media didn’t exist. It felt like I had to say yes. You’d set up a table in a coffee shop, a retail store, in someone's house, anywhere. And by anywhere, I mean even the one where I was told it would be a fashion event and upon arrival, I was directed to set up on a pool table in the back of a dive bar. I can’t even remember if there was fashion involved. The lights were too dim to see jewelry, the crowd was not interested in me or the few crafters around me. By the end of the night, the people attending were drunk and dancing in only their bras. That was my cue to pack up. It was also my first cue to not say yes to everything.
When I started doing larger trade shows, people kept their shirts on (although sometimes not their pants! ). They were always long days in a room with no windows and they were never the way my jewelry sold best. Once, in Vegas, I’d given out a card to some suit guy and I can’t remember what he wanted, but minutes later I went to throw out the wrapper from my snack and there was my Mimi & Lu postcard with the information I'd stapled for him crumpled in the bottom of garbage can. It looked exactly how I felt. I’m an extrovert and enjoy other people, but this type of interaction didn’t energize me.
That said, I could see it was not the same for everyone. I was at a show in LA and the booth across from me was still empty when the show opened in the morning which struck me as odd since I had been there the day prior, meticulously setting up for 4 hours. A half hour into the show, she came swirling and twirling in, iced coffee in one hand, dragging two suitcases with the other. It's been so long, I couldn't even tell you what she was selling but I do remember her energy was a joyful, energetic hurricane. She was fascinating. She would get just as bored as the rest of us during lulls but instead of becoming drained she would (quite literally) be doing high kicks in her booth. She had more hustle than anyone I'd ever witnessed. She could pull every single person into her booth and even if they weren’t interested, she’d say, “well let's just write up your favorites- just in case.” Which meant she had a purchase order 99% completed and all she needed was a follow up call to get them to push the go button. She had a stack of PO’s a mile high. I took a lot of mental notes from her, with the primary one being- I will, simply, never be that.
My style was more “oh you're not interested? I'm sorry I bothered you, maybe I should pay you for having to stop, you're right maybe I shouldn't be selling this, what am I thinking, who would want this, let me go shrink in this corner, okay bye.” sort of style…. I could hustle in other ways but that was a skill I did not have. And the best things we can do in our businesses is know what we aren’t good at.
I’d move on to using sales reps or showrooms to sell and I’d become part of more niche shows that catered to other industries, such as spas or salons. Once, I found myself in New York City doing a show at the Waldorf Astoria on Election Day- in 2016. The show had been booked before we knew who the candidates were. It was an awful day for a show. No one was in the mood to buy. I remember the buyer from the Trump Hotel Spa came by. It was terribly awkward. When the clock hit 5pm, I packed up my jewelry as fast as possible to get in some city wandering in and meet up with my son and husband who had joined me this trip. The holiday lights were up in many places and it felt magical. We were staying at the New Yorker Hotel, something we had booked long before the trip. I’m not sure how we scored this lovely suite, maybe 20 floors up, with a beautiful view. We stayed up late watching the results come in, and I went to bed before it was over, knowing it was over.
In the morning, we woke up and I looked out the window down to the city streets below. It was rainy and dreary. I remember saying, “it looks like everyone is wearing black…” It was a sea of little ants and sad black umbrellas, quietly moving around. The magic had vanished. My husband left to grab us coffee and when he returned he said, something is going on in the lobby. I headed down to see what was happening and it didn’t take long for me to realize Hillary Clinton would be giving her concession speech in our hotel that morning. It was madness. Police with long guns, a media frenzy and a mob of people. We'd watch the speech happening some 20 some floors below us on our hotel room's TV. Any focus the trip had on jewelry faded. You could sense the forever shift.
As the years passed, I did less and less shows as I got better at recognizing the things we do because we “should” verses the things we do because they work or we enjoy them. Parker's illness took me out of traveling for a couple years and when I returned to shows, I only did a handful before finally granting myself permission to stop. I remember the exact moment: I was leaving my hotel room in Vegas. I hadn't seen daylight in 4 days and it was sensory overload- the lights in the casino were flashing, the smell the cigarette smoke lingering in the air and the unmistakeable sound of slot machines dinging and ringing. I felt totally elated and I remember smiling alone in the elevator thinking, I will never be doing this again. (caveat: never say never) Putting aside the fact that shows didn't serve my business in the ways that warranted the costs and time and there were other (easier and cheaper) ways to sell, the most important reason was how much joy I felt when I made a decision to get off the merry-go-round. It makes me wonder- we spend so much time/energy/resources trying to add joy and happiness to our lives but what if finding that joyful feeling is as simple as taking something away?