Tucson gems and minerals 2016 show experience
Hi! I am just back from 4 days in Tucson for the gems and minerals shows. I emphasize the “s” at the end of “shows” because this is not one show but many different shows located all over the city.
I went one time in September last year and this was a very small event in comparison to the winter one. This was my first time visiting the winter event and it has such a reputation of being huge (in fact, it is the largest gems show of the world) that I was overwhelmed even before leaving the studio. I am going to share with you a few things I learned while they are fresh in my mind.
Just so you know… I was more interested in lapidary materials, slabs, rocks and crystals as well as tools. Except for a few exceptions, beads are not my thing (although we never know what the future holds...).
We drove down from Phoenix which is a fast and easy 1h30 ride. We went with our little Casita trailer so that we did not have to stay in a hotel. I hate hotels!
We stayed at the Lazydays KOA campground which is a nice campground with full hookups (meaning we had electricity, water, sewage and even cable TV and free wifi).
The big advantage of staying in this campground is that it is very well located: 3 minutes from the large G&LW Holidome and Gems Mall and between 5 and 10 minutes from the other shows such as Kino and 22nd street. It was very cold, very very cold. So I could not cook outside and having a large choice of restaurants nearby was good. We’ll stay again in this campground when we come back for the show next year.
Tucson is a rather big city (in fact they say that it is trying to resemble Phoenix) but has a nice vibe to it which Phoenix lacks. You will find many hotels and restaurants, from the simple to the luxurious but considering how crowded the city is during the event, hotels reservations are a must.
Weather wise... it was very cold (did I say that already?). But lovely weather is announced for next week. I lived too long in Arizona... below 70 and I reach for 3 sweaters and mittens. But if you come from Alaska or Minnesota, it will certainly feel like spring to you ;)
2- the show preparation
Like the boy scouts I like to be prepared and made a list of all the things I wanted to buy. Then the hard stuff... where to go to find it.
Since I pre-registered for the G&LW show, I received a book with the list of the exhibitors. I had no information about the other shows and what I found on the web was just plain overwhelming. Until I found out I could buy the Tucson show guide for $20.
This is a thick book with all the necessary informations and tons of advertising from vendors.
After arriving, I found out this same guide was given away for free about anywhere as well of other show guides. I grabbed them all so that they may helpful for later. Darn, I could have saved 20 bucks and buy more stones.
All the vendors I met were very willing to sell their products all year round. I came back with lots of business cards with names, emails, cell phone numbers from people who told me to not hesitate to contact them if I need anything. So all the show directories I picked up may be a good reference to have.
A general comment about the vendors and advertising in the show guides… I have noticed that some vendors have awesome advertising full pages with great products and great photos. And when you stop by their booth, it looks nothing like it and is usually disappointing. On another hand, some vendors have just a small insert or nothing at all then their booth and products are awesome. A good reminder to never judge a book by its cover!!!
In the preparation department, something I thought about and was really happy I did: I took a small suitcase on wheels because stones can be heavy to tote around! Take a heavy-duty one because some show's floors are rocky, literally ;)
3- the places I visited:
I do not have photos of the shows because they were prohibited. And although I saw people taking photos I kind of like respecting the rules and not offend vendors.
The G&LW shows...
Pre-registration online or registration on site is required and I had to provide a copy of my business license. The G&LW shows are supposedly for wholesale only but always check with the vendor if their pricing is wholesale. There was one on my shopping list with pricing that was kind of expensive and then I learned that wholesale is 1/2 the displayed price. This turned me from a looker into a buyer. Remember that I sell lots of my work to shops and galleries, therefore I cannot buy my supplies at retail price.
There are 4 tents with 2 shows: the Holidome and the Gems Mall. You can see this is the biggest show. They have a nice food court, lots of security and nicer bathrooms, not the traditional yucky blue porta potty.
The Gems mall...
Lots, lots and lots of beads from of overseas vendors at the Gems mall. Tremendous choice. If you are into beads, this is going to be your place. Some prices seamed a bit high to me. Know your stuff before you shop!
In the Holidome tents, there were still lots of beads and overseas vendors, but his was more my alley. My favorite ones: Herkimer diamonds mine and of course the Kingman mines (aka Colbaugh processing). I also found a great deal on a slab saw. The saw was great, the vendor... meeh.
These 2 shows are very crowded and it is difficult to find a parking space. However, there are guys in golf carts who pick up people walking around and they also take you back to your car. A nice touch.
Not much lapidary stuff at the GL&W shows, but I will happily go back next year.
The 22nd street show...
The 22nd street show is a small show compared to G&LW with only one tent. I loved this show. Sometimes the best things come in small packages!
Easy to find, easy to park, not too crowded. The promoter is the same that organizes the Denver fossils and minerals show. I bought big chunks of rose quartz mined in South Dakota. The guy had a fossil booth but he said that the owner of the quartz mines is a friend of his and the mines is just down the road for him.
I also found a great source for beautiful rocks and slabs.
Dwayne from the Prospectors TV show was here (you know, the Bam guy). He is as nice and genuine in person that he sounds on the TV show. He had some aquamarines from his claim that were absolutely beautiful but that I could not afford to buy. Maybe next year… I heard that Amanda was here too but I did not see her.
Overall there was more lapidary materials at this show and I definitely will be back.
The Kino show...
The Kino show is a big show, yet easy to park. Eclectic mix of everything, partly indoors and outdoors. To my point of view, there was more schlocks than good stuff, but the good stuff was really good. I bought great stones and had a great deal on a Diamond Pacific cab machine ;) I’ll be back next year.
The metaphysical show...
This show was in the Howard Johnson motel. Pages and pages of nice advertising in the show guide but the location did not reflect it. Bad products, way, way overpriced. I ran away and won’t be back.
Also to notice… all around the motel was what I would call a hippy market. Hippies selling hippy crafts displayed on blankets on the sidewalk. No problem with hippies, they are nice, had good music and there was a fun vibe. On the another hand, the hippy crafts (odds and ends, lots of incense, crystal chunks and feathers glued on sticks) were a bit of a turn off to me.
The Pueblo show...
The Pueblo show was on my list to visit. We arrived early, planning to spend the day. To find out there was a fee even for self parking. Being charged a fee to shop (except for a charity event) does not make sense to me and is just bad management. Especially when they ask 20 bucks to park in a muddy field 15 minutes walk from the show. So long Pueblo show!
Kent's tools was introduced to me as a place specialized in hard to find tools and I was all giddy about it. So giddy that it was the first place I stopped by. I love tools and was ready for it! Then... insert here deflate sound... 95% of the tools were Euro-Tools which I consider low end. No Foredom, no Fretz, no Durston. Maybe I am a bit of a tool snob but I like quality. Good work cannot be made with flimsy tools and jewelry making tools is definitely a department where you get what you pay for.
Ken’t tools… I will not go back and will not recommend. They were friendly though.
The 3 shows I really liked (G&LW, 2nd street and Kino), I visited twice because of buyer remorse (as in “when I think about it I did not buy enough and need to go back for more”). There was so many other shows I was not able to visit. Did I miss something? maybe, maybe not. But I am very happy with what I found.
Also, everyone was nice and helpful from the show promoter team to the security and of course the vendors.
I enjoyed it and I'll certainly come back next year, especially since I have very little travel expenses. For sure I'll be better prepared and most likely will cover more shows.
5- What's next on the studio
Well, lots of projects and new things but I think that will be for another post. This one has been long enough... maybe my longest blog post of all time. Going there one time does not make me a specialist but I think I know more now than a week ago. The show is still running until mid February. By the way, better come early for the good stuff... I arrived on Monday and there was already "sold" signs around.
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