Elizabeth Kirk is dressed head-to-toe in turquoise velvet. Each eyelid is powdered in ombré eye shadow as iridescent as a hummingbird's plumage. She's warm and approachable, and her laughter rings out even more than her cell phone (which is abuzz with customers, colleagues and family). So it's something of an understatement to say that presentation matters to Elizabeth Kirk.
Armed with an arsenal of hardworking equipment, tools, and displays and packaging, Elizabeth has spent the last decade helping her father invigorate and expand his 40-year-old jewelry business. And the work is paying off. This has been a busy year for the Kirks—perhaps their busiest yet.
A line of e-coated cuffs is picking up steam in Japan, and the Smithsonian catalog will feature the Kirks' contemporary Native jewelry this spring. But a significant part of their business–what Elizabeth’s father, Michael, calls their "bread and butter"–boils down to what they sell at a handful of key annual markets.
Whether it's retail or wholesale, each market presents the same challenge to jewelers: How do you distinguish yourself in a sea of booths, all overflowing with other talented designers? Elizabeth tells Rio Grande how displays can help make your jewelry the star of every show.
Elizabeth Kirk: You want people to remember you. So most of the time I'm dressed like this and I have a huge bear claw necklace on. I have another necklace that I can stick on my dad, or I’ll put it on my son–because anybody that's working the booth with me is wearing whatever we make, so that people constantly see what it looks like on.
My father taught me to do those big pieces and to put them out there–those are your "wow" pieces that you're going to draw people in with. They may not be able to afford that, but they can afford something less expensive—so you have all these options for them.
My booth design is usually very different. It has brown sheer curtains, I have bookcases, and this year I'm going to have a vanity. I even have mannequins with nice clothing that wear my jewelry. I have these different things because, again, you want people to remember you.
Typically it takes six to nine months for me to achieve the look I'm wanting. I repurpose furniture, go to flea markets, strip, paint and search until I'm happy with the look. Sometimes it takes longer than I'd like, but the end product usually surpasses my own expectations.
I purchased an older desk from a friend of mine, and I said, "I'm going to redo the whole thing!" I refinished it, painted it black and took the handles–which are brass–and I e-coated them. (Laughs.) I was so excited. So at this point it's building, refinishing, doing things of that sort, just so it has a definite look.
I also make everything light enough for me to carry, because my dad’s shoulders hurt and he’s older. I don't like him moving a lot of stuff, so I make everything where one person can set it up.
I met Wendy Rosen about six years ago. She runs the Rosen Group, and she puts on the bigger shows, like the American Made Show. She told me, "When you do your display, try and stay away from all black, because everyone's display is always all black. You're not going to stand out. What you need to do is choose color–do something different!" I've always loved color, and everybody knows it. So she said, "You know, you can do this. You have an eye for things."
Now I try to work especially with our Native community, because they're very shy, just by culture. I'm actually working with a program that's asked me to run through everyone's booth to see what I thought of them.
Sales have increased steadily over the years, and I believe marketing and branding have added to sales. I actually have women coming to the booth to see what we make because they saw someone with a bag I provide with purchase. They love the packaging and say the care I put into it is indicative of the quality of product we supply.
So what I do is, I take those bags, I stuff them with tissue paper and I put them on the bottom shelf of my bookcase, so that my gift wrapping is part of my display. And I put my jewelry boxes out on a shelf–so that when I do make a sale, all I have to do is grab a box. It's always available. People don’t even realize that it's functional and multitasking–it's my display, but it's also my packaging.
In my booth, there's actually a place for the customers to sit. People say, "Why would you put a chair out there?" And I say, "By and large, your customers are women … but guess who has the money? The husband. And guess what I have for the husband? A chair to sit in and a bottle of water."
I trade him. I give him a chair and some water, he gives me his credit card. (Laughs.) So I carry water, and I carry snacks if need be. I also make an area that customers can go sit back with my dad and visit–because he's pretty good at visiting with the men.
I just have this all going. You have to think of it in that manner–this little space is your store for one to six days, depending on what you're doing, and you have to treat it accordingly.
You have a 10-foot by 10-foot space … why are you just setting up here in this three-foot space? You paid for this whole thing! You need to utilize every single inch that you have–and go vertical. I have a very short attention span, and things that are of different heights catch my attention. So if it makes me look, then I know it’ll make other people look.
I'll have a full-blown display in the office, just trying to figure things out. I put up my display, and then right before the show, I put up all of my jewelry exactly how I'm going to do it, and I take pictures of it.
When we get to our destination, everyone has pictures of how it's supposed to look. That way they're not asking, "How does this go? Can I do this?" "No, you can't do that, because it goes here!" (Laughs.) That way I know where everything is and I know exactly how much display to take. I can also put the prices on that specific display so that we're not second-guessing–because if it's not marked, I have to be there, since no one knows the pricing except for me.
It takes me anywhere from an hour to two hours to put up my display. But once it's up, I get compliments throughout the day. "You have the best display!” “It was put together beautifully." It draws people in, which is ultimately what you want to do. Get them to come, make it inviting and engage with people.