Blog version of the Crystal Zone Podcast Episode #4 (recording 6) - Tucson.mp3 (first week of March, 2020)
INTRODUCTORY NOTE: this blog is the transcription of a podcast that was recorded in early March - two weeks after I'd gotten back from Tucson to Boston - and two weeks before the corona virus started to really wreak havoc in the U.S. It might read differently if it had begun as strictly a writing project - so forgive the conversational quality, annotated periodically with afterthoughts and clarifications - which I'm offering in italics.
It also occurs to me that this view is not so much of the glamor and glitz of the show, but of the underbelly of what it's really like to be a part of it, not just a fleeting spectator. Interestingly, it's turned out to have a huge bonus added - above and beyond the audio-only Podcast - because if you look at and read the captions of the many photos featured, you get a much fuller view and perspective on the whole experience, proving that written Blogs have a power all their own to fill the picture and deepen your experience of the subject.
So this Podcast is dedicated to Tucson, that mythical word that conjures up so much imagination for so many who are in the rock or crystal world. I went to Tucson! And let me explain a little bit more of what that means. It is originally a gem show that was set up by a local club rock club that grew and grew (and grew)!
I think it began in the 50s of the last century. So now we're really looking at 70 years on - and a ballooning of what that means - to represent upwards of 50 separate shows going on simultaneously throughout the town of Tucson, which I had originally thought was a lazy place that came to life during the gem show, which spans January into February, and then sort of reverted into obscurity.
But this time, which is my fourth time there, I realized that Tucson is a bona fide city that exists above and beyond its role as host for the largest gem show in the world. So my appreciation for Tucson has expanded, as well as my admiration for what we call the Tucson Gem Show, which is truly a collective name.
I participated as a vendor for the first time this year in what is called the 22nd Street Show, simply because it's located off 22nd Street and the great big Highway 10 that runs through Tucson. And I'm going to use this podcast as a way of introducing you to my personal experience of the gem shows and a way of capturing also the specific magic of this one experience.
I had gone originally back in 1994 and I remember a few vendors specifically, and I even had until recently a piece of Brazilian Citrine that I had purchased from that vendor in one of their hotel rooms.
Because one of the novel ways in which this plays out practically is that there are a number of shows in which the vendors sleep in their hotel room at night - and then during the day they put tables out and they cover up their bed - and they have all of their wares there for you to purchase.
And there is an enormous amount of duplication. So you will see many, many Moroccans, for example - and many, many folks from Madagascar - who are selling virtually the same thing as each other.
And frankly, they have to work in order to stand out so that you can say, oh, okay, I like what this person's doing or I appreciate what this selection is bringing me relative to what other people's selections are bringing me.
In my main tent at the 22nd Street show, we were looking at 100 feet of width and 835 feet of length, which I looked up and it's technically 3 football fields of length, all under one roof. And fortunately for us, our tent was kind of a permanent, military-grade, with four foot heavy plastic panels along the sides. So we did not experience the wind that was going on outside, although we could hear it rattling at the canvas above
And when it rained, we were able to be protected from the rain. But for some people, it seeped in underneath - three or four feet - but mostly just getting the pavement wet. I understand originally that tent was set up over hard ground: dusty pebbly stone.
Because Tucson is in a desert, although there is greenery - and interestingly - they have NO water management system in terms of underground pipes and drain catches. Instead, they have these gullies which are thought through and exist to the side of roads and capture sometimes enormous amounts of water. I understand that during the monsoon season during this Summer?
Excuse me, I'm going a cough a second here. I'm getting over a little something that hit me after I got back. People said "oh, you were holding it together during the month that you were in Tucson, and then your immune system let down." Could be. I could have just been exposed to a more serious virus than I had been exposed to there. And folks were wearing face face masks - especially at the beginning - and especially those who came from Asia. But now it's also Europe. And a lot of vendors were hurt by some of their star customers not making it from the east there, because of this virus and how serious people are about containing it.
REMINDER: this podcast was originally voiced in the first week of March, weeks before the US shutdowns, and at that time - things were not as dire as they had become just a few weeks later - hence the references to it not being so bad in the U.S.
We in the U.S. have been relatively spared, but the fact that the stock market can be so easily rattled by something that is mostly just a fear and a concept demonstrates to me a very, very valuable lesson. And that is that most of us - or most of you, or most people on the planet - live according to a mainstream shared sense of reality. They pooh pooh the Crystal World or the Metaphysical World, because they're like: Oh, you can't touch that. You can't prove that. And yet all of those traders in the stock market are dealing with intangible pieces of paper and values. And they are nowhere near the sick ward of anyone suffering from the corona virus.
Perhaps those on Wall Street are canaries in the coal mine, with a prescient sense of disaster, again: this was recorded in the first week of March (2020), before things got more serious.
And yet their fears and their actions, like a flock of birds or a bunch of fish underwater, can quickly change direction in potentially far reaching ways with big implications for everybody else. So if you think that you are immune to the Spirit World - and that all that matters is the tangible - then I invite you to think again, because you know: Crystals are tangible too. And the stock market is very much intangible and the illness is real. But yet the fear of the illness is not. And so I'm just taking a little reverie during my Tucson podcast to talk about something that is not only about Tucson.
Let me return, though, and tell you that - another way in which international factors are impacting the experience of people who go to and who sell at the Tucson Gem Show - is that visas are not going to be renewed for a bunch of people for a bunch of different reasons, not just having to do with health scare, but also having to do with race scare and the type of jingoistic direction that the United States has been unfortunately pulled into as a result of its political orientation right now.
And so I've heard that a lot of people won't be showing up. There's always a turnover in Tucson. People get sick or die or some of them, interestingly, don't show up because they do not want to be bothered.
I have a friend, a vendor who had put thousands of dollars down on a booth, but decided to let that go rather than to go through the effort of packing up and showing up at the Tucson Gem Show.
It is an enormous physical undertaking!
And for me it was a logistical challenge, the likes of which I have never experienced - except I have learned from doing something similar - which in my musical past, was touring the country. So planning a move of, you know, hundreds or thousands of pounds of stuff from one place to another, then doing it and doing that safely was a really, really important challenge.
For me, the opportunity to be a part - as a vendor - of this show came up after Thanksgiving late November. So imagine: I had between the end of November and two months later - the end of January - to figure out what I was doing, and to actually do it. I showed up in Tucson almost a week before I physically had to be there, in order to make sure that my stuff had gotten there okay. I was sorting through and preparing to set up the first things first: basically the tables and then the lights. I had purchased lights that showed up at the event and were dropped off at my table. In point of fact, it took me about 28 hours, working solo, to set up my entire display in Tucson, which over 3 days (Mon-Wed) was quite a lot of time each day!
I had other things: a whole graphic design overhaul of my public image that included a 7-by-7-foot big backdrop and some stand-up banners that were either on tables or on the floor. And I had to prioritize and work very closely with my designers over the holidays to come up with a new post-card, a new business card, everything new to present to people what it is that I do as CrystalConcentrics. And also what we're offering in terms of an online program coming out of the Tucson experience, specifically the Crystals 360, which I've dedicated an entire podcast to as well.
So there really was a lot of preparation that went in for me and that goes in for everybody else. You know, regardless of how sophisticated a display is, it's a lot to work out logistically, how you're going to get there, how your stuff is going to get there, and then when it's over, how it all gets packed up. There's a lot of hope and wish and fantasy around being able to go to a show and then have your inventory disappear, have it be sold and have you go back a whole lot lighter than you came.
But the fact of the matter is that even the most successful vendors are taking back way over 50 and sometimes over 80 or 90 percent of their inventory. And it makes me wonder each year how much of the product is simply recycled from the previous year.
There are huge pieces, you know, six hundred pound pieces - 1 and 2 ton pieces - that have to be rolled around (or get their own dedicated crate) and have their own wrought iron stands built for them that are brought out really in the hundreds.
And they don't all get sold. At the end of the day, they have to go somewhere. And what some vendors do is they rent space and they store it either in storage facilities or they have a permanent warehouse that they open up sometime in January and then they close sometime in February.
And then they go back to their home countries and do the rest of their year and return in January to unveil their existing and their new Tucson inventory for the public.
So you actually have the gamut. You have people who are setting up in a tent the way that I did. You have people who are setting up at other shows because again, there's close to 50 shows going on simultaneously and they're all set up slightly different. Mine had a main tent with three hundred and fifty vendors and then it had a secondary tent, which was called the Showcase tent, which is supposed to be a higher-end location with carpeting and more custom lighting for each vendor.
And I actually gave a lot of thought to whether I wanted to be part of that Showcase tent next year or whether I should have been part of it this year. But I instead chose to be a part of the main tent because I am sort of in one of the corners in the northeast corner. I tend to like corners and walls behind me.
I like in general - for people who come to my booth at any show - to not be caught up in the mix and the hullabaloo of too much traffic, so that they cannot stop and think about what it is that I'm offering and have a conversation with me about what I'm doing: you know, when I'm not at the show - what I'm offering online - and what it is that I have that's unique and different from others.
Because ultimately - going in there as a retailer with some wholesale experience - I was prepared to have my ass kicked all over the place by all these direct importers: people from Peru or Mexico (or I mentioned Madagascar and also Morocco) that come here directly with product.
Some folks, I noticed particularly some of the sub-Saharan African offerings, were really just piles of rough dark Citrine and piles of other gemstones on a table. People's display technique ranged from that most basic approach to where where someone is just sitting there the whole time, ready to dialog with you, to other people - who are just with headphones on and on their laptop - because they either didn't want to, or didn't know how to connect with the public (and they wanted their product to speak for itself). If someone showed interest and asked for a price, then they got some attention.
In our case, we always had one of our two people on duty facing the public and ready to engage whether it was about, you know, necklaces or pendants or about Jade. We had to stand out and we had to interact with people. And ultimately, while there was some product that did not move, all of it got attention. All of it was appreciated. We got a lot of kudos, including before the show even began. I had a guy show up, his specialty was these incredible inlaid knives. And he said that one of our display pieces, the Searchlight, which is a large Argentine Quartz spike on top of a naturally river-worn yellow rainbow Fluorite base. And yes, I did run out of breath every time I had to explain that to people. He said that piece was a standout in the entire show. And I had someone else say that, too. Several others asked if it was a Hovav Rappaport creation, he's an Artist from California, known for this sort of thing.
So it was really nice to be complimented - and recognized and seen - for having an outstanding display that I think took our product and our show in general to a different level in terms of production value for the visiting audience.
Our visiting audience apparently tops 50,000 (just for our show). And they count that not by the number of people coming in the door, which would be my preference, although it's pretty impossible, because how many of the people coming in are vendors? How many came the day before? What they do is they look at the number of cars in the parking lot and they surmise based on that. How many people came in the cars (or something) that they can track daily - because they clear out the parking lot - and then it fills up again the next day.
So we've just surpassed 20 minutes, and I have a commitment to make my podcasts run shorter rather than longer (so they're easier for people to absorb in small bites). I'm not sure if I'm going to create a second podcast devoted to the topic of Tucson. Probably I could. But on the chance that this is a free standing podcast, I want to tell you that my memories are still very clear of it, and they will become less clear as time goes by, and that's already been worsened by the biggest health news story in 100 years.
One of the things that I did while I was there, because we were able to stand out - and actually - I'll give you a quick list of why we stood out. We stood out because of my metaphysical approach and because of our graphic presentation. We stood out because we were representing Nephrite Jade and did a huge amount of educating people - because there's so much that's being sold, even in our tent - that is Serpentine and is being mislabeled intentionally as Jade.
So that is an important function that we provided there. We also have custom pendants. We have many, many of them made, and we can make yours into custom pendants. We also are able to do wire wrapped earrings and rings, which is a kind of a cool additional service to offer as well.
We offered Sugilite, of which we had acquired a bunch even while we were there - everything from necklaces, pendants, rings - cabochons, rough pieces, polished pieces, carved pieces. I acquired a gigantic Sugilite dragon, which is a great addition to my display.
We also represented Moldavite in a way that nobody else was doing. And we're gonna be expanding that for the future. Because even though I am definitely not the only supplier of Moldavite, I think that I treat it with a kind of respect that I don't generally see out there. In back of our display cases, on our front tables, we had display pieces, beautiful things that you would want to have on your mantelpiece.
And although there are hundreds of other people selling wonderful pieces - what makes our selection stand out is that we've curated our offerings - so that each piece is outstanding and doesn't get lost in the mix of a hundred other almost identical pieces.
I hope that this gives you a little bit of a glimpse into what the Tucson experience was for me and what it is more generally. And after I get the transcription and maybe create a blog about it, I'll be able to consider whether a volume 2 is in order or whether we're not just going to move on with our other content, of which we have so much to offer you. Thanks so much for listening. You can always get in touch. You know the home web site: CrystalConcentrics.com and our storefront Portal Crystal Gallery is open daily from 12 to 5 in the Boston area, at least it was until mid-March. Thanks so much for listening. We look forward to bringing you more programming in the future.
EXTRA NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR KYLE RUSSELL
I'm gonna add a bit of post-script commentary here, since nearly everything written above is a direct transcription of my Tucson Crystal Zone Podcast. Look for the Podcast button in our menus, or hear all of them on iTunes here.
There were many more photos of me with people I could have included, or even of beautiful stones, which - after all - is the main attraction. But I wanted to do something more with this Blog. I wanted to capture the essence of the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into being there as a vendor - not just my own - but that of the 5000 odd vendors (and their support staff) who show up to make it all happen for the flitting (butterfly-like) clientele. I actually liked the clientele a lot, some days more than others. It was truly international, and featured every level of buyers, from casual window shoppers to actively stocking global shops.
Although I signed up for next year, before the close of this show, and even expanded my booth space - there's no telling what 2021 will look like after the devastation of the Corona Virus - so I'm grateful to've followed my instinct to be a part of it THIS year, in the auspicious year of 2020.
It was a great exercise for me to release this Podcast within 6 weeks of my return from Tucson, and then to go through the transcript and turn it into a Blog. The addition of photos with detailed descriptions, with a bit more perspective over time, has turned this Blog into an even richer survey of the whole experience.
My primary promotional objective was to get people onto my Mailing List and hopefully sign them up for my annual Crystals360 program, which just started last week. Although I was able to add a number of names to my list (hard copy and online), I was not able to translate my new Tucson friends into online buyers or meaningful participants in my programs (relative to my more regional or existing clientele).
But part of my decision to return to the same spot in the tent (basically the furthest corner from the main entrance), is that I do think buyers associated me and my product line with my location, and I don't think I could do any better elsewhere. To the contrary - based on what I've learned - I think I can do better in that spot. This was my first year there. I have no idea how many more I can handle, but if we bounce back from the Virus at least as strong (or stronger), I think the future looks bright. And I do believe that having my face up there so large on my banners was good PR, and made an impression that will last (also as people find me and my Crystal Concentrics logo on YouTube and Facebook).
Currently, with my shop closed into the first week of May - we're looking at almost 2 months out of walk in public circulation - so my online offerings have to step up.
To that end, I've offered a couple of free Meditations online, which are switching over to a paid format (at a modest cost of only $5 with prepayment). I've started a Crystal Talk Show through Facebook Live, which has gone well, and is likely to keep happening every 10 days or so. My Crystals360 program has begun successfully, and feels like a really great way to include people from anywhere in an in depth learning community around my Crystal Concentrics Energy Zone system for understanding how to work with Crystals. Now that all my inventory is in one place, and I have no shows (they've all been cancelled or postponed) till July, I can segregate my online product, review pricing and online details (weights and measurements), so that my online store can become better than ever (and I can start adding new items).