How to Prepare for the Tucson Bead Shows

Every year, a few of us on the Jewelry Stringing and Beadwork staff get to go to the bead and gem shows in Tucson, Arizona. Our mission: 1.) To discover new beads and findings to share with our readers and 2.) To meet and talk face-to-face with some of our project contributors and advertisers.


I head to Tucson on February 5th, so in preparation, I've been making a list of items to look for. This is what Beadwork's Senior Editor Jean Campbell does as well. Here are some other ways Jean prepares for the Tucson shows:

Make a list of the important materials you need that you won’t be able to get elsewhere. Stones and pearls are the most plentiful in Tucson, so those will be at the top of my list.

Pick up a copy of the Tucson Show Guide (TSG). Purchase a TSG digital copy or a TSG hard copy before the show to get familiar with the shows and vendors ahead of time. If you don't get a copy in advance, free copies will be available in the lobbies of many of the show venues. The Tucson Show Guide contains maps, contact information, exhibitor information, and even individual show floor plans. With a directory of thousands of suppliers and products, the TSG is a handy year-round reference.

Put several copies of my resale certificate, business license, and business cards in a plastic sleeve. I’ll bring a copy of each to the wholesale shows I attend. This will make getting into the shows a lot quicker.

Bring a permanent marker, plastic baggies of all shapes and sizes, and a calculator. When I’m finished shopping for the day, I’ll transfer the individual bead strands I purchase into baggies. I’ll label each baggie with the bead type, strand cost, cost per bead, and vendor. It sounds a little anal, but if I do it right away while the information is still fresh, it’ll get done. Then, when I get back to Minnesota to incorporate the beads into a project or kits, it’ll be easy to figure out what my bottom line charge needs to be.

To Jean's list, I'd like to add a few more suggestions:

Buy comfortable shoes. Without even realizing it, you'll spend hours on your feet walking through all the booths filled with beads, beads, beads.

Bring a comfortable bag to carry your purchases. Make sure your bag is spacious (to handle all your purchases) and has a comfortable strap (you'll be carrying it for hours). I once made the mistake of bringing a large but heavy leather purse. I think I still walk lopsided because of it!

Get cash. Some vendors don't accept credit cards or give you better deals for having cash. Load up at the ATM before making this trip.

Charge your phone. If you attend the Tucson shows with other people, make sure you have their numbers, and, of course, make sure your phone has enough juice so that you can call them. Inevitably you and your fellow show-goers will get split up, and you'll want to make sure you can reconnect for a lunchtime margarita.

I hope to see you in Tucson. Please share any tips you have for navigating the shows in the comments section below!

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