Tucson Gem Show Guide: Crystal Expert's Top Tips & Treasures - Love & Light School of Crystal Therapy

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You may (or may not) know this about me, but in addition to teaching classes with the Love & Light School, I also own a crystal shop here in Madison, Wisconsin. Each year, I travel to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show for my shop, Mimosa Books & Gifts, with a small team — myself, my shop manager, and our shipping manager — to pick out some amazing crystal treasures from across the globe. Big shows like this can be intimidating, so I’ve put together this helpful Tucson Gem Show Guide to use when attending!

Tucson Gem Show Guide - A Crystal Expert's Top Tips & Treasures

Last year, I wrote a short article with some Tucson Gem Show Tips and some helpful information about spotting crystal fakes, but with more and more people starting their own crystal shops (either in-person or online), I have been getting more questions than ever about how it all works! This year, I’ve broken down our entire experience into a handy Tucson Gem Show guide, to give you a look behind the curtain at the show, or help you plan your own trip!

 

2024 Tucson Gem Show Highlights:

Before we dig into the specifics of how to shop a show like Tucson, I thought I’d share some notable highlights from the 2024 show:

  • Favorite Crystal Find: Quartz with Epidote Druze from Turkey (Forest Epidote)
  • Best-Quality Gems: Garden Quartz from Brazil (it was off the charts this year!)
  • Most Unexpected Find: Brilliant cerulean Blue Opal from Peru
  • Most Expensive Thing: Weardale Fluorite from the UK
  • Best Value: Gorgeous Rainbow Petrified Wood Palm Stones
  • Most Beautiful Find: Rhodochrosite rosettes on Rhodochrosite and Quartz druze form Peru
  • Most Outrageous Fake: Composite Lepidolite made by binding together chips with plastic
  • Best Jewelry Item: HUGE Manifestation Quartz Pendants
  • Popular Trends: Interesting mineral specimens of all types (clusters are in!)
  • Declining Trends: Mass-produced towers of all types (multiple vendors reported a huge decline in sales)
  • Best New Vendor: From the Mines (Sustainable & Fair Trade Minerals)

And with that little wrap-up, let’s dig into our Tucson Gem Show strategy from start to finish!

Travel Planning for the Tucson Gem Show:

We usually start planning and preparations for the Tucson Show in November or December (the show begins in late January, so this gives us a month or two to make our plans). This is when we book our airfare, rental car, and house for our trip. There’s quite a bit to consider about each of these things when planning your travel…

Booking Airfare:

After many years of going to the show, we have learned to give ourselves as much space as possible with our flights to make the most of our time in Tucson. On the way out, we catch an early flight (the day before one of the biggest shows opens up), so we have time to settle in (more about that later). On the way home, however, we book a late afternoon flight so we have time to run any last-minute errands, squeeze in some extra shopping, and get to the airport with minimal stress and lots of time to spare.

I’d also highly recommend giving yourself extra space for any layovers you may have so you don’t miss your connecting flights. We missed our flight this year due to mechanical issues with our flight and got stuck overnight in Dallas (which was very expensive!).

Booking a Rental Car:

The Tucson Gem Show is one place where having a bigger vehicle comes in handy. We usually rent a small to mid-sized SUV so we have lots of space for hauling minerals and luggage. With 3 of us attending the show, we need the luggage space getting from the airport to our rented house, and there are always a couple of days when we shop so heavily that nearly every free inch of the car is filled with boxes of crystals. We typically rent a hybrid vehicle to save on gas, but a big car is a must for our little team.

Renting a House:

The first few years I went to the Tucson show, we stayed in a motel. Looking back I don’t know how we did it. It was cramped, impractical, and made it hard to enjoy our time at the show. Now, we rent a small house while visiting the show. We rent a different space each year which lets us get to know different parts of the city, but we try to keep it within a 15-minute drive of all of the hotel shows along the I-10. We also try not to get too close to the downtown area so we can avoid the heavy traffic in the mornings and evenings.

Renting a house has been a game-changer for us. We love having the little kitchen so we can prepare our own meals (which is not only fun for us at the end of the day, but it also saves us a lot of money compared to dining out). We also really like to choose a rental that has a small yard or patio so we can enjoy just a little bit of time outside – it’s a real treat to go from the cold Wisconsin winter to the desert and having a small space to enjoy during our off-work hours is perfect for us.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Rental:

Some of the most important things to consider when choosing a house rental for the Gem Show are:

  • Price: Is the rental within your budget? Travel expenses add up quickly, so be mindful of all of your other travel expenses when setting a budget for your lodging.
  • Location: How much time will you spend going back and forth between your rental and the shows? Choosing something centrally-located can save lots of time.
  • Comfort: How have other guests rated the space for noise, safety and security, and the comfort of the beds? We’ve stayed in some great places and some that were really awful. It’s important to remember that a good night’s sleep is even more important when you’re putting in very long days in the desert. With all the extra walking, decision fatigue from choosing crystals, and sore necks and backs from leaning over hundreds of tables all day, a comfortable space to retreat to at the end of the day is incredibly important.
  • Accessibility: Is the rental space on the ground floor or does it have elevator access? I once rented a space that was accessible only via 2 flights of stairs and it was exhausting carrying all of our heavy boxes of rocks up to the rental each day…learn from my mistake and definitely check the access to the space to be sure it will work for you. If the description of the space isn’t clear, contact the host or even look at some Google images of the space for a clearer understanding.

Shopping at the Tucson Gem Show and Mineral Show

Preparing for the Tucson Gem Show:

Getting Organized:

Starting in mid- to late-December, vendors begin sending email notices of where they’ll be located at the show and what they’ll offer. When these start to land in our inbox, we start a year-specific folder in our email for all things show-related so we can easily access them later on.

Making a Shopping List:

Preparing for the Gem Show coincides with the time we need to do the annual inventory for the shop, so while taking stock of what we have, we also make a list of what we need. We consider what we’d like to get more of in the coming year, and which items we’d like to discontinue.

From our past experiences, we’ve learned that going to the gem show with a strict shopping list doesn’t really work out because you just never know what you’re going to find there. So…we don’t bother trying to list every single thing we’d like to buy at the show. However, we do make a list of all of our tumbled stones so we can see exactly how much we have on hand of each type and we know what we need to buy.

This can still be a bit of a guessing game and we’re not always perfect at estimating how much we’ll need for a year’s supply, but we do our best. I know it would be easier to just restock things like tumbled stones by ordering online or out of a catalog, but we love picking our crystals out ourselves, even for something like tumbled stones, because it helps us ensure that we’re getting great quality stones, and often (though not always) gives us more insight into how our crystals were sourced.

Drafting an Itinerary:

This is where our email folder of vendor information comes in handy. Before we leave for the trip (or often on the plane ride out), we take a look at all of the vendors who have emailed us about the show…thinking about what we bought from them last year, whether or not we want to visit them again, and then mapping out the various show locations and where we plan to shop.

Coordinating show open times with the things we’d most like to purchase, and the vendors we’d like to support gets a little challenging, but we just do our best to make it all work. In the end, we often rely on intuition and gut feelings about how we should spend our time or where we should visit (since as much as we’d like to, we can’t go everywhere first). In the end, we just trust that we’ll find the things we were meant to bring back to the shop for our customers.

Packing for the GemShow:

This is one of the things I get asked about most frequently when it comes to preparing for the Gem Show, so I’m sharing my packing list here:

  • Weather-appropriate clothing (layers)
  • Comfortable Shoe options (sandals and walking shoes)
  • Sunscreen & Sunglasses
  • Travel Documents, Tickets, Itineraries, etc.
  • Masks, Covid Tests, and Hand Sanitizer
  • Medications & Toiletries (especially lotion and lip care)
  • Devices & Chargers
  • Coat, Gloves, Scarf, & Hat (if the weather forecast is cold)
  • ID (PLUS Paper Copy & Phone Photo for backup)
  • Small bag/purse
  • Water bottle
  • Packing tape
  • Plastic baggies – standard & mini
  • Sticky Notes
  • Permanent Markers
  • Scissors
  • Mini notepads & Pens
  • Portable Hand-Cart
  • Business cards
  • Rolling suitcase or backpack
  • Copies of reseller permit/Tax ID
  • Cash & Checks

Arriving in Tucson:

Once we arrive in Tucson, we pick up our rental car from the airport and head to our house rental to drop off our luggage and get settled in.

This year, the lovely shop manager at Mimosa (my crystal shop) created a meal plan for the week along with a grocery list (which was SUPER helpful). So after dropping our luggage at the house and getting our rooms sorted out, we headed over to the grocery store to purchase what we needed for the week. We have a good variety of things for breakfast, dinner, and some grab-and-go snacks that we can toss in our backpacks.

We usually tend to get lunch out as most of the shows now offer a variety of food trucks with lots of options for lunch (though we’ve done picnic-style packed lunches in the past, keeping things cool and fresh in the desert isn’t always easy, so if you don’t have food allergies or many dietary restrictions, you may want to consider getting lunches out as well). Lunch at a Gem Show food truck typically costs between $15-$20 per person, so if you plan to eat lunch out, be sure to budget for this.

The night we arrive in Tucson, we make a nice dinner for our little team, get ourselves unpacked in our rooms, and head to bed early for a good night’s rest before our first big shopping day!

Shopping at the Tucson Gem Show:

As a crystal shop owner, I would have loved access to my own Tucson Gem Show Guide when I first started attending this event, use these tips for shopping at the show to make the most of your experience as a buyer, and to avoid the pitfalls and challenges I faced in my early years, both at the show, and processing your purchases back at your store.

Selecting Vendors and Crystals:

We have developed great relationships with many of our vendors over the years, and we really value these connections. One of the biggest reasons we LOVE shopping at a huge show like the Tucson Gem Show is because we get the opportunity to buy directly from the people sourcing the material we carry. Supporting small family-owned or cottage-industry vendors allows us to offer the most unique and exciting material that may not be available from the bigger distributors! Plus, it often means that more of the money goes directly into the hands of the people who mined the stones (which we also love!).

Sourcing Ethical Crystals:

A big part of our goal with the show this year was to do more of our purchasing from these family-owned businesses and mining cooperatives. Wherever possible we try to purchase ethically-sourced crystals. The term “ethical” can mean different things to different people in relation to how minerals are sourced. The industry as a whole is seeing more demand for ethically-sourced material, but this has created an environment where lots of sellers (wholesalers and retailers alike) are using this term without much clarity on what it means.

There’s a LOT that goes into an “ethical” label for us, and we don’t use this term to describe our crystals unless they meet the following criteria:

  • No child labor was used to mine the crystals
  • Workers were paid fair wages for their work (this includes miners, cutting manufacturers, shippers, etc.)
  • Crystals were mined and processed with low environmental impact
  • Miners and polishers worked in safe conditions with proper equipment where their risk was minimized
  • BONUS – The sale of the crystals directly benefits the community where they were mined (like providing access to clean water, meals, education, etc.)

To learn more about ethical crystal sourcing, check out this interview with friend and crystal author Nicholas Pearson.

Ethical crystal sourcing is difficult work, but the more consumers and retailers demand accountability and ask questions about the sourcing of our crystals, the more it pushes the industry as a whole to create positive changes at every stage. Though we aren’t always certain of the origins of our minerals, we will always choose ethically-sourced materials when they’re available.

Shopping at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

Making Purchases at the Gem Show:

After all of our planning and preparation, it’s finally time to purchase some crystals! We head to our chosen show destination and begin the exciting process of browsing all of the amazing minerals. Although this is undoubtedly fun and enjoyable, it’s also a lot of hard work. We have to consider the mineral type, size, quality, price, sourcing, vendor minimums and variety, resale value, and loads of other factors when choosing the stones we purchase for the shop. If you’ve ever experienced decision-fatigue, the Gem Show will reveal this on a whole new level. But…it’s all worth it in the end.

Keeping Track:

When we make a purchase with a vendor there are a few things we take note of to help us more easily do our balance and accounting at the end of the day as well as price things once we get back to the shop:

  • Vendor’s name and location
  • Notes on ethical sourcing or other information of importance
  • Crystal name
  • Origin (where the material comes from)
  • Cost (this may be either per piece or by weight – typically per kilogram or per pound)
  • Quantity (how much we purchased by pieces or weight)
  • Payment method (cash, check, or credit card)

We note this down on the invoice (if the vendor has provided us with one), or if it’s just a cash and carry purchase, we write it down in our small notebooks. We also track any other purchases made that day in the little notebook (things like cash spent on parking, lunch, etc. can really add up, so it’s important to make note of these).

Payment Options:

It’s important to note that having cash for the show is very important. Since many vendors are international, they’ll only accept cash. Even with big advancements in mobile payment systems, many vendors still don’t take credit cards. We try to carry a variety of cash, (split up in lots of different places for safety), checks, and credit cards to give us lots of options for payment.

Keeping Your Purchases Safe:

Nearly always, the vendor will kindly wrap up our minerals for safe transport back to the house (sometimes they’re packed well enough to ship on our pallet back to the shop, but other times they’re only packed well enough for the short trip back to our house rental and will need to be re-packed once we get home that night). It may sound odd, but the best packing materials are toilet paper and paper towels, so we always make sure to pick up a big package of each at the grocery store.

On occasion, our purchase is quite large and we may need to leave our stones with the vendor while we continue to shop at the show. Most vendors are incredibly accommodating and let us come back at the end of the day to collect our items and load them into the car. We have learned that keeping the front page in our notebooks free for tracking pick-ups is super important (last year we forgot 4 orders and only realized after we got back to the shop, so I had to have a friend pick them up for me – that’s not a good feeling!).

Final Purchasing Notes:

Although these logistical things about purchasing crystals for the shop are important, our most important guiding principle when it comes to gem show shopping is “Only buy what we love.” The show is filled with an overwhelming amount of stones – you truly need to see it to believe it. And with all of those options, it’s all too easy to get swept up in the excitement and make purchases that fill you with buyer’s remorse later on (for any number of reasons). But by only buying what we truly love…what we feel called to…we’re always left feeling good about our crystal selections.

Tucson Gem Show Guide - A Crystal Expert's Top Tips & Treasures

Processing Crystal Purchases:

Sorting and checking:

Each night when we return home after shopping the shows, we unload the car into our rented house. We take a little break to make some dinner and rest a bit while we eat. When we feel ready, we clear our table (we like to choose a house rental with a HUGE dining room table so we have lots of work space), and we start to go through our purchases for the day.

We choose an order from the stack and find the corresponding invoice or little note in our notebook. It’s important we check to be sure we picked up everything on the invoice, and that we were charged correctly (we once had a vendor forget to charge us for over $5k of jewelry so we had to call to pay over the phone by credit card!). We make notes about the costs of our items so they’re easier for us to price once we get back to the shop.

Prepping for shipping:

We always make sure everything is wrapped and packed well for shipping it all home. Since we started using a pallet to ship out items, we have had little to no breakage of our items and we don’t have to wrap them quite as well as when we shipped individual boxes. Plus it’s a lot more cost-effective to send a pallet for the volume of crystals we buy for the shop compared to individual boxes. There are lots of little shipping outposts dotted around Tucson during this time, so finding dropoff locations is fairly easy and convenient. The most important thing when packing your boxes of stones is to be sure there’s no wiggle room left in the boxes…if everything is packed tightly and can’t shift around too much, it’s much more likely to make it home in one piece.

Tallying up:

At the end of the night, we tally up our purchases and ensure our remaining cash balances with what we spent. It seems we always spend the most on the very first day since there’s so much available. With each day, as we’ve made more purchases, we spend a little less since we’ve already purchased so much of what is widely available. Still, it always feels like a bit of a shock that first night when we tally up our spend for the day! It usually amounts to about 20%-25% of our total budget for the week. We repeat this process at the end of each day, packing and organizing our new-found treasures.

Tucson Gem Show Guide - A Crystal Expert's Top Tips & Treasures

Shipping the Crystals Home:

At the end of the week, we need to get everything back home. The day before our return flights, we load up the car with everything we’ve bought (which always seems to just barely fit), and we head to the ground freight shipping area to arrange for a pallet. We load our boxes onto the pallet and seal it up for shipping home.

This year, we ended up buying a bit more that afternoon (and the next morning before our return flight!), so we had to send just a couple of individual boxes home as well.

We keep all of our tracking numbers organized and sign up for text updates about their journey from Tucson back to Madison – the anticipation of their arrival is always hard to manage. We usually get home nearly a week before the first boxes begin to arrive and we can’t wait to open up the boxes and see everything! The week spent shopping becomes a blur by the second or third day, so it’s always a bit of a surprise opening up the boxes and seeing what’s in there!

Unpacking and Processing the Crystals:

Once our pallet and boxes arrive at the shop, there’s a bit of a frenzy! The shop team is excited to see all the new treasures, and since our shop is small, the Tucson crystal unpacking party always seems to take over a little corner of the shop. Curious customers get a little sneak peek at what’s coming, and we begin the long process of unpacking and pricing our crystals.

Box by box, we open things up, carefully unwrap them, and sort out our packing materials. We like to try to re-use what we can for shipping out orders (reduce, reuse, recycle is the name of the game!).

As we open the stones, we sort them into flats by type, review the costs for each item, and price them. We always try to keep our prices fair for our customers and this is based on a formula we’ve been using for years based on each item’s cost. We label the crystals, along with their origin, and start to arrange them on our shelves (which, by this time of year are usually quite empty since it’s been so long since the last show!).

It’s a LOT of work, but something I look forward to each and every year.

Selling the Crystals Online and at Our Shop:

Picking out all the new treasures at the Gem Show is an amazing experience, but I equally adore the joy I feel seeing them go to their new homes. The excitement from our customers, both in the shop and online during Mimosa’s bi-weekly live crystal sales, makes me so feel happy and proud of our little team!

It is such an honor to get to connect folks with the stones that bring them so much healing, energetic support, and joy. I’m incredibly grateful for our amazing customers who support us both in our bricks-and-mortar shop as well as online.

Making the most of face-to-face:

This is always a fun time of year because our local customers seem to pop back every couple of days to see what’s new on the shelves. I love watching someone’s face light up when they find a crystal they’ve been looking for, or when they see something new that they’ve never even seen before.

And although we don’t quite get that same experience with our online customers, our live online sales come pretty close. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, our little team used the extra time and space to list crystals on our website regularly, but now that our shop opens daily, we don’t have the same ability to add new items to our website as easily as before.

So to continue to be able to surprise and delight our customers who live abroad, we offer twice monthly live crystal sales where we can showcase our unique finds. It’s one of the things I most look forward to because I get to gather together with other crystal lovers, show off the things we’ve found at the show, and share a bit about the stones’ properties, origins, and fun facts! Plus, our whole team enjoys matching up our customers with their dream crystals – it’s a ton of fun.

Tucson Gem Show Guide - A Crystal Expert's Top Tips & Treasures

Wrapping Up:

I hope this article has been fun and educational for you and that it gave you a little peek behind the curtain of what it’s like to go shopping at the Gem Show for a little crystal shop like mine.

I’ve been going to the show for over 15 years now and it is still such an exciting experience each year.

I hope that my Tucson Gem Show Guide has provided some helpful tips or insights. Each person and each shop will have their own approach and tips for the show — so if you have something you’d like to share or offer with the crystal community, I’d love for you to comment below.

Crystal blessings and happy shopping!

Tucson Gem Show Guide - A Crystal Expert's Top Tips & Treasures

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