Sailing, Selling on the High Seas

Cruise Ships – Discovering a New Retail Market

I have been on many business trips before but I never imagined that I would be looking at the ocean out of my window while dressing for work.   But, after being recruited to sell Native American jewelry by a European firm that specializes in cruise retailing, that was the view out of the window (or should I say porthole).

The trips include both selling as well as educating travelers on board about my specialty; Native American jewelry. My destinations include Alaska 5 times, the Northeast United States & Canada twice and once to the Caribbean. Vessels include the Oceania Regatta, Crystal Symphony, Regent Navigator and now the Regent Mariner, all of which are 6 star passenger ships that cater to a sophisticated clientele. For those who have not cruised before, the ships are essentially floating hotels featuring restaurants, lounges, a spa, beauty salon, fitness center, movie theater and more…including at least one boutique offering jewelry. This is where I come in.

How does it work? My contact sends me a complete annual listing of where in the world the ships are sailing, and I am free to choose any destination. Once I make the selection my contact sends a request for a cabin to the ship. Because I am not a paying passenger I am not guaranteed a cabin, and accept that I could be bumped at the last moment. When my cabin is requested I begin to make preparations which include product selection, updated Power Point presentation, creating Customs documents and securing travel arrangements, like flights and hotel for the night before the ship sets sail. I am invited to board the ship before the general boarding as I have to unpack and set up the show so it is ready when the ship leaves the dock on the first night.

Meeting new people and unveiling the items for the first time is thrilling. Departure night is typically very festive and beautiful as champagne is flowing and guests are excited. This is also the time that numerous crew members stop by to greet me and welcome me as one of them, for the duration of the sailing. It has been extremely interesting to see the ship life from the point of view of crew and yet have all access to the amenities, as a guest.

Cruise ship marketing offers an opportunity to experience new destinations, new friends and luxurious accommodations. While I am not saying there wasn’t a vacation component to the trips, it is also a lot of work. At sea I am encouraged to be in the boutique guarding and selling my merchandise from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on sea days – those days when you are not pulling into a port. On the days we were in port the shop was closed and I was able to get off the ship and enjoy the excursions, shopping and land activities like any passenger. But, since the shop opens 30 minutes after sailing, I had to report to work while everyone else was headed in for a nap!

Each time I was able to leave the ship I made it a point to contact members of the local Native community. I did some research before arriving at each destination and had the opportunity to develop new relationships along the way. For instance, I visited totem pole carver Tommy Joseph in Sitka, AK and have remained in communication with him. I will be in his studio on Friday.

The Sundance Gallery’s mission is to promote Native American arts. Cruise ship selling is a perfect venue to bring that mission to new people. Since shopping is a key aspect to the vacation experience, the guests are looking for items that are unique and memorable to take home for themselves, as well as souvenirs for others. Native American jewelry is among the most distinctive and beautiful jewelry in the world, and I am happy to say that hundreds of my pieces have found new homes.  And, those pieces are traveling all around the world. Awesome.

Update January 2014 - a note from a guest on the Crystal...

I loved your blog about selling on a cruise ship and am reminded how you were the BEST part of my Crystal Symphony cruise.

I still love all the pieces I bought from you!!!
Let me know if you ever need a companion to join you when you are shopping with Native Americans.  I would love to know more about the art of their work.
Happy New Year!
Sue