Show producers optimistic heading in to new year

As show producers across the country gear up for what is expected by many to be a break-out year for the giftware industry, we were fortunate to connect with some of the key stakeholders at these industry-leading shows to discuss their views and plans for 2017.

We reached out to a number of stake holders and were able to connect with Dorothy Belshaw, President of International Market Centers, L.P.; Christina Bell David and Lisa Glosson, both Vice Presidents of the Gift and Souvenir Divisions at Urban Expositions; Scott Kramer, Show Director for NY NOW and Vice President of Emerald Expositions; Cindy Morris, President and CEO of Dallas Market Center; and Melanie Beck, Director of the Rocky Mountain Gift Show.

We posed three questions to each of them on topics we thought both retailers and manufacturers might be interested to read about from the unique perspective of these successful show producers.

Q: What are you most optimistic about in the gift industry heading in to the new year?

DB –Creativity and innovation are prevalent in the industry right now.  There is an energy and optimism that is refreshing as vendors enrich their lines and buyers shop across categories and extend their assortments. The growth of the maker movement and renewed emphasis on made in America are bringing story-telling to retail and are driving mainstream customer interest. The kitchen is driving gift-giving as more and more consumers choose housewares that marry form and function.  And I love that paper is making a comeback with the rise of journaling, letter-press cards, books and stylish desk accessories.

CBD/LG – We’re very optimistic about small business and independent/specialty retail in particular. These retailers faced a number of challenges –from the economy to the internet – and continue to survive and even thrive.  They are constantly finding new ways to stay relevant in their communities with creative marketing, merchandising, in-store events and more.   They’re embracing many of the key product areas we’re focused on growing in our own trade shows – like Made in America, Eco-friendly, Fair Trade—and constantly keeping things fresh and new for their customers.

We’re also very optimistic about the continued growth of our trade shows.  Retailers know that these shows are about so much more than product.  In addition to the chance to discover, touch and feel those great new best-sellers, they know that this is the place to network, share ideas, spot new trends.  In a time where rapid advances in technology often make people feel disconnected, retailers know that our shows are all about relationships – the place where they can share ideas with other retailers, meet with their sales reps and recharge themselves and refresh store shelves for the coming business quarters.

SK – The gift and home industries attract the most creative people and throughout 2016, we saw many great new companies entering the wholesale market with well-designed products.  It’s exciting for us at NY NOW to see young new companies bringing fresh ideas to market.

CM – Many of the outstanding questions and the uncertainty that plagued 2016 will be put to rest so I am most optimistic about getting back to business with a level of confidence we have not had recently. That being said, our marketplace is located in the strongest economic zone in the country so we will continue to see relative strength in attracting new retail and wholesale customers and better retail sales. Inside Dallas Market Center, among our hundreds of gift showrooms, we will see key expansions and new resources by prominent multi-line showrooms such as Portico so we are extremely optimistic that improved supply will meet growing demand.

MB – I believe with the election being over, more exhibitors and buyers will begin to look forward to growing their businesses. Exhibitors/manufacturers will have more support and opportunities in building their companies and more customers will have stronger buying power.

Q: What tips might you give your showroom partners for success?

DB – Keep assortments fresh, new introductions and updates of best-sellers drive sales, outreach to existing customers and new prospects prior to market helps them plan their time and manage open to buy, follow up all leads aggressively after market.  Many buyers will place or confirm the majority of their orders in the weeks following market.  Make sure that you are still top of mind.  Take advantage of opportunities that are offered through market organizers and the media.  Offer and promote show specials to drive orders!

CBD/LG – We have a number of tips for our exhibitors to help them make the most of their participation in our shows:

Start Early – Book your space, plan you booth design, complete the various shipping/equipment/order forms and start spreading the word about your participation to your customers as early as you can.  This way you have more time closer to the show to reinforce your customer marketing messages and booth strategy to make the most of the show. Also, and this is very important, set measurable goals so you can track your ROI.

Be A Marketing Partner – The more ways we all get the word out about the shows, the better they will be for everyone.  Urban offers a wide range of free promotional tools that exhibitors can use to promote their participation, ranging from free invitations and stickers, custom-branded landing pages and more. We also offer countless cost-effective sponsorship and advertising opportunities that give companies a number of innovative ways to build their brand and booth traffic.  So we encourage our exhibitors to be sure to study our “marketing tool kits” to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.

Make Appointments – This one is important.  Try to get as many firm appointments with your key customers as possible.  Retailers have so much to see and so little time, so make sure you’re on their buying schedule before they arrive on show site.

Own Your Display – Use your booth displays to show buyers how to showcase your products in their stores in ways that promise to attract attention and sales.

Follow-Up ­— Post show follow-up is perhaps the most important  — and most often missed step —  in the show participation process.  You need to follow-up with the leads you get at show as soon as possible – while your product, company and conversations are still fresh in the customer’s mind.

SK – There are several things that exhibitors can do to make the most of their NY NOW experience in 2017. Always present your product line in a cohesive and coherent manner, making sure to highlight what is new in your offering.  In addition, light your display well and be sure you “pop out” in the aisle so that buyers notice you right away.  Customer service is what separates you from your competitors, be sure to differentiate yourself from everyone else.

CM – Provide more unique products. I have personally visited hundreds of retailers over the past two years, and when I ask them what helps them stay ahead of their competition it’s the new and unique products they find at market.

Connect with your customers year-round. And that means not merely stopping by or giving them a call every few months but also utilizing email and social media to keep the information flowing across all channels every week.

Reevaluate your product mix. The gift store of today and the showroom of today is not the same as even five years ago. Audit your best retailers and even your showroom competition to see what works.

Take a chance. Just like with an investment portfolio, leave room in your mix for offerings that are more risky but with the potential for bigger rewards.

Consider a new category. Specialty stores are now boutique lifestyle experiences so make sure to consider adding a new category such as fashion or gourmet or personal care to help create a potential new revenue stream. You might be surprised.

MB – 1) Take advantage of all marketing opportunities provided by the Rocky Mountain Gift Show

a) Place your product ads in the show directory

b) Request a customized buyers lists and promotional postcards.

c) Provide product photos for digital marketing.

d) Purchase a display table and onsite signage

e) Participate in show events.

2) Promote new, as well as existing products.

Buyers attend a trade show to see new products.  For exhibitors who have longevity and are known for their specific lines, it’s still imperative to add new products to capture buyers’ attention.

3)  Generate new customers and prospective leads.

Many new buyers have fulfilled their dream of opening their own unique shops and come to gift trade shows to find products that reflect their vision of what their customers are looking for.   Engage in conversation with buyers that come into your booth.  Don’t sit in the corner of your booth looking down at your mobile device.  You will miss opportunities to talk with buyers.  Greet buyers as they walk by your booth.  Ask them how you can help their store be successful.  Some buyers need time to think about their purchases, so it’s important to follow-up with them after the show.  Your follow-up call shows buyers that you remember them as being special.

4)  Solidify relationships with current customers.

Book appointments with your current customers before the show!  The benefit of participating in a gift trade show is that you can be face-to-face with buyers and build relationship to last through the years.  Amazon and other on-line buying websites cannot build relationships.  Customers/buyers love when you remember their names, what their store carries, and any other information about themselves.  Reconnecting with current customers also provides the opportunity to update any information that has changed, for example, changes in mailing addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, websites, etc.  Solidifying relationships with current customers also makes conducting business more between friends than between companies.

5)  Stay on top of the latest Gift Industry Trends.

It’s important to know what drives buyers to purchase one product over another.  I’ve seen a shift in the preference of merchandise.  As mentioned above, store owners are looking for unique merchandise to sell in their stores.  Made in America and handcrafted merchandise is growing in favoritism with buyers because it enables them to find unique merchandise.

6)  Gain competitor insight.

Make friends with your competitors and learn from each other’s successes and failures.  Learn what shows your competitors go to that have helped their business grow, because it may be good for you too.   Many so-called competitors aren’t really competitors.  You may both manufacture a similar product, such as jewelry, but you both have your own unique designs which makes you different from each other.  Knowledge is the key to success, so feel free to share it.

Q: What tips or suggestions might you offer retailers coming to your shows in 2017, to help them find success?

DB – Take time in the 4-6 weeks before market to really look through the website (and follow social media feeds) and plan your visit.  LVMKT Permanent showroom and temporary exhibits expand significantly market to market and most buyers don’t leave enough time to cover the market or enough open to buy to be able to take full advantage.  Reach out to vendors of interest in advance and set appointments to maximize your time with them.  Review seminar offerings and make time to hear from industry leaders and trend experts to help strengthen your business.

CBD/LG – Use Show Management Marketing Tools To Plan Ahead –We encourage buyers to use the advance informational tools we provide on our show websites and in our mail pieces – travel/housing services, exhibitor listings, new exhibitor lists, show floorplans, general show event roster– to help map out their schedule and to take advantage of everything the show makes available to them.

Walk The Entire Show –Filled with top name brands, emerging artists and innovative newcomers, our shows vary in size, scale and profile, but they’re all completely manageable.  We encourage buyers to try to walk the entire show – to not rule out a certain product sector or aisle because they think it might not apply to their business.  You never know where that next bestseller will be!

Support Your Regional Shows  – The vital ‘shop local’ movement that is so important to retailers and their communities also holds true for regional gift shows. By supporting and shopping your regional gift shows, you’re doing more than just saving on travel, reducing your carbon footprint, keeping dollars in your own region and supporting your local sales reps. you’re also contributing to the future growth and success of the show itself – which offers tremendous benefits to your business.

Attend Free Seminars – Here at Urban we offer free seminars at many of our shows where we bring in industry experts, fellow retailers and other leaders to cover everything from marketing and branding to merchandising and trend forecasts.  These programs are a great way to gather practical, hands-on advice and tips you can take back and put to work in your store immediately.

Join The Conversation — Be sure to join a trade show’s various social media channels.  It’s a great way to discover new products, share ideas and have some fun along the way.

SK – Preparation is paramount to a successful market experience, so we recommend that buyers plan ahead and use resources such as the online directory and other marketing materials sent out from NY NOW that highlight products you are looking for.  Walk areas of the market that you might not think of, because there are always treasures that you will discover that you wouldn’t have thought of.  Look for uniqueness because finding these products will differentiate you from other retailers.  Finally, take good notes so that you can follow up with companies after the market.

CM – Only in Dallas will buyers experience the best array of products, the highest number of new resources, and the most efficient marketplace experience. Success comes from planning ahead and making sure you take advantage of each of these opportunities. Before you come to Dallas, do your homework to see what we will have on display: many of our rep groups have 10, 20, 30 or more lines in their rooms and they are extremely customer-focused. Also seek out the new: before or during market look into what will be new or unexpected in Dallas and plan to visit new resources. For example, I know of one showroom with more than 400 new products for January. Connect with us over social media so we can provide ideas and inspiration and a community for sharing. Finally, plan your travel with our Market Travel team to save money and then plan each day so that you work market efficiently across all four buildings including the temps.

MB – We are a regional show, so you will easily be able to see all the new and existing vendors in less time.   Spend more time having face-to-face conversations with local businesses and exhibitors, learning about new trends and product lines.

It’s easy to fly into DIA (Denver International Airport) and only 30 minutes away! Centrally located near downtown Denver and close to the Rocky Mountains!  Rocky Mountain Gift Show attendees also receive hotel deals!

You will find more unique handcrafted and one-of-a-kind merchandise for your store. Visit our exhibitors who have been showing at the Rocky Mountain Gift show for over 20 years, plus see all the new exhibitors bringing in their fresh ideas and products.

We offer fun networking events that provide the opportunity to meet new, smaller, and start-up exhibitors, sharing ideas with colleagues, and learn marketing strategies.

We’ll use their first and last name initials as identifiers for the responses.