By Allison Zisko
Ambiente’s global reach, the window it provides into other cultures and cuisines, and its reputation as a trend incubator have cemented its position as one of the most important international shows for tabletop and housewares executives.
The trade fair, which takes place in Frankfurt, Germany Feb. 11-15, has grown as an international event in the housewares category, and has evolved as a critical platform for both tabletop and housewares vendors eager to expand globally.
“It gives us an opportunity to compete in an international arena,” said Sal Gabbay, president of Gibson. It takes time to build a long-term international sales strategy, according to Gabbay, but Frankfurt is a good place to do it. The show has “amazing scope,” he said, and is known for design and innovation.
“In Frankfurt, medium-sized companies meet corporate giants while small to medium-sized dealers have access to an international spectrum of products,” said Thomas Kastl, director of dining for show owner and organizer Messe Frankfurt. “Ambiente offers unparalleled insights into the market and is a platform for the all-important three-nation business where, for example, Americans purchase from the French, and vice versa, here in Germany.”
The fair’s housewares segment has expanded in recent years, particularly in areas like small electrics, increasing its appeal.
“As many other European shows have either disappeared or become local or more niche, it looks like Frankfurt Ambiente has become the ‘all including’ housewares show in Europe,” said Thomas Perez, president of Bodum USA, which introduced an electrics line in Frankfurt last year that will expand, along with barbecue items, at this year’s show. “If you go to Frankfurt, you will find it all—so [there is] no reason to travel to three, four or five different shows that almost show the same products, just in a smaller scale.”
Tabletop manufacturer Villeroy & Boch, which is headquartered in Germany, uses Ambiente as a launch pad for new collections, including a “significant” expansion to its best-selling New Wave dinnerware line this month. It, like many other exhibitors, views the show as means of expanding globally.
“We continue to focus on global growth through several targets, including the expansion of our hotel and restaurant business, the strengthening of retail stores and eShops, and specific growth plans for each core region,” said Bernard Reuter, president of the company’s American tableware division. “We see great growth potential in China, Russia, Mexico and the Persian Gulf states.”
While China and India represent the two consumer markets with the greatest growth potential, several Ambiente exhibitors have additional parts of the globe in mind.
“While everybody talks about the rapidly growing consumer market in China, our high-quality niche products find new customers in old markets as well as newly emerging ones,” said Monika Schnacke, chief executive officer of Frieling, which focuses mainly on the U.S. market but exports to Israel, Europe, Asia and South America.
Last year Lenox formed an international division with offices in Hanover, Germany, and Milan, Italy; named new distributors for Russia and the United Kingdom and Ireland; and opened a warehouse in central Germany to service all of Europe and the Middle East. “In the past, Lenox had very little presence in Europe,” said Ottmar Kuesel, president of Lenox’s international division. “With our new initiative we feel confident we can develop the European market. In addition we recently expanded distribution into China.”
Exhibitors are enthusiastic about their prospects at the show this year. Many said they expected an improvement over last year’s show.
“My expectations are high,” said Steve White, vice president of sales and marketing for Kuhn Rikon. “Ambiente is the first major show of the year where we have pushed our design and manufacturing team to have our new products ready to show instead of waiting for the International Home & Housewares Show [in March]. We have a lot of important customers who come to our stand.”
Ambiente’s reputation for fashion and trend leadership attracts high-ranking retail executives and sparks serious discussions about quality and style, according to Gabbay. “For retailers who want to be ahead of the game, it’s a must-go,” he said.—David Gill and Andrea Lillo contributed to this story.