The Gift of Product

       

       

By David Gill

Both consumers and retailers have a wary eye on the economy and their circumstances—but the mood at this month’s New York International Gift Fair and Gift & Home Textiles Market Week is optimistic.

The Gift Fair will take place at its traditional locations—New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and Passenger Ship Terminal Piers 92 and 94. The Gift & Home Textiles Market Week will be located, as usual, at 7 W New York and 230 Fifth Ave. in New York City. Both markets are scheduled for Aug. 12-18.

Illustrating the upbeat mood, as of mid-July, attendee and exhibitor numbers were in fine form, according to GLM, the show’s owner and manager. “We’re ahead in both areas in preregistrations of both February and August of last year,” said Dorothy Belshaw, NYIGF director and GLM senior vice president. “We have a number of divisions that are sold out. In fact, we haven’t had this many divisions sold out a month out.”

The textiles section in particular has seen an enthusiastic response, Belshaw said. “Textiles is sold out for the first time in several shows,” she said. “It will be a very strong presentation with expansions in several current exhibitors and new companies coming in.”

One of the manufacturers that is enlarging its exhibit space is Sferra, a long-standing exhibitor which has always had a prominent space, and which is celebrating its 120th anniversary in business. “We’ve added 20 feet to our booth and spent over $85,000 upgrading and refurbishing it,” said Paul Hooker, Sferra’s president. “We have major new introductions including some very fun, festive items that we feel will be show stoppers. I don’t think we have ever been more excited about a New York gift show.”

Across town at 7 W, Chris Collins, the showroom building’s vice president and general manager, has taken heart from the activity at recent shows elsewhere in the country. “The mood in Dallas (at the Dallas Total Home & Gift Market in June) was extraordinarily positive,” said Collins, who attended that show. “The buying was active but cautious. So I’m very positive going into the New York markets.”

Collins also believes the New York markets have the loyalty of retailers on their side. “Buyers have been coming here forever,” he said. “I really believe there is allegiance to the New York shows historically.”

Collins also said that, given the continuation of the economy’s struggles with high unemployment and commodity prices, retailers will approach the New York markets in a wary mood. “The cautiousness factor among retailers is stronger and stronger,” he said. “Retailers will be less likely to spread their dollars around and will stick with vendors that they trust. But the beauty of the gift industry is its flexibility. The influx of fashion is keeping it alive.”

One added feature—the return of the Gourmet Housewares Show as a new section in the Gift Fair—is expected to help all of the trade-show venues in New York City. This show will return after an absence of one year (see separate story on the Gourmet Housewares Show in the housewares section).

“The independent specialty gourmet channel has attended NYIGF in the past, but I think we’re hoping to drive more traffic for these retailers from outside the New York region,” Belshaw said. “It will help other areas of the gift fair such as kitchen textiles, casual tabletop and gift areas with specialty foods. It will be helpful because these stores are creating merchandise stories about cookware and serveware that go with these other categories.”

The Gourmet Show should also help in other parts of the city. “I think the Gourmet Show will help 7 W,” Collins said. “It’ll create some enthusiasm and intrigue. It’s always been difficult to pull people out of the Gift Fair, but we’ll be a few percentage points up.”

Whether these shows will point to stronger business looking ahead remains open to question, however. The economy’s stagnation remains a sticking point for the gift trade. “The recent high unemployment figures coupled with our debt crisis is spooking the economy again,” Hooker said, “so, as usual, customers will be looking for great value and quality from us. Not price—quality and value.”

Consumers’ cautiousness will continue to rule the gift marketplace going into the all-important fourth quarter. “It’s almost alarming,” Collins said. “Anyone who’s been in businesses related to this is asking, ‘Where is it all going to end?’ I’m not sure if anyone knows that.”

The holidays could spur some extra business, as they do every year, but even here the outlook is doubtful. Belshaw said, “Five or six years ago, retailers were buying large chunks of inventory every six months. Now they are not buying as deeply. They are waiting to see how certain brands perform. They are also looking for new products that they can turn around quickly.”