The Giving Business

Pendleton Woolen Mills: The Suwanee Stripe blanket is a tribute to the artistry of Seminole Native American women. penwool.com

Pendleton Woolen Mills: The Suwanee Stripe blanket is a tribute to the artistry of Seminole Native American women. penwool.com

By David Gill

Change is in the air as the winter versions of the New York International Gift Fair and Gift & Home Textiles Market Week take place this month in New York City.

The winter Gift Fair will be the first for the new ownership of GLM, the show’s owner and manager. Last September, Providence Equity Partners completed its deal to acquire the trade-show company from Daily Mail and General Trust. Charles McCurdy, formerly CEO at trade-show producer Canon Communications, has stepped in to take the CEO role at GLM.

The winter NYIGF “will be a great way for the new ownership to learn about the business very quickly,” said Dorothy Belshaw, NYIGF’s director and senior vice president of GLM. “They are looking to expand the business with acquisitions that make sense with the current business model. It will be an interesting time for GLM going forward.”

The business model at 7 W New York—which, along with 230 Fifth Ave., serves as the venue for Gift & Home Textiles Market Week—is transforming as well as the winter market debuts. “We’re taking a much more focused, business-like approach to market week,” said Chris Collins, general manager, 7 W New York. “We’re doing more to support the showrooms’ business side, helping them to support new product introductions with Facebook and Twitter e-blasts to focus buyers on specific tenants or product launches.”

The tenants and the products are where the spotlight should shine during markets, according to Collins. “It’s not about the building,” he said. “The buyers are going to come for the brands that are within the building, not for the building itself. We still market our parties and amenities, but the more important message is what the tenants are doing.”

The focus at 7 W New York has also changed in terms of attendee head counts. “I’m not focused on bringing more people,” Collins said. “I’m focused on productivity rather than numbers. If you talked to me seven years ago, I would have had a different focus. Now it’s more important for me to bring stronger buyers here to spend more than to bring in new buyers.”

Collins said he expects attendance during the market to rise by single digits, given that specialty stores rather than major chains constitute the larger share of attendees. “This is a tough area of the business,” he said. “The population has been shrinking steadily.”

Both Belshaw and Collins said attendees and exhibitors are approaching the concurrent events on a wave of optimism that has carried from the latter part of 2011 into this year. In the run-up to the Gift Fair, “smaller retailers I have spoken to had a good fourth quarter,” Belshaw said. She predicted that attendance at this winter Gift Fair would top its customary 34,000.

Belshaw added that “there is more optimism than three months ago, when consumer confidence was down. They were doing a lot of reordering for delivery before Christmas. From the standpoint of the show, we saw exhibitors that had left the show sign up again.”

The optimism at 7 W New York is somewhat more cautious. “Our final five months (of 2011) were extraordinary in terms of attendance at the markets,” Collins said. However, he added, “it may not start with the fireworks that early 2011 had. Everybody had a great market season as far as their business went in January, February and March of last year. Then it flattened out after that.”

At NYIGF, Belshaw said, the textiles and tabletop categories should lead the way in terms of interest from attendees. “Consumers are really very interested in home decor when they’re not buying or building homes,” she said. “They want to refresh what their homes look like. I also think the show will present a much stronger and deeper selection of home products than five years ago.”

The housewares category is also expected to draw a large number of attendees, and this is partially thanks to the inclusion of the Gourmet Housewares Show at last summer’s Gift Fair. “Many of the participating exhibitors in the Gourmet Housewares section had a strong show in the summer,” Belshaw said. “They reached new channels, and they want to maintain that contact, so they have signed up for the winter show.”