From specialty events devoted to one product sector – food, greeting cards, housewares, toys, you name it – to giant exhibitions covering everything bar the kitchen sink, there are many miles of aisles to be pounded before we sleep in this trade.
Those aching backs and sore feet are sort of worth the pain when you discover a beautiful new product that you know will delight your customers and, hopefully, keep profit margins high while the shelves are looking swish. For looking, swish, incidentally, it’s worth turning an eye towards the delightful Mercy Jewellery, whose rough crystal gems are mini masterpieces.
Over the past few months we’ve scoured the halls at Harrogate, Autumn Fair, Top Drawer and Glee to see what’s hot and find some lifestyle inspiration for the season ahead. Each show brought its own particular strengths and highlights.
Unbelievably hot weather was the hallmark of Harrogate, surely one of the nicest places we can do business in this trade. We also found that the layout had improved, with greeting cards prominently displayed between the Design Point marquees and the Majestic Hotel. The show also boasted a great seminar programme via the Great Northern Retail Forum, where invaluable advice, hints and tips were dished out by experts from across the board.
With its heart-of-England home at The NEC, Birmingham, Autumn Fair benefits from both a convenient location and the big business orders that come with the territory of such a large, well-established event. Lighting was prominent at this year’s exhibition, thanks to phase two of a partnership with the Lighting Industry Association, which perfectly complemented the flourishing home interiors and furniture sectors at the UK’s biggest seasonal trade show.
Autumn Fair was also very strong on the general giftware front, with many of the UK’s biggest suppliers launching thousands of in-stock items for Christmas alongside early previews of Spring 2017 ranges. Home fragrances were in plentiful supply as the boom in this product category shows no sign whatsoever of slowing down.
Growing rather than slowing was the fantastic range of integrated indoor growing equipment by Japanese homeware designer, Akarina (right). If these things aren’t a harbinger of things to come then nothing is, as the government-endorsed trend for urban gardening builds to a crescendo from playground to nursing home and every age group in between..
Top Drawer, meanwhile, had noticeably shifted up a gear in the style stakes as new show director Alejandra Campos puts her glamorous mark on the London Olympia event. Beautiful greeting cards abounded, like those pictured here from Chase & Wonder, which we loved. The raised bar in greetings was partly thanks to the incorporation of Paperfest, while the Home section has matured into a captivating showcase for the design-led side of this industry.
Hard to top on the design front was London-based designer Josie Shenoy, whose wonderful artwork has won her an illustrious clientele that includes the British Museum, Anthropologie, the Design Museum, Houses of Parliament, Somerset House and Marks &n Spencer amongst others. Josie displayed some of the most beautiful card illustrations we’ve ever seen.
Indeed, excellence of design was a theme that ran throughout all sections of Top Drawer and we were spoiled for choice on all fronts. One company that really stunned our senses was Côte Noire, supplier of luxury candles and diffusers in a sensational array of fragrances. Definitely our main stopping off point of the show!
Bespoke gift manufacturer Custom Works had an eye-catching stand featuring legendary artist Frida Kahlo and we also loved these ingeniously designed Fruit Tiers (below right), which don’t come cheap but are sourced and produced entirely in the UK and have already generated quite a following in the higher end housewares sector.
Then it was onto Glee, by far the most important trade exhibition for the garden centre trade and horticultural retailing in general. An enjoyable event for anyone with an interest in gardening, Glee also boasted a first class seminar programme alongside its great mix of exhibitors, with Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins rubbing shoulders with Irish gardener and TV presenter Diarmuid Gavin.
Some great greeting cards were also in evidence at the show, as medium to large publishing houses increasingly target this lucrative and important market segment for greetings products. UK Greetings, The Great British Card Company and Abacus were noticeable, as was German gift and stationery manufacturer, Depesche.
More lovely gifting options were showcased in the Innovators section, including the new product award winning Pot Pals right). We were also impressed by the super eco-friendly food waste disposal gadget by Smart Cara. Odourless, noiseless and simple to use, we think this is a functional household winner.