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Newness Trades Briskly at NY Int'l Gift Fair

Brent Felgner -- Home Textiles Today, February 6, 2006

New York — In the continuing struggle against stale, and the never-ending search for new customers and merchandise — incremental business — the New York International Gift Fair has become the perfect bazaar to tap into someone else's business.

Furniture retailers walk the show looking to move deeper into gifts or home textiles. Gift shop owners seek to add some table linens or home accents. And home textiles retailers try to go well “beyond” the usual gift things — perhaps discovering a bath toy, a decorative accessory or even a new bedding, linen or throw resource.

And little wonder: with 650,000 square feet of exhibit space covering two floors and a pair of piers, about 2,800 exhibitors and, most important, more than 40,000 buyers wandering the aisles, the Gift Fair is nothing less than a vast treasure hunt.

This show comfortably accommodates nearly everyone, it seems. The retailers are mostly independents — single-store operators and small chains — although there are some larger retailers, like Bloomingdale's, walking the floor. It's mostly upmarket goods, although there is no shortage of products suitable for the middle market.

It's clearly style- and design-driven, but a bit of the humdrum keeps it grounded. The Gift Fair plays to nearly everyone — but just as clearly doesn't cater to mass merchants or the big boxes. If Wal-Mart, Target or Bed Bath & Beyond were prowling, their presence was more discreet than usual.

Instead, many exhibitors spoke of “boutiques” and “shops,” as well as better department stores. For many it represents a core event on their trade show calendars.

“This really is our best and most important show. We use it to launch our major introductions for the year,” offered Patricia Holley, national sales manager for Area, a New York-based home textiles company.

Area was showing four beds and multiple designs, including Stitch, an asymmetrical design, and Plaza, with a geodesic feel.

“This is always a great show for us,” offered John Rose, president of Textillery Weavers, Bloomington, Ind.

Textillery showed an extensive line of throws that may have approached a couple of hundred SKUs. “We have to show a lot of SKUs because [the styles] are always so well received” by the retailers walking the show, who also respond well to the breadth of the line, Rose said.

Dwell, New York, was also using the gift fair to introduce several limited edition bedding lines directed specifically at the retail trade classes walking the show, according to spokesman Lauren DeRosa. The first DwellEdition styles will remain in the line for just a year and be limited to runs of only several hundred each, she said. The company also introduced new table linens and broadened its DwellBaby offerings.

Amy Kallman Epstein, president of The Straight Edge, which was highlighted in the Museum area of the floor, was showing new SKUs in the company's vinyl placemats as well as introducing vinyl bath toys — play books with pullout objects.

“We're almost everywhere,” at retail, she noted, and the Gift Fair offered still newer retail channels and accounts.

By and large, the retailers attending the Gift Fair are interested in hearing a quality story from the vendors, explained Joanne Whatley, sales coordinator for Malabar Grove, E. Providence, R.I.

“We did great. We saw almost all of the accounts we needed to see” and attracted considerable new business, she said.

Clearly the gift show is also a venue for suppliers seeking alternatives to the mass marketplace. A company like Philadelphia-based India Overseas, which makes a range of table linens and rugs, has opted for the personal contact of independent retailers and for a comfortable margin instead of huge volume accounts, said Richard Lisk, national sales manager.

“This show is wonderful for finding these retailers from all over the country, but you absolutely must follow-up with them,” Lisk explained. “They expect you to reciprocate by coming to them as well.”

Home fashions manufacturer Legacy, of Chantilly, Va., was using its position at the show to continue expanding beyond its custom, interior designer-based business, and leveraging its capacities to better serve a smaller-store retail base, said Jim Vivacqua, director of marketing.

And if new business segments can be enhanced, so too, might start-ups.

“Incredible,” offered Raphael Wolfe, president of Woven Workz, Framingham, Mass., a throw company that has been around about one year. “We've opened up a ton of new accounts and we're still writing, even at this moment [minutes before the show's close]. I'm amazed at the enthusiasm of the buyers. Visibility is the key, as you know” for new companies breaking into the marketplace.

But pricing, even in this market, remains a factor. Woven Workz generated its show-stopper with prominent signing that pitched “show special” pricing. “That's how you get the volume,” Wolfe smiled.

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