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Showing up and showing off

Musings from the International Contemporary Furniture Fair here in New York last week:

While the show assumes a different look each year, it has finally figured out what it wants to be when it grows up — which was not the case in its early years.

Over 15 years it has emerged as a showcase for far more than contemporary furniture. In fact, this year's edition was notable for the array of outstanding rug exhibitors as well as a good representation of decorative pillows, quilts and accessories/lighting suppliers.

Interestingly, the fabric guys were not as widely represented as they have been in past years — another instance of how the show shifts and changes.

Of special note was the impact of national exhibits — the Italians and Brits, to be specific. The Italians were exuberant in the size of their space and the way the space was utilized, as well as the scope of the companies involved.

In contrast, the British design consortium was represented by small stands, all together, but clean, crisp and, like the Italians, very design-driven.

Overall, each of these national groups offered a very upscale representation of their country's design and product innovation that left no doubt as to the quality of the product and the individual company's commitment to design. Walking down these aisles, there was a clear statement delivered by each of the national groups.

Looking at each, it was tough to compare the American presence at shows like Heimtextil and Decosit along parallel lines. The American exhibitors who show under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Commerce at these exhibitions — with few exceptions — offer the same aesthetics as their Italian and British counterparts. And it's not the fault of being part of a government auspices exhibit.

With all the problems facing American companies around the world, it's time to start putting our best foot forward. Perceptions are critical to business success. And the perceptions of American companies at shows like these frequently leave a lot to be desired.

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