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Holding a Show for Show’s Sake?

Heath E. Combs, Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, September 18, 2006

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in Europe vis a vis industry shows or markets, not unlike the pattern that has been growing domestically over the past couple of years.

And one significant observation emerging from these shows is that — despite the insistence of the organizers to the contrary— there are fewer people attending them. As important, there are fewer dramatic changes in design or color directions on a show-by-show basis, with a number of theories as to why this is happening.

Among the many reasons behind these issues, many observers believe, is there are just too many shows. The higher frequency of shows forces both exhibitors and visitors to accelerate schedules or leave out events that are potentially marginal or valuable. By the same token, it leaves little time for contemplation, theory, or just simple analysis of the marketplace in terms of what’s selling, and what the future might or could look like at the product level.

The recent quartet of Maison & Objet and the Biennnale des Editeurs in Paris, and Decosit Brussels and Textiles d’Interieur Premiere (TIP) in Belgium, gave clear proof of the new dilemma facing those who specialize in product and design leadership for home furnishings.

And it poses an equal dilemma for those to whom these shows are directed — the editeurs, retailers, manufacturers and whoever else walks the halls of these events.

From the design community, it is clear that producing new design directions several times a year, or even yearly or every year or so, just can’t be programmed to fit the timetable of a show schedule. And that was clear in these last few weeks. Product design and quality was on a high level, but there were no real new directions from the past year — not even a WOW! product that stopped everyone in their tracks.

As for attendance, despite the organizers’ claims, knowledgeable show veterans feel that attendance was down at Maison, Decosit and TIP. Missing across the board were the tire-kickers or foot-falls, as one Brit described them. This allowed the pros, or ones who were at specific shows for a reason, to get their work done — but even these folks were fewer in number and were questioning the proliferation of shows around the world.

For those specifically in the decorative fabrics segment of this business, the show marathon continues unabated with the current casual furniture show in Chicago and next week’s HD Boutique in Miami.

Perhaps it’s time for show organizers to think about the practical aspects of doing business in today’s world. Exhibitors are beginning to challenge the basic viability of shows per se, the quality of the shows, and proliferation of shows.

And as important, or more so, depending on your perspective, is that a growing number of visitors are doing the same thing.