E Pluribus Exportum

Carole Sloan, September 8, 2008

Looking over the list of participants at next week's Decosit in Brussels, Belgium, it's clear that the ranks of American participants are shrinking year by year.

It's not just Decosit, but other major home furnishings fabrics exhibitions like Heimtextil in Frankfurt, Germany, that are seeing a drop in the American presence.

But the formal exhibitor lists for these major markets don't tell the whole story. There's a "gray" market concurrent with the formal events, composed of not just American suppliers but a growing number of off-shore folks who show in nearby hotel suites.

With concern about intellectual property rights increasing as an issue, many companies are reluctant to show their wares in a public space that is not secure. Both the organizers of Decosit — Textirama — and the organizers of Heimtextil — Messe Frankfurt — have initiated programs to help exhibitors with intellectual property issues.

What's especially interesting about this slow, but steady, decline in American presence on the formal global market scene is the advantage that we now have vis a vis currency values. One would think that U.S.-based companies would accelerate their efforts to capitalize on this advantage, even if it is only a temporary one. It's happened before — in fact, in every period that the dollar's value became a bargain relative to other currencies, American export sales have soared.

In years gone by, American suppliers were known for their aggressive positions in export when the U.S. held a currency edge, or when domestic business was tough or worse. In today's business environment, where both elements are in place, one would expect that the American suppliers would be even more emphatic than ever in their efforts to grow international business.

But this time around, it just doesn't seem to be happening.

The congruence of the international business woes, the global inflation and the overall ennui seem to be taking their toll on international business. It will be interesting to see how Decosit fares regarding attendance and business. The expectations are that attendance will be down. And don't forget, Ramadan has begun, so there will be a marked absence of customers from the Middle East.

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