South Africa show gets high marks

Carole Sloan, March 25, 2002

More than 60 South African decorative fabrics and home textiles exhibitors participating in the first Living Space exhibition here earlier this month, and the more than 200 international visitors registered positive reactions to the scope and quality of the products.

Patrick Frey, president of high-end decorative fabric, wallcoverings and home textiles supplier Pierre Frey in Paris, had a typical buyer reaction. He called his first experience in South Africa very positive. "We saw some wonderful things, mainly weaves and shawls. And the prices were very good, and the company people were very professional."

Another optimistic visitor was Kjersti Strom, buyer for Norway's specialty home textile chain Princess Gruppen, who commented, "I think it was wonderful. It was small, but for our purpose it was good because it covered all the products we use. We placed orders and are following up with further inquiries."

The visitor base came from 33 countries, "and reaction from both exhibitors and buyers was very positive," said Bill Davis, who organized Living Space. Davis' Trade Link Co. in the United Kingdom also organizes Scoperta in Chiasso, Switzerland, and Textile d'Interieur Premiere in Brussels.

From the exhibitors' perspective, "the show gives South Africa's home textiles business a fantastic opportunity to showcase our products for export. It's a market that is perhaps underexposed," commented Julian Gelb, managing direction, Home Fabric.

And while Home Fabric has had a large export business, "this show gives us an opportunity to meet new people."

A number of exhibitors already have been long-time exporters, and there were others approaching the export market for the first time. And still others were looking to expand their outsourcing efforts.

And yet other companies that had not been involved in export before are now changing their merchandise mix to be more in synch with the global market.

"We were busy flat out," said Lindsay Eachus, managing director of Wm. Eachus, who called business "very good. And new people came in and bought." Equally as important, he observed, "was that there was a very good effort in the look of the stands."

At SBH Cotton Mills, "it's been very exiting. And what the show has done for us is to create a presence. We're thrilled by it," said Jeff Voges, sales manager.

"We saw a lot of our client base and a good spread of new customers," said Frank Greenblatt, managing director of Svenmill. "We've really been busy."

For Linen Loft, which is changing its merchandise mix to reflect the global market needs, "the show has been excellent. We saw so many new buyers from all over the world, and we're very pleased with the serious inquiries," said Liz Tur, general manager.

For Treehouse Children's Decor, "the show was brilliant; there were really quality buyers," said Herman Van As, managing director of the company, which has retail stores and distributors in nine countries. A big plus, he added, "is that the collective presence of South Africa creates an overall confidence."

"We were pleasantly surprised," said Alec Stirzaker, ceo of Frame. "We saw a considerable number of new European buyers as well as existing customers. But we were highly disappointed about the American representation, especially to a free show."

Stirzaker also sees the potential for the show to increase to three times its size with the addition of towels and accessories.

"We did better than we expected," said Franco Beltrame, head of Castellano-Beltrame. The company, which is already entrenched in export, including a U.S. sales and marketing office in Florida, sees the show as "a must — to present ourselves as a South African presence."

The show was sponsored by Trade and Investment South Africa and Ntsika — the EU Enterprise Promotion Agency.

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