Monday, September 13, 2010

Good News from the Retail Front

This is me on the left at the NYIGF trying to decide what fabulous French Farm products to bring into our shop. Not easy!
I’ve owned a small business for thirteen years with my husband Robert Ballard that specializes in fine gifts, home decor, French table linens, fine art and handmade oriental rugs. Quite a few categories, as they say in retail! A question we are often asked is how do we choose what comes into the shop, especially as the economy has been a bit brutal to small businesses this past year?

Well, the short answer is: very carefully.

We have been fortunate to have a loyal customer base, for starters. They have been the saving grace during this rough economic downturn. And, we work twice as hard as we used to, in all areas of our business. I’m not saying this for pity, just being honest. We are more choosey as our budget is tighter. Before we even go on a buying trip there are a few things we now do. We spend more time exhausting supplier websites as a large percentage of wholesalers now have websites for the trade only. This helps us narrow our choices and saves us time once we show up at a trade show. We are armed and ready, so to speak.

More than anything else, Robert and I attend gift/rug/textile/accessory trade shows across the United States. From my unscientific study after recently attending the New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF) in New York City, the good news from the retail front is that suppliers and buyers are more optimistic and less terrified (yes, terrified) than last year. After questioning many of our long-term suppliers about their business, the mood at the Fair was substantially more upbeat and positive. I liked that! Last year was a fearful time for so many small businesses (we were not excluded), so I loved finally seeing the light in the eyes of many wholesalers and buyers. It feels like a tighter “club” now. We are all going through this together and we are still standing.

For those unfamiliar, the NYIGF takes place two times a year in New York City at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and Passenger Piers 92 and 94, and attracts over 30,000 buyers from more than 85 countries worldwide. They come to walk the floors of the Javits and often make their final buying decisions right there. It’s not uncommon to hear people speaking several different foreign languages all at once as we walk down the aisles. It can be a thrilling experience.

According to Home Furnishing News, attendance at the NYIGF had increased 6.5% over last summer's show, indicating more businesses are starting to buy again. Also, there were 400 new exhibitors at this show, which is a wonderful indicator of growth in innovation. All of this is more great news for consumers and retail businesses.

The NYIGF is the chance to see up close what is being offered in the world of gifts, tabletop, books, kitchenware, and children’s toys. You name it, and it is probably represented here. It’s inspiring and daunting, and a good workout on the feet and legs as most trade shows take place in football size arenas with concrete floors. You sometimes see celebrities, as I did with author Ina Garten, also known as The Barefoot Contessa, who was touting her new mixes at her booth and signing copies of her cookbooks.

Other well-known designer names, like Jonathan Adler also had amazing booths filled with their new offerings.

All in all, the message was clear at NYIGF that businesses are working harder than ever to stay alive and viable. Seeing evidence of upbeat personal displays from many buyers and exhibitors really helped erase some of my inner fears and woes. I do believe the economy is slowly re-charging, and consumers and retailers need to hear that.

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