One of the best things about having a gift store is the shopping... or to put it in more official terms: attending trade shows geared to the gift and home decor industry.
Most trade shows are timed to be held during the downtime of the retail year. So the winter shows are around January to March, and the summer shows are June to August.
Although these "gift shows" are held around the country, we mainly attend the ones in the tri-state area.
For this season, we have already attended the Market Square Traditional Wholesale Show (June) and Philadelphia Gift Show (July).
Market Square is mostly about country style home decor... It has both Order Taking and Cash & Carry Sections (I'll elaborate about that in another post. Basically, you take items home immediately instead of waiting for them to be shipped). There isn't too much bling-bling; although the country style is definitely becoming a bit more eclectic and not as much brown-on-brown primitives. Many of the vendors have wares "Made in America" and there is a special section called the Craftsman Gallery which features handcrafted goods. In some cases, artists who have licensed their artwork to be massproduced will have unique, one-of-a-kind items to sell.
This is where we met Colin and his fabulous sheep. He handcarved the molds that he pours the porcelain in. Each face and foot are then sanded down and painted. The bodies are of manmade stone wrapped in Steiff wool. Of course, we had to bring some to the Cottage!
Philly is a little different; yet oddly the same. Why? Because although Market Square calls where I went to as the "Valley Forge" location and the Philly show says it's um, in "Philadelphia"... they both are held in the same place: the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA.
The expo center is only a few years old and is a nice space converted from an old factory warehouse. And although there aren't that many non-chain restaurants real close by, we did discover a great ice cream store in Audubon called Zwahlen's and a craft brewery-restaurant in Phoenixville called Iron Hill (yes, I know some may consider this to be a chain).
Philly is what is called a regional show (versus Market Square which is more of a niche show). Many of the national vendors who may not want to pay the prices for showing at larger shows will be at these kind of shows as well as smaller, more local vendors. Then there are, of course, the vendors that you see at every show but the overlap is not that great.
What I like about the Philly show:
- The free industry seminars. Similar programs at national shows cost money or require registration.
- The more intimate atmosphere. The larger shows attract more people, but that means there are more people to crowd the aisles. I know that I've probably missed some great new vendors simply because I just wanted to get through the clump of people and breathe!
- Less vendors = more time we can spend looking. And we can actually backtrack to make sure we didn't miss anyone. It's relaxing.
- The "What's New" section in the front with many of the vendors featuring, of course, what's new... a new product or a whole new line. It's a great appetizer before the show entree.
- New this year: I noticed a lot more of the vendors had the interlocking foam floor tiles in their booths. I am not ashamed to admit that we visit booths with this flooring simply because our feet were hurting and needed a break from the concrete. And yes, we have found new vendors this way :)
Coming up in August: BlogHer 2012, Market Square Cash and Carry, and New York International Gift Fair. I know... feel sorry for me.