A ritual of most stores that sell gift items is a visit to the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. The main shows are in January and June, and though they are not what they once were (what was once five floors is now closer to two and a half), they are still a great place to get ideas and discover new lines. Yes, it's not akin to what bookstores see when folks lounge in their stores for a an hour or so, only to buy their books online. Unlike this scenario, which was unintended, for the gift show, that is the point.
The gift show's struggles are probably two fold. Like any trade show, there are price pressures for buyers not to attend and vendors not to exhibit. I can view the items online. I'll outreach to new customers via email or social media. Though I'm not interested in being Facebook friends with my card lines, I don't mind getting emails from vendors about special offers.
The other problem is likely competition from other trade shows. I have heard from a number of retailers that they go to Atlanta and New York for their gift shows, bypassing Chicago, and this can turn into a momentum issue. Less buyers means less exhibitors which means less buyers. Note that this is the "house of cards" issue that I was trying to describe with booksellers and publishers and their customers. If anybody in the equation decides to change course, shakiness may ensue.
On my way to the show, I ran into my friend Lynn, who was traveling to the show from Beans and Barley with her coworker Lisa. As anyone who reads the blog knows, I love Beans and Barley to pieces (I eat there weekly, use their catering, and purchase both gift items and grocery). When it comes to buying, however, it could get tricky because Lynn and I have similar tastes and also overlapping customer bases and also we're only about eight blocks from each other. That said, there are categories where we don't overlap, we have slightly different buying strategies--if you haven't notice, Beans does more in-and-out buying while I tend to restock certain items like...a bookseller. Plus there are certain things I buy for the store that would probably not work in Beans, and vice versa. I haven't picked up these piggy banks in the photo--I don't think they did either.
In the end, I don't care if our lines overlap as long as folks don't think I'm running there and writing down everything that's good and buying it. Though I'm tempted, the truth is quite the opposite--if I see a line represented strongly there, I will avoid it if I haven't picked it up yet. Needless to say, I'm sure I'll have a similar relationship with Little Monsters, which looks like it's ready to open any second.
So back to the show. Things went pretty well. I had a mission to find some new reading glasses vendors, and I found two reasonably priced and nicely designed lines. I discovered a wonderful new card line, which I'm sure Lynn will carry as well--it's just beautiful. I picked up two decor lines I hadn't before bought--one more traditional and one more hip. We've been doing very well with Christmas ornaments; it seems complementary to our strong Christmas card business, and it made sense to expand. And I did a little restocking on show specials--we got a nice deal on a Christmas card line, and a small show special discount on our Girl of All Work stationery products. They had new Page Flags, pocket stickers, file folders, and a book plate stamp. I love their stuff, which should hit the floor today.
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