For gift brands and designers, exhibiting at gift markets and industry trade shows is one of the best ways to get products in front of retail gift buyers and boutique owners, just like attending markets and shows is one of the best ways for buyers and boutique owners to find exciting new inventory. In fact, exhibiting at or attending gift markets and shows could be one of the most important things you do for your business.
“Gift shows are a great way to learn about new trends and products in the marketplace, what’s about to go viral and what’s not,” says Nicole Schaefer, founder of TheGiftingGoddess, a service in Portland Ore. that helps people find the perfect gifts for their loved ones, friends and clients. “Shows are also a great way to connect and network with your peers and to learn with educational seminars … (and to) get an unfiltered look at what the competition is up to since information is almost always readily available and accessible (at the show).”
The dilemma: figuring out which shows and gift markets to attend. With so many held throughout the year in practically every region of the country—not to mention niche shows geared toward specific categories like gourmet, jewelry or collectibles—the choices are endless. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t possibly attend them all.
We’re here to help with a fresh list of some of the best gift markets and shows around—plus a cheat sheet you can grab to keep them all handy. Here’s where the pros go to see and be discovered.
Atlanta, Las Vegas are huge for gift pros
First up is The Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market at AmericasMart Atlanta.
If you want to see everything in one place, this 53-year-old market might be the one for you. With more than 7 million square feet of total exhibit space, AmericasMart is often pointed to as the largest market in the world. And the gift and home furnishings market, held twice a year in July and January, is certainly one of its biggest draws.
The Summer Market (scheduled this year for July 9th through 15th) alone has 8,000 brands exhibiting—and that doesn’t even include all of the permanent showrooms. Chelsea Peabody Bohannon, media relations manager for AmericasMart, says the show offers a mix of small and large brands, as well as international exhibitors and even some hyperlocal artisan vendors.
Kirstin Martin, owner of Smitten Boutique in Chicago, says she makes it a priority to attend the Atlanta market every year. She loves the layout as well as the quality of the exhibitors she finds there.
“(Last time) we went with a wish list, and we checked off most the items on our list,” she says.
If you want an experience similar to Atlanta but can’t make it all the way to the East Coast, the Las Vegas Summer Market, coming up July 28th through August 1st at World Market Center in Las Vegas, is a good alternative (the Winter 2020 market is January 26th through 30th). Even with 4,300+ exhibitors, the market remains walkable.
The focus, says PR Manager Dallas Britt, is on “exclusive products and programming” not easily found at other events, such as fundraisers for charitable organizations, celebrity appearances, and design awards.
“Must attend” shows in NYC and beyond
If you’re on the East Coast, don’t miss the classic NY Now wholesale show, which many industry insiders such as Schaefer consider “a must.”
Rosie O’Neill, co-founder of the luxury confections brand Sugarfina says exhibiting at NY Now at the Javits Center in Manhattan has been a significant contributor to the success of her brand. The show boasts 2,300 exhibitors and more than 25,000 attendees. Sugarfina exhibits at both annual shows (this year’s summer show is August 10th-14th; dates for the Winter 2020 show are not yet available), and O’Neill says it enables her to really target Sugarfina’s ideal audience.
“We don’t think of ourselves as a confectionary brand,” she explains. “We are a lifestyle and gifting brand so we want to go to shows with that position.”
This is exactly what NY Now offers. O’Neill started exhibiting at the show in 2014 with the goal of creating brand awareness. She quickly met her goal.
“Now we have a really great line-up of accounts that we work with,” she says, adding that her company’s relationship with the brand Total Wine is a direct result of NY Now.
As long as you’re in New York, ShoppeObject is a very new but very up-and-coming show that is held at Pier 36 and happens to coincide with NY Now’s dates. Stacy Maiano of Red Sail, an accessory, home and gift boutique in Portland, OR, says she has found hundreds of designers that she loves at ShoppeObject—and the show has only been in existence since last summer. This summer’s show will be its third. She says she loves that the show is much more curated than some of the others she has attended, and quality of the designers is impeccable.
“We have an eye on advanced and progressive design-minded brands,” says Minya Quirk, ShoppeObject’s co-founder, adding that they are aiming to bring in sophisticated exhibitors who are catering to top-tier buyers.
Quirk says she anticipates around 400 brands and 8,000 attendees at the summer show. While so-far small, Maiano considers this show a must-attend for discerning buyers such as herself.
There are so many shows in this industry that these are just the beginning. In addition to the shows listed above it also hard to go wrong with the Dallas Total Home and Gift Market and LA Mart at The Reef, Schaefer says.
Naturally, the cost can be a factor when it comes to deciding which gift markets to attend. Schaefer recommends seeking out cost-saving opportunities like early registration, show-related hotel deals, incentives for first-time attendees and the possibility of getting day passes at reduced rates. She also suggests looking into show sponsorship, since that frequently comes with incentives like free passes.
Have a gift market game plan to maximize your time
In terms of making the most of the shows you ultimately decide to attend, Martin says having a plan of attack is key. This means knowing what you are looking for along with what you are not looking for (for example, don’t spend a bunch of time looking at greeting cards if you know don’t need them).
“If you do not have a focus or a game plan, you [will] become overwhelmed,” she explains, adding that having a budget and comfortable shoes are also non-negotiable.
For brands looking to exhibit at a gift market, a game plan is just as important, albeit somewhat different. O’Neill recommends attending before exhibiting so you can get a feel for it. From there, she suggests starting out with just one show and making sure you can really focus on getting the most value out of it with your limited time.
“You are really going to learn a lot from your first show, so put your focus and effort into that,” she says.
Save this cheat sheet and keep top shows and dates handy.