Snippets Spring 2014

To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.
-Benjamin Franklin

Everybody had an opinion. The biggest surprise to me, however, was how markedly different many of the viewpoints are. No single comment necessarily defines the direction of the business, and some directly conflict with each other, of course even in the best of times there will be radically different perspectives among people holding essentially identical positions in the industry. But it’s clear things are happening out there. We are hearing about product hits and company cutbacks in the same day. The need for new licensed art and the decision to go in-house, both coming from companies that are direct competitors. So the question is: What’s the take-away from all this?

Let me know when you figure it out.

“We really don’t want to look through an artist’s entire portfolio, we want them to send us some of their art made into our products.” – a creative director

“They have been making the same stuff for going on 15 years now and it’s starting to fade away.” – a sales manager about the company

“Cheap sells. It has to be good but it can’t be expensive.” – owner of a gift company

“People don’t want icons now, no central themes, it’s more of a simple look built from texture and color, maybe with some vintage materials.”- an art director

“It’s definitely not just us, there has been a softening industry wide.”– a sales manager

“We have to be really, really sold on the concept. Have to be, or we cannot make the investment.”– owner of a gift company

“Our showroom bill is 15 thousand, plus thousands more in travel, hotels, shipping and personnel expenses – then we write only three decent orders during the first three days we’re open? How is that worth it?”- a marketing director at the Dallas show

“I hate all this inspirational crap. You are going to get your life’s meaning from a saying on a coaster? Get real.”– a manufacturer (who sells some inspirational crap)

 “Why would I pay out 7 or 8 thousand dollars to meet with someone who wants to do a 3 dollar notecard line with me?”- an artist explaining why she no longer does SURTEX

“The last 6 months have been terrible. I really don’t know where the future of the gift industry is going to be, people are offloading all their clutter because their kids don’t have any interest in it either.”– a sales rep

“We loved it but apparently it’s too perfect, we think we need to “rough” it up a bit to get it to sell”.– a mfr about a (beautiful!) product line

“I can only take so much Christmas before I go cuckoo!”– a retailer overheard in the hallway

“The owners of the mom and pop gift stores are aging out of the business, and when they can’t sell the stores they are closing them down. We have lost 600 in the last 3 years – that’s 3 to 4 a week off the books.”– owner of a gift company

“This kind of stuff we can do in-house; we pay royalties for unique work we don’t do in-house.”– an art director

“Tiny little attention spans – that’s the biggest problem with our industry now. ”– an agent

“I get it, but the people we sell to, the shop owners, they are mostly older women and they will NOT get it. So they won’t buy it.”– a mfr about a social media based line

“I could be interested as long as it’s not being sold at WalMart.”– a retailer to a rep in a showroom

“She’s not here this time, she got a real job.”– overheard in a showroom

Rep: “Can I show you the new (famous artist name) products?”
Retailer: “Uh, yeah… not really, we’re kinda over (famous artist name).” – overheard in a showroom

“We like the way her mind works.”- art director about a favorite artist

“We had 400 skus to work with and corporate has chopped that in half, so we have had to make some tough choices about what goes forward.”– a sales manager about line reductions

“No figures. People do not sell for us.”– a manufacturer about a collection

“It’s OK. Traffic is a little light but maybe that will pick up. Sales are up a little but there does not seem to be any buzz in the market. It’s just… OK.”– a showroom rep in ATL

“Nothing is a real trend right now, so we have to do everything to see what works.”– a gift manufacturer

Ronnie: “How’s the show going?”
Rep: “Well, I wouldn’t call it an unmitigated disaster…”
Ronnie: “So, it’s a mitigated one?”
Rep: “Sure, let’s go with that.”

“Yeah, everybody wants new – right up until they get it.”– an art director

“We tried some of her stuff and it didn’t sell well enough to reorder, so anything new will really have to knock our socks off.”– owner of a gift company

“It can’t be too complicated for the retailer to sell, they don’t have the time or the personnel to explain things to their customers.”– owner of a gift company

And finally, what all of us in this business should be pondering pretty much all of the time…

“The question is: what are we going to put in the window next time that will bring people in? THAT is what we are searching for.”– a licensing director

Atlanta: Land of Opportunity, or What’s Yours Is Mine…

Find a bunch of timeworn phrases on the internet, stencil them onto all shapes and sizes of wall plaques (wood, metal, burlap, ceramic or what have you), then maybe add a few chevrons and anchors here and there. Multiply that by a few hundred companies, some indistinguishable from others, and you’ve got the recent Atlanta gift market.


Obviously there might be a few additional items to be found among the 7 million square feet of showrooms, but the place is overrun with words on walls. It just can’t last, people, so if you are working on yet another “words on walls” project you may want to ponder how yours will be noticeably new and different, or even head in a different direction. IMHO.

We spent 3 long days covering A LOT of those 7M square feet. The doom and gloom of Dallas (see the previous post) was not so evident in Atlanta, perhaps because it’s a better show even on its down days, but traffic was definitely slow. We found ourselves alone on elevators in the gift building four different times, and that’s notable because it NEVER happens, normally you can barely get on them at all (and these are big elevators). Easy parking in the ramps, empty corridors and escalators, no lines in the ladies room, leftover free lunch in the showrooms and Market Clubs – all are reliable signs that the retailers went missing. And as always, clients were having varied results – some reported good business, some not so good, but most landed on “it’s OK”. That was definitely the word of the week: Okay.

 The move into accessories by the gift companies has not only continued but expanded into apparel products. Seems like everybody has sparkly stuff, and now some of them are showing jackets and tops too. It also seems like celebrity licensing has lost its luster – whereas the last few years had us tripping over appearance announcements on easels and shaking our heads over weird product endorsement combos, this year most of that was conspicuously absent. (And, as in Dallas, Duck Dynasty is pretty much nowhere to be found). Perhaps we’ll be heading back to good design and quality product ideas again? What a novel idea…

One disconcerting trend is the increased number of “me too” collections found throughout the Mart. It has always been routine for companies to produce a line similar to what is successful at other companies, but we spotted many that were SO close we had to go examine them for artist credit. (Which is not there of course…). Bad news for all concerned but there just is not much remarkable among the new intros, so they are resorting to what has been proven elsewhere. The good news for designers, as I have said before, is that there is a BIG deficit in the market – the opportunities for fresh, original thinking partnered with market-wise execution are huge. Put your thinking caps on.
People tend to try and judge a show as either good or bad, while in reality they are ALL good to some degree. Stuff gets sold and shipped out to the stores, and we get to talk with clients, see loads of new product and stimulate our idea machine just by attending, so it’s always worthwhile. The market may have been a little quiet for the showrooms, however we came back from this trip buzzing with what-ifs, and now is the time to set those ideas down on paper and start work. January will be here before we know it!