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How to shop the gift markets

Have you ever walked into a store and knew from the moment you walked in you were going to be able to buy something? That's the result of a well thought-out effort by the retailer.

To make this happen at my store, I accessorize. Every group is set with place mats, unbreakable dishes and glasses, napkins, a centerpiece, fake food and drinks. Silk and plastic trees are placed throughout the store. Windchimes, sundials, outdoor clocks, pink flamingoes, wall art and more complete the illusion. My store looks better than my competitors' because I go to gift markets.

Here are a few hints to make your next gift market more successful:

  • If you have never attended a particular show, you will need to bring credentials: a picture ID, a copy of your sales tax certificate and something on your store letterhead identifying you as a buyer. Entry is free.

  • Gift shows are big. Pick up a directory when you register. The directory will provide you with floor maps and is a great resource back home.

  • Go with an open mind. You certainly want to see vendors you have dealt with in the past, but serendipity is your best friend. Go into many showrooms, looking in the back and the front. Most showrooms are oriented toward gift shops, not outdoor shops. Much of what you see won't apply, but you could easily find the best buy of the show in the least likely of showrooms.

  • The elevators are always crowded and a bottleneck. If you work from the top down, you'll only have to deal with them once. Take the elevator to the top of whichever building you choose to start in. Once you finish one floor, take the escalator down to the next floor.

  • Atlanta and some other shows have set aside areas for outdoor specialists. In Atlanta, visit The Gardens on floors 14 and 15 of the Merchandise Mart. It's an area where you know you are going to find something to buy. I work them as I come to them.

  • By now you are getting hungry. In Atlanta, head for the Gourmet Food Show. You can get tastes of everything from smoked trout to chocolates. And, if you sell barbecue pits, you will find sauces, marinades, rubs and cookbooks to fill out your offering.

Don't be disappointed if you don't come up with a winner every time you go to market. It's sort of like fishing ... you might not find anything this market but you will be lured back with the hope and expectation of catching the big one next trip.

Aronson urges retailers to shop gift shows for accessories, which not only help sell the furniture set, but generate add-on sales as well. Above, tableware is displayed on shelves in Aronson's store. Below, Laneventure's Vintage Garden Bar Height Table is topped with a cheese and tomato hors d'oeuvres tray from Jeremy's Place, an aluminum serving tray from India Handcrafts, a Calla Lily arrangement from NDI, Kraftware's plastic wine glasses and napkins from Tara Linens.

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