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Cinde W. Ingram

Spoga Cologne focuses on woven forms

Grilling and barbecue segment also draws attention

The 54 booths in the Center of Excellence for outdoor furniture stayed busy during the Spoga trade show, although several exhibitors were looking ahead toward this week’s Maison et Objet in Paris or next week’s Casual Market in Chicago.

Spoga drew 27,500 visitors from 95 countries to Cologne, Germany for its three-day run, Sept. 2-4. Attendance was up by more than 6% from the 2005 turnout and provided a broader international scope than ever for the trade fair serving the international garden and leisure sector.

“The international buyers come to Cologne not only to place orders, but also because they know the great value of Spoga as a platform for new products,” said Oliver P. Kuhrt, executive vice president of Koelnmesse. “This is lifestyle at the highest international level, and the trends are created here. The participating Gafa exhibitors and their dealers are increasingly calling on us to make the fair an annual event again.”
 
A few exhibitors of high-design, upper-end garden furniture said they plan to exhibit at the Chicago Casual Market for the first time, including Domus Ventures, Monzone Design Collection and Medeot Garden Line. Saccaro, a Brazilian-based indoor/outdoor furniture maker, was among those who planned to visit the Chicago Casual Market with hopes of showing in 2008.

Retailers noted the abundance of synthetic wicker designs, although teak, other woods, stainless steel and cast aluminum products also were present. One of the newest materials appearing was in foam furniture with sculptural designs from la-Fete and Val-eur.

Emu displayed its steel furniture with a pastel color range in lilac, light green, light blue, pale orange and white. More full collections will appear in Paris, said Benigno Fronsaglia, president, Emu USA.

“Spoga and Paris are one exhibition,” said Charles Vernon, managing director of Gloster. “Spoga is three days and Paris is five days.”

Mark Tyrie, director of Barlow Tyrie, also noted a shift toward the Paris show, although its large booth at Spoga included the debut of its Mercury Collection of lightweight stacking steel chairs with teak and sling options. Extensions to its Equinox range, a darker color added to its woven Arizona group and a sunscreen option designed to fit all of Barlow Tyrie’s chaise lounge chairs also were introduced.

Hector Landgrave of Landgrave Furniture was among the exhibitors who noted the difference between U.S. trade shows, where buyers seek lots of new designs, and European shows, where extensions of tried-and-true collections are preferred.

“We’ve had a good number of visits, but mainly by existing customers,” said Michael Siebel of FIM umbrellas, based in Italy. “It’s not cost effective, not only this year but in the last three or four years. We’ve been requesting the show to be every two years.”   

Other exhibitors said they were more than satisfied with the amount of traffic their booths drew, not only in the Center of Excellence but in the remainder of building 2 plus two other buildings devoted to outdoor furniture and accessories. With 721 companies, the show’s furniture and home segment once again featured the largest group of exhibitors.

Outdoor Living: Quality is what counts
Quality was the aspect that dominated business decisions in the Outdoor Living segment. One trade show visitor said, “Customers have become much more demanding in terms of quality.” The placement of the “trade fair within a trade fair” was also well-received, with the Center of Excellence prompting positive feedback.

Tranquility, relaxation and enjoyment — lounging is more popular than ever before, and it’s one of the ongoing major trends in outdoor furniture. With the boundaries between indoor and outdoor living becoming less and less distinct, more and more people are using comfortable sofas and substantial rattan divans and armchairs in the garden. Living rooms for the great outdoors are now an essential element in any garden furniture exhibition designed to represent the height of fashion.

Also in demand are collections that elevate the mixing of styles into an art. The dominant material combination is wood and steel, while black and white combinations continued to hold interest.

Alexander Rose added a fairground theme to its booth with a ferris wheel slowly revolving to display seven contemporary chairs on well-lit glass platforms. The United Kingdom-based company’s Avant range also was extended with coffee and side tables, plus two armchairs and a settee made of stainless steel with teak arms to match the dining chairs currently in the line.

Michael Mollenbeck, a landscape gardener, said retailers were already familiar with Moonlight but were surprised to discover the new 360-degree surround sound emitting from those large moonlike orbs. “They are most surprised by the hanging pendulums, which are good for hotels and beer gardens,” he said. 

The grilling and barbecue product segment at Spoga included nearly 200 suppliers. Grand Hall drew attention with the launch of its X-series Outdoor Kitchen, developed by Porsche Engineering Group and designed by Porsche Design Studio. The stainless steel grill uses an infrared system with patented cross-ray burner technology and a retractable lid that slides backward, said Tim Merritt, director of marketing for Grand Hall USA. “It’s somewhat of a status symbol and a more refined cooking experience that raises the bar and challenges the market to do something different,” Merritt said.

More complete outdoor kitchens were on display at Spoga with elements including a grill, a teppan-yaki, storage surfaces and storage space, or even complete rows of kitchen units. This confirmed the conclusion that outdoor cooking is the latest trend. And that’s one reason why exhibitors were so satisfied with Spoga. “We’re very happy about the way the trade fair has worked out for us,” said one of the sector's big players. “The customers really liked our new products. Our regular customers were out in force, and we also met many new visitors.”

Kurt Schlieper, Chief Executive of the Barbecue Industry Association Grillverband (BIAG), said barbecuing, whether with charcoal, gas or electricity, is now more popular than ever. “Barbecuing has become a lifestyle,” he said. “Customers are demanding higher-quality grilling and barbecuing products, and this trend could be clearly seen at the fair.” The market for these products is being heated up by numerous clever inventions and exclusive innovations. For example, visitors were able to admire various combinations of charcoal and gas barbecues with built-in smoking units, as well as the world’s most expensive barbecue, a gold-plated model priced at $150,000.

Voluminous ceramic shapes, complete marketing concepts and attractive lifestyle-enhancing accessories were dominant at the Indoor/Outdoor Ambience product segment at Spoga. There was also lots of action for the garden market with 177 vendors exhibiting in the Floristry Supplies & Decorations product segment, followed by 101 suppliers in the Water Technology & Outdoor Lighting segment. The Equipment & Garden Structures segment featured 268 suppliers plus more suppliers of related garden design, maintenance and services. In another hall, 174 suppliers presented products from the Far East in the Gardening Asia area.

A visitor survey showed Spoga is evolving from an ordering event to a trend platform. Gaining access to information on new products, trends and market data motivates 53% of Spoga visitors to travel to Cologne for the fair. Those were also the attraction for new market participants, according to 35% of those surveyed who were attending Spoga for the first time. Opportunities to monitor the market (51%), cultivate existing business partnerships (52%) and establish new contacts (47%) are also very attractive to trade visitors.

About 40% of survey respondents said they visited Spoga to place orders and prepare for making purchases following the trade fair. Three fourths of the visitors said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their success in realizing their objectives at the fair. Nearly 80% of those surveyed indicated they either play a key role in the decision-making process for purchasing at their companies or share responsibility for the decisions. With 65% of the trade visitors coming from abroad in 2007, Spoga lived up to its reputation as the global players’ trade platform of choice.

In 2008, the Spoga+Gafa trade show, will be held Sunday, Aug. 31 to Tuesday, Sept. 2.

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