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Notes on the January Atlanta Gift Market

January 10, 2009

I had been looking forward to attending the January Atlanta Gift Market for several months. The new West Wing of Building 2 had been inaugurated and would be open for the first time at this show creating lots more space for the temps. The most important change to me was that the “Gardens” had moved to the 9th and 10th floors of the new wing.  The Market had been hyping the new extension and the move for several months. Part of the hype revolved around the fact that they bought in a Disney Imagineer to help them create the new "Gardens" area. The new space included a two store floor-to-ceiling waterfall and was promised to be an unique buying experience.

I am sorry to report that I was underwhelmed by this addition! I will admit that the new fountain in the Gardens was a showstopper. It is a great landmark to help you orient yourself and every now and then interrupts its normal display with a different one that is synchronized to a music program. Very Disney-like. I also liked the layout of the new "Gardens." In the old "Gardens" you had to do a lot of backtracking to see everything. It was an inefficient use of a buyer’s time. The layout of the new "Gardens" is much more efficient. You can shop by going up one aisle and down the next and not miss anything.

If you have never been to the "Gardens," imagine a huge patio with crisscrossing flagstone paths, rock walls, and overhanging trees. All of the spaces in the "Gardens" are permanent and are open five days a week when there isn’t a show going on. There are no walls separating the showrooms; so, it is much more open and inviting than a standard gift market. It really is like being outside. Every time I get to the entrance of the "Gardens," the interesting surroundings give me the sense that I am going to be able to find something to buy. It hardly ever pans out that way. . . to my disappointment. And this year was no different. There seemed to be more lawn and garden products and fewer accessories that I could use in my specialty furniture store.

The rest of the West Wing was a mixed bag. It has 10 floors all of which are devoted to display space and meeting rooms. The original portion of Building 2 has 18 stories, the first six of which are for parking. It turns out getting from one floor in the West Wing was complicated by the fact that the escalator went from the 1st floor to the 4th then stopped. To get to the floors above that, I had to go into Building 3, use their escalator and then go back into the West Wind of Building 2. If there was another way to do this, none of the people manning the “information” kiosks knew about it.

So, getting around the new West Wing was difficult, but the new display areas were very nice. The temps are mixed in with some permanent showrooms on floors 1 – 4. High Design was on the 1st floor. Maybe I am getting jaded but I didn’t think the products in High Design were as “special” as they had been in the past. The 2nd floor was gourmet. I always go there to get a sugar rush and sometimes I even find a new product like a barbecue sauce or barbecue tools. The 3rd floor was divided into Coastal Lifestyles and Garden products. It turns out I was able to find more new products on this floor than on either of the two “Gardens” floors. The 4th floor was Collegiate products, Souvenir, and Resort Gifts. I didn’t shop that area.

I did find some new products, at least new to me. I have been carrying outdoor rugs for about 5 years now. Every year our sales increase in this category. If you are not selling rugs you should really look into it. Petey Fleischut from Casual Marketplace in Delaware turned me on to a vendor that has worked out well for her, Trans-Ocean. You can see their line at:

Outdoor carpets are normally made from polypropylene and have no pile. However that is changing with the introduction of acrylic into the mix. I was amazed at the large selection of rugs with piles Trans-Ocean showed. Some of their piles are designs they have obtained from their licensing arrangement with Tommy Bahama.

Keith Guidry from Percy Guidry’s in Lafayette told me about a line of outdoor critters (there is just no other way to describe them) from Exhart. They show all of their products at:

Every year I try to find pink flamingoes. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a pink flamingo that verges on tacky but is cute enough to be a great impulse buy. Exhart became my pink flamingo vendor for 2009.

Finally, I pride myself in showing a huge display of outdoor clocks and thermometers. I was pleased to find a line designed by Hen Feathers (an old name in outdoor accessories) produced by Kirch & Co. You can see this line at:

These clocks are resin with an antique bronze finish. They come in lots of sizes and price points and are different from anything I have seen in a long time.

The new areas were so large they swallowed up buyers which was good because it made it easy to get around the booths. But it made it hard to judge the size of the crowds. The older floors of Building 2 seemed as crowded as usual. And, I saw lots of people writing orders. You could have shot cannons off without hitting anyone on the carpet and rug floors in Building 1. But, it really isn’t their show and the few people there seemed to be concentrating on outdoor carpets.

But complain as I might, this is not a show to miss. As professional buyers for specialty outdoor furniture retailers, we probably won’t find a lot of new furniture. We do all of that in Chicago. But there isn’t a better market for accessories and I just don’t see how we can keep our credibility without showing accessories. After all, most of the Frontgate catalog is devoted to accessories, not furniture. They set the tone for the entire catalog and will do the same for your store.

It was a good way to start the new year, but, golly, my feet and shins still hurt!

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce