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Planning Product Presentation

September 22, 2009

As you walk through the showrooms in Chicago this week, take notice of the displays. Are they realistic? Would you consider buying a product because of how it was put on display? I have talked often about the importance of vignettes, color and merchandising. These are all important things to consider as you choose the products that you will be purchasing to showcase in your own store display. Susan Dickenson, Retail Editor of Home Accents Today, recently wrote how realistic food helps to bring retail displays to life. She said, "I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about food lately thanks to my new favorite television show, TLC’s Cake Boss starring New Jersey baker Buddy Valastro, and the movie Julie and Julia starring food, butter and wine.

faux cupcakes
A mountain of plaster cupcakes added a little spice to the Colonial Candle showroom in Atlanta.

The fondant masterpieces created by Valastro take food preparation to a level I never dreamed possible, with cakes that shock, awe and defy gravity. A couple of weeks ago, I had just watched him finish a fire-breathing all-edible tiki god cake with bamboo trim when I realized that the artistry of food preparation was meant to be enjoyed one of two ways: in person, or on a big screen.

So, a few days later, my mother, sister, daughter and I headed to the movie theater where we joined a packed house of mostly women ranging in age from about 15 to 70, to watch Julie and Julia chop, slice, whip, stir, poach, sauté, bake, broil, frost, sear, gel — and eat.BaBa

That there was a lot of real food really being eaten during the course of the movie was never in question. However, I did find myself wondering about all the challenges posed by hot lights, multiple takes, overfed actors and starving stage hands. Was ALL of it real? The mountains of chopped onions? The deboned ducks? The meringue? And if not, where does one find good fake food these days?

Larry Bard, president of accessories importer Bard International, came across some BaBareally good fake apples and bananas 25 years ago at the Milan Furniture Fair. In the years since, "realistic" food products have grown to represent about half of his business (several product photos are shown here). His son, company Vice President Steven Bard, was with him in Italy that day and remembers his father saying, "Let’s take some back; we can put them in bowls and use them in our showroom."

Not only did the fruit add life to their accessories, but it was a hit with Bard’s customers, many of whom expressed an interest in purchasing pieces for their own retail displays. "So, we added more fruits and veggies, then breads and cheeses," Steven Bard said. "EventualBaBaly my brother Richard, who had studied to be a chef, joined the business and started developing drinks, cakes and pies."

Today, in addition to home accessories, the company sells more than 800 realistic food, drink and snack items in a division called Baba’s Marketplace. The products are sold strictly to the trade, through Bard’s sales reps and on the company’s Web site. The menu includes a wide variety of whole and sliced baked goods, desserts, cheeses, vegetable plates, sushi, snacks, coffees, beers and mixed drinks. There’s also a collection of "spills," a great advertisement for fabric protection, according to Bard, and a popular novelty item with gift stores.

"Every retailer can find a use for our product," Bard said. "Tabletop retailers … furniture stores use them on dining room tables, and our lemonades and iced teas work well in outdoor casual settings. We offer a variety of snacks for home theater including beer and popcorn in different sized bowls." Aside from bringing a showroom BaBato life, Bard said the food settings can protect furniture — people are less likely to disturb a set table. The products are also popular with homestagers and with builders who use them in model homes.

"The fact that we manufacture over half of our items in the U.S. gives us an edge," Bard said. "If you look at apples, for example, every apple that falls from a tree is different so our apple packs have different sizes. Most imports are manufactured in limited sizes. Our products are very realistic."

Speaking of realism, someone took a cupcake from the tiered cupcake display that Midwest-CBK exhibited as part of Colonial Candles’ centennial celebration in the Atlanta showroom this summer. The cupcake culprit probably, like everyone else (myself included), thought the frothy snow-white cakes were real.

They were actually made of spackling by a bakery in Cannon Falls, Minn. Shelli Lissick, communications specialist for the brands, said the cupcakes, once hardened, were shipped directly to the showroom without incident, and that the mouthwatering cupcake tower definitely helped draw attention to Colonial’s commemorative candle display."

Take note of unusal and eye catching displays, take a quick photo with your phone, write notes to take back to your own stores. It is important to spend the time to plan just how you are going to showcase the furniture and accessories that you are ordering at the Chicago - International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market this week.

These are my outside views…Marcia Blake