This weekend I flew up to Portland, OR to check out the Portland Gift and Accessories Show, run by Western Exhibitors. I’m exhibiting at GLM’s California Gift Show in Los Angeles next week, so I thought it would be prudent to check out another gift show ahead of time. I wanted to see which other companies participate in these things, how their booths look, what their sales pitches are like, and so on.
I gave myself a full day and a half to go through the show. I don’t think I was even there an hour. All in all, the show was not at all what I expected and I left feeling very worried.
To begin with, the entire gift show fit into a single L-shaped exhibition hall. I knew from the outset that the Portland show is one of the smallest, so I wasn’t expecting MacWorld, but there weren’t many more booths than at a really large craft fair. Somehow it just looked bigger on the Oregon Convention Center map. I also expected there to be more visitors. Granted, I visited on the the first day of the show, and the Portland Gift and Accessories Show is the first show of the year. Also, there was an insane series of storms that hit the west coast this weekend, so that may have seriously affected people’s travel plans. Nevertheless, the number of buyers sporting blue id badges was seriously disheartening.
As surprised as I was by the buyers, I was even more surprised by the sellers. Most sections of the show were a pretty motley mix of decorative items, clothing and souvenirs. It looked like a cross between Chinatown, U.S.A. and a gift shop run by a retired couple in an old seaside town during the height of tourist season. There were evergreen wreaths and garlands, batik shawls, tiny bags of candy with punny labels, plastic wind-up toys, soaps made out of things like bamboo, goat’s milk and charcoal, salt lamps and geode coasters. There were also keychains with your name on them, strands of mineral beads, seat-belt purses and those wooden 3-D puzzles you build into models of dinosaur skeletons and famous buildings. The only new and moderately hip products were located in “Artisan’s Alley,” a single aisle all the way in the back of the hall, where the little old gift ladies had forcibly sequestered all the exhibitors under 40.
So now I’m worried. I’m not worried that my butcher-shop booth will go unnoticed; I’m worried it will stand out too much — that the precious few attendees will bypass it completely as just too weird. Souvenir shops are not my market. Will my “L.A. Contemporary” division just end up being a tiny, marginalized “Artisan’s Alley?”
I’m trying to remain optimistic, however. I can’t prepare properly for the CGS if I already believe it will be a failure. Here’s what I’m telling myself to get psyched up:
- The California Gift Show is run by GLM, which also runs the holy grail of gift shows, the New York International Gift Fair. The product divisions are mostly the same between the two shows.
- L.A. is a bigger, trendier city than Portland (though Portland is pretty hip) so there will be more buyers looking for weird stuff. It’s also got pretty big art and designer toy scenes.
- Many more of the exhibitors will be from California, rather than Oregon and Washington, which should mean more booths similar in spirit to mine.
- The CGS is a bigger show, and is easier and cheaper to get to than the PGAS for most people.
- More people want to take a business trip to L.A. than to Portland, because it’s warmer and there’s more sightseeing to do in your off-hours.
- L.A. has way more stores and businesses in it than Portland. Heck it’s the biggest city in America!
I set a goal to place one minimum order every hour to pay for my inventory and the cost of the show. I’ve heard that’s ambitious but I believe enough in my products, my booth and my salesmanship that I think I can do it. Only time will tell.