At the beginning of 2017, we sat down and made our yearly business plan for ReFluff, our eco-friendly products business. Part of our plan was to expand the private buying division of our business. With that in mind, we made the decision to attend the NY NOW Market—one of the largest, most recognized trade shows for the gift market in the United States, held at The Javits Center bi-annually. For years, we’ve followed the updates coming out of NY NOW on social media and have been impressed with everything we’ve seen. When we got to a point where we felt it would be a worthwhile investment for the business to start purchasing from international suppliers we figured finally attending NY NOW would be a great way to get our feet wet.
The August ‘17 NY NOW show featured more than 2,400 exhibitors. The best way to tackle a trade show of this magnitude is to devise a solid plan in advance. The show is divided into three major categories: Home, Lifesyle, and Handmade. Within these categories is a vast array of items, from home décor and furnishings, tabletop and housewares, gifts, stationary, and textiles, as well as personal care and accessories for men, women and children.
You can easily spend the full five days writing orders, meeting leading industry speakers, and educating yourself so that you can have a competitive edge. NY NOW offers buyers the opportunity to meet with a highly curated assortment of exhibitors and the show has a daily schedule of seminars with notable guest speakers, covering everything from holiday merchandising tips, social media strategy, trend forecasting, and working with fair trade makers. These supplementary classes are available for an additional fee and it’s advised that you book them in advance to guarantee your spot.
Leading up to the show, we started the daunting process of reviewing the countless exhibitors’ web and social media sites to narrow down options, create our list, and devise a plan of action. Given we had never attended before, our strategy was to schedule appointments for the third day. This allowed us two long days to look at the entire show so when we did sit down and place orders, we wouldn’t end up over-spending or buying similar offerings from multiple exhibitors. We also knew that, inevitably, we would find things at the show that would make great upsell incentives, so we left room in the buying budget for some modest, unknown splurges. Another reason we chose to hold off on writing orders until the third day was to look for potential emerging trends. We wanted to look at the categories that we weren’t buying from to see if we could glean any overall trends or any hints of early directions the market was taking that weren’t clearly forecasted by the most trusted reference website: World’s Global Style Network, WGSN.
After two very intense, long days of scouting, we took the night to digest everything we had looked at. We reviewed our list, scoured catalogs and line sheets, made adjustments, and headed into the third day eager to place orders. There were numerous criteria that we had to consider:
- How would the products merchandise with each other?
- Was the packaging and display going to compliment the store in a symbiotic way or was it going to detract from the overall aesthetic?
- Was it a product that had a limited shelf life due to packaging or being too trend centric?
- Was it versatile so that it could be merchandised in different ways?
- Was it strictly seasonal? Traditionally, products that are purely seasonal are much riskier and as such, we try to limit buying them to protect against the potential of putting them on sale or worse yet, having to back-stock them for the following year.
When purchasing from international brands, we had to factor in the exchange rate, duty and brokerage fees, insurance, and estimated delivery times. We’re a Canadian company so we gave preference to the American brands that had Canadian distributors due to the under-performing value of the Canadian dollar. If two brands were similar and one shipped domestically in Canada, then that was the deciding factor. To complicate things further, some brands that were initially more expensive to import were offering steep discounts on volume orders or very appealing show incentives—nearly every exhibitor was offering a show special of some sort. Some offered bonus product, limited edition product, free visual merchandising displays, extended nets, free shipping, and so on, so keep that in mind while developing your buying strategy.
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There were plenty of factors to consider and we didn’t want to be hasty about our purchases. Given the recent fluctuations in North American retail purchasing trends and the number of big box stores that were going out of business, we had to anticipate how that would affect our customers’ buying needs and appetite for holiday 2017. The last thing we wanted was to be stuck with a loss leader because the show special was too appealing to turn down, yet ultimately wasn’t going to work for our customer. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed at NY NOW, so adding in some time to sit down and thoroughly think things through rather than buying on the fly was the best approach for us.
We wrapped up our last day at the show and left feeling that for our first foray into such an immense international event, our strategy was successful and we even managed to keep within the budget—which wasn’t a simple task by any stretch! In the end, as long as only a few items ended up being on back order, we felt that our buying goals were achieved and that the trip was well worth the planning, expense, and effort. We were able to find unique products that our competitors likely wouldn’t have, great staple pieces, as well as highly desired on-trend gift items that were sure to be a hit. It’s one thing to shop from a line sheet and catalog but it’s something entirely different to experience brands first hand and develop relationships with the companies you’re working with. For retailers ready to buy more broadly, a trip to NY Now won’t disappoint. Registration for the next NY NOW show, scheduled for February 3 – 7, 2018, has already begun.
Adrienne is the owner of Refluff, a shop offering a range of modern sustainable products for the family made with style and longevity in mind.