h+h Cologne

Photo courtesy of h+h Cologne

Traveling overseas to attend a trade show is a big investment of both time and financial resources, but the payoff can be big. Susan Fitzgerald of the online cross stitch shop Stitched Modern decided to travel to Cologne, Germany this year to attend Handarbeit and Hobby h+h, the world’s largest trade show for the crafts industry. It was her first time at the show and she was there as a buyer, hoping to discover new and interesting products and form relationships with producers she might not have met otherwise. She says it was well worth it.

“Going to h+h had been on my wish list for a few years. Overall, I was very impressed with the show. While yarn and fabric seemed to be the predominant products represented, there was enough hand stitching to make the trip worthwhile for me. It was a good mix of big brands and smaller independent makers. Some of the bigger companies that don’t exhibit at shows in the US, like Zweigart, DMC, and Anchor, had booths at h+h.”

If you’re going to go abroad in search of unique products to source for your shop, or to make connections with European buyers, h+h is likely your best bet.

What’s h+h?

h+h Cologne takes place each March and this year’s show attracted 16,500 attendees from 81 countries. A total of 429 companies from 44 countries exhibited, including 27 from North America. The show is truly enormous, and is growing in size, says Darrin Stern, Director of Business Development at Koelnmesse, Inc. the organization that runs h+h. The show takes place at Koelnesse Hall where it occupies 400,000 square feet. That’s larger than the combined square footage of International Quilt Festival and Quilt Market in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center.

The ChiaoGoo booth at h+h Cologne.

Photo courtesy of Darrin Stern.

Stern attributes the show’s growth to the more stable position of small, independent retailers in Europe. Across all industry segments Europe has fewer big box stores, and those that exist are quite small in comparison to the American chains. The largest chain fabric store in Germany, for example, owns just 50 stores, and the second largest owns 23. Neither approach the scale of a massive retailer like JOANN or Hobby Lobby, so there are more individual buyers.  Stern says the language barrier in Europe also favors local retailers and distributors. “That Italian manufacturer of high end silk and yarn really can’t sell to the guy in Poland directly because he doesn’t speak Polish and the Polish guy doesn’t speak Italian.” There’s still a role for distributors who bridge that gap.

Knitting and crochet are both vibrant crafts across Europe and these are the strongest sectors on display at h+h. Sewing is a secondary presence and quilting is what Stern calls “an investigative market.” 

“For folks in knitting and crochet who want to sell more than what’s available in the US it’s an absolute,” says Stern.

Why is this show different?

Attending this show is a different experience than attending an American trade show in the crafts sector in a number of ways. First, there is no pipe-and-drape in the booths. The European convention of exhibition is hard walls and the expectation when it comes to presentation is quite high. Companies that have relatively modest booths at a show like TNNA have much more elaborate setups at h+h. Yarn company Lana Grossa, for example, had a 3,345 square foot booth at h+h this year. Prym, Gutterman, and Metz all had similar-sized booths. With so many buyers in attendance it’s worth their investment.

In addition, many exhibitors offer food and drink in their booths which are set up almost like hospitality suites. Stern explains “You walk in and they have full kitchens with dishwashers. They’re serving wine and beer, espresso and cappuccino. They figure if you’re in my booth drinking coffee you’re not in my competitor’s booth.” Fitzgerald liked that companies served refreshments. “It contributed to a festive and happy atmosphere that I really enjoyed. A good mix of business and fun. The food options were definitely an improvement over US shows I have been to, but the bathroom situation was not,” she said. “Always a long line at the ladies.”

Self-service cured meet in a booth.

Photo courtesy of Janet Lutz.

Hats and scarves.

Photo courtesy of Janet Lutz.

For retailers looking to source products that are truly unique and different from what’s available on the American market a trip to h+h can be a real treat. “One thing I love about going to trade shows is the opportunity to make discoveries – to find all those amazing products and designers that for whatever reason haven’t popped up on your radar or in your social media feeds. h+h definitely came through on that front, and on an international scale. I loved seeing companies from across the globe,” say Fitzgerald. The city of Cologne is also beautiful. As Stern points out, “You work hard on your shop. You’re allowed to treat yourself once in a while. Where do you want to treat yourself? Is it Houston, Texas? Cleveland, Ohio? Or Cologne, Germany and Europe?”

Unlike the US trade shows, there aren’t any formal business classes offered during h+h. Instead there are less formal “sofa chats” on topics such as color trends and social media marketing that take place in small gatherings on the show floor. There’s also no equivalent of Sample It or Sample Spree.

The cost of exhibiting and attending

American exhibitors can rent walls and have them set up in advance. They can also rent display racks, tables, and chairs to outfit the booth. The North American Marketing Coop, which all North American companies are invited to pay into, uses pooled money to carpet the area where the North American booths are located, pays for special banners advertising their booths, and funds digital marketing efforts featuring the North American suppliers.

According to Stern an American company can expect to spend somewhere from $10,000-12,000 in total to exhibit at h+h, including airfare, hotel, transportation, booth fees, setup, food, and all other costs. To help offset the costs US companies can apply for the State Trade Export Program, a state grant intended to help grow new jobs by increasing export sales. The grant is available multiple years in a row and companies can get between $5,000-6,000 in reimbursement for costs related to exhibiting at a show like h+h. Still, the costs are not insignificant and, as Stern points out, if it sounds too steep, “maybe your business is not quite ready for exports.”

Making the trip is less costly for European brands. Stephanie Carswell, Creative Director of craft kit company Hawthorn Handmade, says their company’s decision to exhibit at h+h for the first time this year was well worth it. “We are just about to finalize a deal with our first international distributor covering Russia which was brokered at the show, and we’re in talks with a major US retailer who are looking at a variety of our ranges. We took more orders at the show than expected and a number of the smaller independents have already re-ordered.

“Visitors were from all over the world and we ended up with orders from six countries. We spoke to almost 80 buyers in total.”

Sightseeing in Cologne is a highlight.

Photo courtesy of Janet Lutz.

Stern says h+h is becoming a global meeting spot for the industry. “What we’re finding around the world is basically people are saying I can do this one show and get what I need. You walk through the show and you hear people doing business. Everyone says I go here because I meet the mills. I’m having meetings with suppliers. I’m having meetings with the llama owner guy. Multi-level parts of the industry all converge here.”

Craft Industry Alliance member Beth Casey attended h+h in 2017. Read her report to hear what the show is like firsthand.

*Darrin Stern has generously offered to give Craft Industry Alliance members free tickets to h+h 2020. We’ll publish the code in our members-only Facebook group when it becomes available.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This