N.Y. Gift Fair Puts Rising Consumer Confidence on Display

Gift-buying trends revealed at last month's New York International Gift Fair underscore consumers' ongoing focus on value, but also a possible upswing in their confidence.

Dorothy Belshaw, senior vice president of GLM -- which has owned and operated the gift fair since 1924 -- says purchasers of gifts today are seeking "a longer-lasting impact on the recipient. They want the gift to deliver quality, value and meaning. This can be for jewelry, tabletop, home furnishings."

The gifts, she adds, "do not have to be at a high price-point. Consumers want to feel good about what they're giving, and they want the recipient to feel good about receiving it."

Belshaw says she was happy to see "a lot of color coming back" to the semi-annual fair, which was held at Manhattan's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and featured some 2,800 suppliers of home, lifestyle and gift merchandise, who showed over 100,000 product lines.

"Sometimes when times are hard, designers retreat to neutral tones," she says, explaining that the return of color at this year's gift fair "is a sign of strengthening of confidence."

The fair was "just about fully sold," in terms of space rented to exhibitors, Belshaw notes, an improvement over rentals two years ago, which dropped 5%.

Gifts Reflect the Family's Aesthetic

Certain gift categories have weathered the recession better than others, she says. In the former category are jewelry, housewares, tabletop and home furnishings. Among the hottest categories at the fair, according to Belshaw, were gifts for babies and children, with the number of exhibitors jumping 12%.

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Parents "want what they buy for their children to reflect their family's aesthetic. They will spend tremendous amounts of money to make sure the products they buy are lead- and PBA-free. They are looking to smaller manufacturers, unique products that are design-forward," Belshaw says.

The number of exhibitors in a section called "New York's newest" jumped some 14%, in part, she says, because they found it "a very useful platform in which to be grouped together. This focuses the buyer's attention across all categories."

Among retailers scouting this section was Anthropologie, the Philadelphia-based chain.

Inexpensive Pampering is Popular

Smaller home furnishings were also popular, Belshaw says, because they let purchasers freshen up their homes on a budget. Among the best-selling gifts in this category were decorative pillows, which Bellows says "have gone crazy over the last three years," lighting and wall art.

She calls jewelry "a very resilient category," and says personal care items, like soaps, lotions, candles, spa products and yoga mats, were also popular. The latter, she notes, "are a way to pamper yourself without breaking the bank."

According to Belshaw, one category that has been slower to recover is decorative tabletop items with no function, like souvenir shot-glasses and mugs.

The fair also recognized six exhibitors for design creativity:

  • New York-based Stelton, for its "Pure Black Pure White" knives, forged from a single piece of stainless steel, coated in black matte titanium and held on a single, white magnetic strip.

  • London-based Black + Blum, for its "Hot Pot BBQ," a terra cotta pot for growing herbs that conceals a grill underneath.

  • Los Angeles-based American Design Club, for Brendan Ravenhill's Bare Light, a light socket that displays its electric components.

  • Hongjie Yang, a Chinese student studying design in the U.S., for his Veer stainless-steel soap dispenser, inspired by the shape of bamboo.

  • K Studio, of Grand Rapids, Mich., for the best collection, of pillows, pouches and wall décor.

  • California-based Creative Danes, which represents Menu, a Danish housewares company, for its creative use of QR codes, via iPhone and Android apps, to provide immediate access to product information and YouTube videos.