Shopping international markets
Shopping and travel—two things that sound attractive to most of us.
Personally, I love Europe; a short overnight flight from my home in Chicago. Everything is so close and still so different. You can walk the Champs Elysees by morning and take a fast train to Germany in the afternoon. The next day you can hop a bus to Italy. In a few days you can experience different foods, cultures and merchandise.
There are many international trade shows and several in Europe that focus on home furnishings. Each one has its unique offerings and character; I enjoy visiting them to see what’s new and what’s trending in other countries. Visiting international trade shows is a great way for furniture retailers to step outside their norm, experience a trade show focused on design or one specific to their niche, and bring home products and ideas that will thrill their customers. You’re also more likely to see products from vendors all over the world, not just from the country you’re visiting.
As with any furniture market you attend, it’s a good idea to have a plan. Each show has an online exhibitor listing and product description, so you can plan your schedule to make navigating the big exhibition halls easier. The listings can be searched by product, country and exhibitor name.
Sometimes, just out of curiosity I choose the ones I know nothing about. What does furniture from Africa look like? What makes Italian design special? What American exhibitors can I find here? It’s the same for visitors strolling the aisles, attending tours, matchmaking events and checking out the new product showcases. Attending shows in Europe makes me feel as if I am a global shopper able to reach and experience each country.
Lots of shows offer VIP buyer programs or designer and architect networking events. These are wonderful opportunities to meet other attendees. At my last event I enjoyed starting my day in the VIP Buyer Lounge, with free coffee, pastries and the chance to go through the show program and daily highlights before strolling the busy aisles. Another advantage was the early entry for buyers which allowed meeting suppliers before regular attendees joined the show.
While there is a certain excitement that comes with attending international shows, there are some things to consider and be prepared for. For example, credit cards are not always accepted everywhere (even in Europe) so it’s important to bring cash in the local currency. Hotels in Europe are different than at home as well—smaller and scarce. I book my trip well in advance to secure a reasonably priced hotel in proximity to the fairground.
When shopping markets outside the U.S. of course there’s the discussion about how to get the product back to your store. You’ll have to research freight agents or brokers, whether to fill pallets or containers, etc. Many trade shows, like Koelnmesse, Inc., offer free seminars on importing furniture from Europe. These sessions include information on entry forms, clearing goods through customs, duties, insurance and quality control.
As with any show, national or international, a solid plan of attack is the best place to start. Seek out the vendors you’ve researched, attend seminars and info sessions and leave time for exploring—both the showrooms and the country.
These days more than ever, the world is at our fingertips, and while we may love the proximity and authenticity of all the places we encounter, it’s important to recognize the world is a big place and while doing business internationally requires detailed information, preparation and education, it’s well-worth the effort.