Glasgow smiles better – was the PR mantra Scotland rolled out some 20 years ago in a bid to promote trade and tourism and capture much needed capital investment. It was one of the first and laudably most successful promotional campaigns ever held by a city and it quickly landed Glasgow with a sporran full of national and international awards. A quick wiki scan shows the campaign focused on the cultural richness of the city, its environment, its mild climate and its suitability for retail enterprise. Whilst I have to immediately take issue with any concept of Glasgow having a ‘mild climate’, certainly some decades on from the campaign and it’s clear something has worked. Tourist boards now refer to Scotland’s ‘better’ capital as the best place to shop outside London. In fact an Experian study has had it placed in the top spot for the last 5 years! Bobby visited Scotland’s trade Fair Autumn 2012 to have a look and see what’s happening in the area of gifting, who was exhibiting and some of fair highlights.
I’m told Scotland’s trade fair autumn is half the size of its Spring predecessor, and you can tell. It is small, certainly in comparison to some of the shows we visit. But quantity doesn’t equal quality, and a collection of the right gift offerings from innovative and creative designers and suppliers can quickly outweigh any feelings of insecurity in the size department.
The exhibition has been running for the last 30 years and is said to provide retailers with a final opportunity to source new products in the run up to Christmas. So I half expected a slightly more jubilant air of excitement to spill out from behind each stall, after all trade shows are your moment to wow the crowd, plus they’re costly, so it would seem crazy if you didn’t at least try. Instead there was a vague sense of inertia and a lack of spark, initially anyway. It could be down to size; certainly the hustle and bustle of a big show can disguise this. But I wasn’t really looking for big, just something different, and something that grabbed my attention. In a season of financial uncertainty where so many retailers are fighting for a piece of the pie, maybe I’ve come to expect something extra.
Instead it reminded me a little of the feeling I get when I have money burning a hole in my pocket but I can’t find anything to spend it on, however desperately I beat the streets. A closer look however revealed that all is not lost. There were a handful of exhibitors catching my eye, but they tended to be confined to those offering hand-crafted goods, customized bags for life, jute and cotton shoppers not sold in bulk, but hand-painted ‘one-offs’. With other goods like soaps and handmade scarves, it became quickly evident that the August fair has definite appeal for independent retailers or tourist gift shops north of the border that are sourcing for that particular niche market.
A year ago I met the wonderful Scottish designers Gillian Kyle at the show; they were noticeably absent from this year’s exhibition. Gillian Kyle are famous for their quirky minimalist gifts featuring illustrations of Scottish culture; Tunnock’s tea cakes and Irn Bru logos adorning mugs, aprons, bags and Tees. Their designs speak of Scottish heritage and appeal to tourists and locals alike, whether you get the irony or not. But what is most exciting about their work is its originality. The passion for their craft can be readily seen in the final classy product you see on the shelves. It’s successful too and you recognise the brand instantly. It’s now sold in over 150 shops, many independent, throughout the UK. Maybe it’s because I met them the first time I ever went to Scotland’s Trade Fair, when Gillian Kyle were exhibiting in a little corner out of the way. Their enthusiasm was contagious and it made retailers take notice and reach for their order books. I just think it would be nice to see a few more Gillian Kyles doing the same.
Stand out exhibitors:Maw Broon’s Home & Kitchen Range T: 01592 654 222 E: email@example.com Organica J T: 01330 850257 E: Jacqui@organicaj.co.uk Ness T: 0131 558 8950 E: firstname.lastname@example.org Fortune Favours T: 0141 2587815 E: email@example.com