Gifts Today magazine

Autumn Fair opens on Sunday!

Ahead of the show, Gifts Today's editor Sally Norton had an exclusive chat with Regional Director of Spring and Autumn Fairs Julie Driscoll about what the exciting changes will mean for exhibitors and visitors alike

‘Essential, vibrant and forward-thinking'. This is how Julie Driscoll describes the revamped Autumn Fair, due to open its doors this weekend. We asked her to share her thoughts on the show, set to run from Sunday 1 September to Wednesday 4 September at the NEC, Birmingham.

There’s a lot of talk in our industry about the re-edit and repositioning of Autumn Fair, following its acquisition by ITE Group plc. This will be unveiled in September - what’s the overall first impression you’d like to make for visitors and exhibitors?
This is a transformational moment for Autumn Fair, and we’re really excited to be unveiling the new re-edit to visitors. Following the recent acquisition, we’ve invested heavily in Autumn Fair to ensure that we’re consistently delivering for both exhibitors and visitors. The re-edit has completely overhauled the show layout – moving it into the Atrium at the NEC – as well as revamping the show sectors to make it much easier for buyers to source complementary products and for exhibitors to see greater visitor footfall at their stands. Ultimately it’s all about facilitating more connections and more deals, as well as generating more profit for the sector.

What do you feel the new direction will improve for exhibitors?
With show sectors having been simplified and combined, we’ve been able to create all-new sourcing and exhibiting destinations for buyers and suppliers. All this will mean that exhibitors can expect more streamlined thoroughfare and greater exposure to more high profile and receptive retailers than ever before. We’re also introducing new services to help assist visitors in finding the supplier that’s right for them. So from an exhibitor perspective, we’ll be matching them up with the buyers that are the most likely to want to place essential orders.

And for visitors?
Autumn Fair has always been about ensuring that visitors are able to stay ahead of the curve and find the products that will continue to drive sales deep into the Christmas period and well beyond. This year with the show re-edit we’ve focused on enabling better cross-buying opportunities, particularly in the all-new Gift area, that will bring together both contemporary and traditional gift edits into what will be the UK’s largest gifting showcase.

The 12 exhibitors to Autumn Fair’s #SBS showcase have been announced. Why do you think this initiative is so important?
In partnering with Theo Paphitis’ #SBS we’re helping some the most exciting new suppliers in the sector to gain a foothold at the season’s most important opportunity to reach the biggest and most influential retailers. Each of the shortlisted businesses should be incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved.

And what do you think the choice of winners reveals about the gift industry?

They’re an exceptional cohort of businesses that reflect the impressive current state of entrepreneurialism in the retail sector. With new brands like Ascent, Beeutiful and Sandwick Bay Candles being selected for the platform, it well and truly demonstrates the importance of natural and ethical self-care products in the current market. But of course, it’s not all about beauty and wellbeing – we have some amazing new exhibitors in the likes of Bottled Baking co. and Our Little Globe, who along with seven other inspirational and unique new brands will be embodying Theo Paphitis’ entrepreneurial spirit at Autumn Fair.

Why are big trade fairs still relevant in these digital days?
More so than ever, social media and e-commerce gives buyers everything they need at their fingertips, but searching online for your next sales hit can often be a rudderless and time-consuming process. Trade shows like Autumn Fair offer a curated experience and do so much of the hard work for buyers. Also, we hear every year from our buyers and suppliers that they value face-to-face meetings above anything else – it remains crucial to building and maintaining all-important buying relationships. Online just can’t offer that.

And why, in particular, is Autumn Fair so important to gift buyers/exhibitors?

Autumn Fair is the UK’s biggest gifting and homewares marketplace and it’s only set to get bigger for 2019. It’s been the centrepiece of gifting retailers’ and suppliers’ calendars for nearly three decades. In that time, it has helped drive countless deals and forged long-lasting relationships between retail’s boldest buyers and suppliers. Many gifting buyers come back year-on-year to renew orders and see what their most dependable suppliers can bring to the table. In that sense it’s always helped to drive the industry forward and ensured that it embraces new trends and innovations.

Is there a specific reason you have chosen now to launch a new international sourcing zone at the show? What can visitors expect to find there?
We’ve recognised the growing demand within the retail space for quality and relevant international products. At the same time however, we understand that retailers may not have the time or resource to commit to costly foreign sourcing trips to bring the best the world has to offer back to the UK market. This is why we’ve brought international sourcing opportunities to their doorstep. Those who have previously felt that the world’s most competitive, high quality and dedicated suppliers have been out of reach can now forge significant new supplier relationships. Not only that, but we’ll be pushing to attract more international retailers to buy from the UK-based suppliers that are the foundation of our show.

Throughout the event, visitors can also expect to be able to draw inspiration from not only the plethora of foreign goods on offer but also our all-new Sourcing trend installation and theatre.

Have you given specific advice to international exhibitors about the UK market?
We’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that we share the latest trend intelligence for international vendors to ensure that they’re bringing the most relevant products for the UK market. For the Sourcing showcase we’ve researched and hand selected the top 30 Homeware, Kitchenware, Toys, and Textiles manufacturers across the globe, as well as the relevant associations who represent them. Across all of our international offices and agent network, the importance of the UK retail market has been presented to each association in great detail.

Identifying the right trends is more important than ever in these uncertain times leading up to Brexit. What is there on offer in your Sourcing Theatre?
The Sourcing Theatre will host talks from well-known industry experts on supply chain management, partnerships, procurement, visual merchandising and more, allowing professional buyers to get one-step ahead of market competitors.

How did you go about choosing the speakers/companies giving advice?
Our focus on speakers this year has been to embrace more voices from retailers and thereby get the view from the boots on the ground and those who are truly driving change and innovation in the sector.

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