Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. Revamps California Gift Show

December 13, 2010
Just a year and a half after Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. bought the semiannual California Gift Show from dmg world media, MMPI has breathed new life into a show that had seen declines in recent years. On the show’s opening day, held Jan. 21-24 at the Los Angeles Convention Center and Jan. 18-24 at MMPI’s nearby L.A. Mart permanent and temporary showrooms, the showfloor at the LACC was bustling with buyers looking for new products and exhibitors eager to shake off the gloom of tough recessionary times. Exhibitor Jamie Ferling, owner of San Fernando, Calif.-based resort t-shirt company West Trend, said she used to exhibit at the show twice a year for several years before she stopped coming. This year, though, she decided to reinvest in being on the showfloor. “I’m hoping to reconnect with some of my (old) customers and hopefully find some new ones,” Ferling said. Attendee Rafael Osana, a Nantucket, Mass.-based auctioneer and appraiser, said he was at the show looking for jewelry to buy. “I think the show is better than last year,” he added. “The energy is a lot better.“ In the past few years, not only has the gift show industry been challenged, but also the sector itself, like most others during the recession, has seen contraction. Even with the bumps in the road, Mark Furlet, MMPI’s vice president and general manager of L.A. Mart and California Gift Show, said in the past six months, there has been a positive uptick in business. In fact, he added, hotel room bookings were up 25 percent for the show, as well as 230 new exhibitors were on the showfloor. In all, there were more than 20,000 buyers and 850 exhibitors, according to a post-show press release. “We were thrilled with the high energy and level of activity at this show,” Furlet said. “We believe that the newfound optimism that 2011 kicked off with has truly permeated the retail sector.” He added, “Add to that, the incredible new product offerings that our showrooms and exhibitors featured, the exceptional visual merchandising and displays, the jam-packed event schedule and summer-like weather, and you have a real success story.” Since MMPI took over the show in May 2009, it has continued to work on improving the buying and selling experience, according to Peggy Coleman, MMPI’s vice president of marketing for L.A. Mart and California Gift Show. There has been an ongoing big push to let exhibitors know that MMPI wants to help them have a successful show, Coleman said. As part of that effort, she added, they treated the exhibitors as “partners” and offered them free webinars, as well as a partnership program in which exhibitors were sent buyers’ passes to give away. In addition, Coleman said, MMPI offered exhibitors customizable e-mails that they could send out to buyers that included a trackable registration link. “We put incentives around the marketing of the show,” she added. “The exhibitors who do the best are the ones that bring the buyers in.” Furlet also said the configuration of the showfloor has been changed to be more “buyer-friendly”, adding, “We worked with a stylist and restyled the show.” Two obvious changes were the food was located in the middle of the showfloor, instead of having people leave to go to the food court outside the halls, and the show office also was located on the showfloor, instead of offices located above it. MMPI’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by exhibitors. “They listen to what the exhibitors say and feel,” said Erik Morrissey, warehouse sales manager for Charleston, S.C.-based Kubla Crafts. “This is a good show for us.”

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