The gloom lifted in New York during the tabletop show last month, where vendors appeared energized, revitalized and even guardedly optimistic about the months ahead.
The show provided an opportunity for some of the big brands that struggled financially in the spring to emphasize their newly firm footing and their retooled, competitive assortments. It also served as a platform for some brand new names to showcase their wares—proof, perhaps, that this industry continues to delight, intrigue and inspire many.
“The mood has been more optimistic,” said Sal Gabbay, president of Gibson, during the show. “People are happy.”
If there was ever a market for sharp prices, key items and smart configurations, this was it. Vendors focused on prepackaged gift items and small accessory pieces with a strong value quotient. Many retooled their boxed sets of dinnerware or expanded sets of flatware, doing away with unnecessary pieces in an effort to bring price points down. Mugs continue to be a hot item.
Redesigned packaging was a key point of discussion for many vendors. New packaging concepts and designs were unveiled to better represent the aforementioned new product configurations, to be more environmentally sound, to enhance the gift-giving potential of the product, or to better merchandise the goods.
Because retail inventory levels have been exceptionally low this year, vendors said buyers came to the market in catch-up mode with a little more open-to-buy than usual. Some retailers, from the housewares level to the premium luxury segment, placed orders for delivery this fall, in time for the Christmas selling season.
“We can get the goods out by Black Friday. That’s huge,” said Neil Orzeck, director of Pasabahce Americas. “For the first time, I’m seeing order writing for fall 2009.”
Wilton Armetale is offering what it terms “lightning delivery” or delivery within 48 hours. It was a carefully considered promotion based on inventory levels, according to the company. It’s also “a good way for people to get inventory in before [customers] have finished their Christmas shopping,” said Dick Reisinger, Wilton Armetale’s independent and specialty store sales manager.
Retail assortments are still narrow, so there was a focus on specific products or niches of product, according to Orzeck. “People are buying basics and wow product,” he said.
Despite the focus on sharp price points, there seemed to be renewed interest in the luxury segment, at least to a point. Lenox created a new brand, L by Lenox, with an emphasis on design to command higher price points per place setting.
Market newcomer Prouna, part of longtime Korean dinnerware manufacturer Hankook, showcased Swarovski crystal-embellished dinnerware collections, one of which retailed for $1,000 per place setting.
Royal Crown Derby, which is happily ensconced and successful in the traditional, gilded, upper price point segment, surprised show-goers with a new unbanded bone china pattern called Hachi, which recalls some of its most successful patterns from the past in a new and modern way. In a similar vein, The New English, a United Kingdom-based company whose employees are long-versed in pottery making, assumed a fresh slant with an assortment of dinnerware with anatomical and tattoo art motifs, among others.
Tabletop licensing still has legs, though the focus has shifted from big-name personalities to iconic brands or specific fashion looks. Waechtersbach unveiled a new line of mugs and gift pieces sporting The New Yorker cartoons and covers, the result of a new licensing partnership. The magazine’s deep archives will enable the company to tailor its assortment to various retailers based on themes from the magazine, such as the Macy’s Day parade, said Cathy Levin, vice president of sales and marketing.
Zrike showcased its new Vera line, based on the designer Vera Neumann’s creations from the 1960s, another example of bold and bright yet simple florals on coupe-shaped plates. Libbey now holds the Sex and the City license, and introduced a short line of giftable barware featuring motifs from the popular HBO show. Pickard is producing a line of formal dinnerware created by designer Kelly Wearstler.
There was room for fashion at this show. Among the strongest trends were bright bold colors (yellow and orange florals among them), butterflies, coupe shapes, a flatter profile in dinner plates, soft squares and new techniques in reactive glazes.