By Allison Zisko
Engulfed as it is every spring and fall in a tide of new and on-trend products, permanent showroom building Forty One Madison is itself an institution that has proven its ability to change with the times and the trends while remaining a steadfast fixture in the tabletop community.
Vice president and director Laurie Burns marks her fourth year as head of the building, a fast progression of time (“My 14-year-old dog is now 18,” she joked) but certainly one of the most trying periods the industry has had to weather. “It was a great period of change,” Burns said last month. “Out of that came great creativity.” It sparked innovation and opened opportunities for many companies. As proof of that, Burns pointed to companies that have formed new divisions, repositioned themselves in the market, signed new licensing agreements and, in the case of overseas brands, have been determined to retain or create a foothold here in the United States.
“Four years later, I know the recession isn’t over, but in this past year we’ve all gotten used to the world we live in,” she said.
Over the past four years the Rudin family, which owns Forty One Madison, has renovated eight floors in the building, and Burns said it is open to modernization and change. The building maintains an active Facebook page, issues email invitations to market and hosts an educational seminar at one of the two annual tabletop shows and an invitation-only party at the other. The New York Tabletop Show is the type of show that takes care of itself, Burns said. At this year’s fall edition, Oct. 9-12, there will be vendor-sponsored parties night after night as well as the occasional celebrity appearance.
“A lot has changed since [former director Carole Dixon] left, but not a lot, if you know what I mean,” Burns said. “We’re still the destination for tabletop in the United States.”
The building is full. The newest tenants include Arc International on the 21st floor; Lladró, which exited its showroom building on 57th Street and has taken space on the fifteenth floor; and Vista Alegre, the Portuguese ceramic and crystal company that is establishing a greater presence in the U.S. and has ensconced itself in 3,000 square feet on the ninth floor.
“Lladró has always enjoyed a strong presence in New York City, both at retail and wholesale levels,” said Alejandro Caceres, executive vice president, in a statement issued by Forty One Madison. “In this context, we see our new showroom at Forty One Madison as a pivotal element in our presentation and business strategy. At the heart of the tabletop industry, Forty One provides Lladró with an ideal platform to interact with our distribution and to reach out to our prospects. Simply put, Forty One Madison is the place to be.”
Arc’s move to a 5,000-square-foot space on the 21st floor marks a return to the building after a several-year absence. Arc most recently had space at 7 W New York. “Our decision to return to Forty One Madison Avenue was based upon many factors, including requests from our key retailers to be more centrally located and the very positive developments in the building itself over the past few years,” said Ron Biagi, vice president sales and marketing, North America, in a statement. “Being the world leader in tableware, it only makes sense for Arc to have a presence in the leading tabletop venue, Forty One Madison. We’re pleased and excited to be returning ‘home.’”
Fluctuations in the tabletop roster are a normal part of showroom building life (25-year tenant CCA has exited the building, for example; Nikko has moved to Ten Strawberry Street’s space on the 22nd floor; Ten Strawberry Street has moved across the hall; Richard Ginori has moved into Nikko’s former space), but looking ahead, Burns said she sees a building that will remain essentially full and in demand.
The show remains a big draw for retailers across all channels of distribution. It tends to draw the most senior executives at retail, according to Burns. Savvy retailers know they need to come to New York, she said, “to see New York, to see the trends, to know what is going on.
“Business done here is at the highest level. It’s always been that way.”
The show takes place earlier in October than it usually does, and Burns sees this as a possible advantage for specialty retailers, who may not be as laser-focused on holiday decorating in early October as they will be at the end of the month, when the show typically occurs.
The show also happens just a month before the presidential election and at a time when gas prices are stubbornly high; these two factors weigh on consumers’ minds but most likely do not affect show attendance, Burns theorized. “I’m looking forward to a good show,” she said.