February 6, 2020

Has Spring Fair lost its sparkle?

Stephen Welfare at Spring Fair 2020

As IP solicitor for the National Association of Jewellers, I was based on their stand within jewellery and watch in Hall 1. As readers of my previous blogs will know, Spring Fair is the nation's premier trade show for the retail industry, and in particular the following sectors:

  • Christmas
  • Floral
  • Fashion accessories
  • Gifts
  • Greetings cards
  • Cook and food
  • Jewellery and watch.

This year, jewellery and watch was moved from its traditional position in Halls 17/18 to the other end of the vast NEC complex in Hall 1. There are 20 halls in total excluding pavilion/arena and temporary international halls. Was the change to accommodate increased numbers of exhibitors, anticipated greater footfall, to house impressive grand stands and/or to facilitate a closer association with fashion perhaps? Disappointingly not. Since I do not have any official stats, I can only comment purely anecdotally that this year’s Jewellery & Watch show is the smallest that I have attended in the past 25 years. None of the major jewellery brands were exhibiting - no Pandora, Clogau Jewellery, Tiffany, Swarovski, Thomas Sabo etc.

There was no catwalk and very few, if any, fine jewellery companies were exhibiting. There was a distinct lack of bling at this year’s show. So why is that? From my discussions with jewellery companies, it simply reflects the change in buying practices of retailers. As Ben Roberts, MD of Clogau, put it, "buyers prefer to make smaller orders when they need the stock, rather than place larger orders at trade shows once or twice a year, and have to carry that stock". This makes good economic sense given the uncertainty that presently plagues the retail industry. With the ability to receive exceptional quality images of products digitally - including 3D visuals, a retailer does not need to attend a trade show to see a supplier's latest designs, and placing an order to meet demand rather than having to predict demand must make for a better business practice.

So what of those companies that did exhibit at Spring Fair 2020?

Amongst Jewellery & Watch, the mood remained positive with orders being taken that comfortably justified the decision and investment to exhibit. Daniel Ozel, owner of the jewellery company Unique Jewellery, told me he had been pleasantly surprised at the amount of business they had taken. Deborah Hunt of CME said much the same.

If there was a lack of glitter and gold in Hall 1, what was the position elsewhere at the show? My wandering around the halls meeting up with clients and contacts took me through most of the different sectors, and business in the gift halls was as brisk and bazaar-like as ever! My favourite gift company, East of India, certainly not slowing down with hordes of independent retailers picking their way over the myriad of products on their stand. Gold in the form of orders was noticeable being exchanged.

The future of trade shows

It remains to be seen if the reduced Jewellery & Watch show heralds the terminal demise of not only jewellery at Spring Fair, but indeed of trade shows themselves. There is a lot of history here of course: the Spring Fair began in 1950 and was first held at the NEC in 1976. Are the retail businesses of the future going to come along to these exhibitions in the time-honoured way, or with their buying habits and business models so changed will they demand something different?

It would be a real shame if that was to prove to be the case since the opportunity to network with customers and contemporaries at a trade show is, in my opinion, priceless. When looking for sparkle at the Spring Fair, the place to find it is perhaps not so much in the display cabinets as in the eyes of those buyers and sellers who are doing the business!

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