27 Oct 2016
Colouring Books, Vaping and Emojis Go Centre-Stage at ASD 2016
The Las Vegas-based B2B trade show, with a particular focus on the more affordable items of retail merchandise, goes from strength to strength, twining with appropriate events and introducing a series of new dedicated product zones.
Stealing coolers – particularly high-end, high ticket, certified grizzly-proof variants – was a hot issue across the US this summer. It came as no surprise, then, that this love for build-tough outdoor products, along with a number of other on-trend finds, spilled over into ASD Market Week, a B2B trade show focussing on the more affordable items of retail merchandise.
As attendees stood and reviewed their treasure-hunt strategy, colourful emoji balloons floated overhead, while giant teddy bears sought to lure unwary gift-shop owners. With the selection on offer ranging from military surplus to Buddha statues to bejewelled purses, at times the choice could feel a little overwhelming. Thankfully, though, the show was eminently well structured, complete with designated product areas and straightforward navigation. There was even a hard-to-miss matchmaking service, both online and on-site, which did its utmost to oblige.
A combination of the organisers' hard work, the improving US economy and the impending holiday season resulted in impressive numbers for this year's event. Overall, the number of buyers in attendance was up 10% year-on-year, while the overall number of exhibitors has grown 12% per annum for the past two years.
Karalynn Sprouse is Executive Vice-president of Merchandise, International Sourcing and Manufacturing Groups for Emerald Expositions, the company behind the event. Commenting on the positioning of the show, she said: "We are a one-stop shop for retail-store owners, buyers, distributors and importers. Here they can source, discover and purchase a huge assortment of merchandise from around the globe, all at a price point that delivers an unprecedented margin-building opportunity for their businesses."
Another factor in the success of the event has been the expansion of its Two for Tuesday programme, an initiative that has seen the ASD partnered with the Las Vegas Summer Market, a design and furniture event with its own gift section, but with a focus on higher price points. Every year, the events cross over for a number of days, with a free shuttle bus running between the two and attendee registration valid for both events.
This year, even on the hottest of afternoons, the lines for the buses were long, but thankfully fast moving. Given that parking is tight at both venues during the Market Week, the shuttle-bus programme was a welcome addition.
Explaining the thinking behind the partnership, Dorothy Belshaw, President of Gift and Home Décor for International Market Centers, said: "Our collaboration with the ASD gives gift buyers a unique opportunity to source new products, while providing tenants with new channels for distribution. Bringing our collective resources together offers attendees an added benefit at no additional cost."
One of the many parallels between the two events was this year's expansion of the artisan, craft and handmade categories. The Las Vegas Market recorded strong interest in such merchandise at its Pavilions area, while the ASD launched create.it, a zone dedicated to the kind of products you might expect to find on Etsy.com, the well-known artisanal crafts website. A number of real-time demos also enlivened the area throughout the event.
A different kind of craft, but one undeniably creative in its own way, was colouring, one of the more popular categories in the gift area. No longer limited to just toddlers, colouring is apparently gaining traction among adults of all ages, at least according to Lacey Hornecker, a Sales Manager with Oregon-based Stuff2Color.
Summing up the appeal of this now bewilderingly popular pastime, she said: "It's a multigenerational hobby. People like to get away from technology at the end of the day. In many ways, it's a new take on quilting.
"People used to be embarrassed because they thought colouring was just for kids, but now that stigma has gone. There are now cocktail parties on Sundays where people get together and just colour."
Assured of its popularity, the company had brought thousands of colouring books along to the show, as well as a wide selection of flocked velvet art patterns, vibrantly coloured and with plenty of space for additional colouring.
As well as inspiring cocktail-fuelled colouring parties, socially-served alcohol was getting something of a makeover courtesy of Zees Inc, a Florida-based manufacturer and distributor of gift and houseware products. This year, the company drew considerable attention with its wine-glasses-in-a-cup concept.
As well its novel take on the traditional tumbler – all fetchingly emblazoned with a number of glittery legends, including 'Wine Diva' and 'Wine drinkers have more fun' – the company has now begun making custom products.
Explaining the thinking behind its new bespoke range, Farhan Khan, the company's Vice-President, said: "It all came in response to a number of wineries and gift shops asking to have their custom messages and logos featured on our wine glass tumblers. They are now doing well for us, as is our range of gemstone bottle stoppers and shatterproof stemware, which looks exactly like real crystal."
If a cheeky tumbler doesn't do it for you, California-based Smuggle Your Booze had an even more outré option on offer for Las Vegas liquor lovers – alcohol in a tampon (or at least in a flask that looked very like one).
According to Jane Cusick, the company's Co-founder, this particular product is its best-seller, closely followed by its sunscreen bottle flask. Later this year, the company is promising to add a hairbrush and an umbrella flask to its range.
Where you find such flasks, you'll inevitably find partying and, today, when you find partying, there's a good chance you'll find vaping not far behind. While the jury across the US is still pretty much out on this particular pastime, it has been awarded its own niche at the ASD. This year, the event partnered with Vape Nights, a B2B trade show for the vape industry, jointly hosting its third annual conference and introducing a dedicated Smoke + Vape zone on the floor.
Justifying a move that has surprised some, David Bertelsen, ASD's Show Director, said: "We're always looking for new ways to add value and to stay ahead of industry trends. We feel that Vape Nights brings a whole new level of education and opportunity to both exhibitors and buyers."
Completing the party ensemble was a range of fashion-statement clutches from Los Angeles-based 3AM. Taking a rare break from writing orders, Rocio Macias, the company's Sales Director, said: "Party bags are really good right now as everyone is getting ready for the holiday season. At the moment, we already have customers from Europe, Canada and even Australia. One of our biggest markets, though, is Mexico. They're very forward when it comes to trends."
Among the company's best-selling items were emoji purses with rhinestones, purses that resembled Chinese takeout boxes and pineapple clutches. The latter, of course, took their cue from the current popularity of the pineapple fashion statements of both Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana.
At pretty much the opposite end of the fashion spectrum, emojis continue to rule when it comes to self-expression on merchandise. Acknowledging this, James Robles, Vice-President for Business Development at Indiana-based Novelty Inc, said: "They're still our most popular products. We started with pillows and then introduced them across all of our categories.
"Our bestselling emoji, believe it or not, is poop. Poop is hot right now. People used to joke that we sold it for a living and now we literally do."
ASD Market Week 2016 took place at the Las Vegas Convention Center from 31 July-3 August. The event attracted some 45,000 attendees.
Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas