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Influencers, Vikings and Niffler Plushes Dominate 2019 Spring Fair

Variety was once again the order of the day at the Spring Fair, the UK's largest wholesale trade event, with social-media influencers, organic beard-care kits and high-end, licensed cinematic wizarding merchandise all equally in evidence.

Photo: The Party Catwalk: Where the Spring Fair’s more comic costumes come to caper.
The Party Catwalk: Where the Spring Fair's more comic costumes come to caper.
Photo: The Party Catwalk: Where the Spring Fair’s more comic costumes come to caper.
The Party Catwalk: Where the Spring Fair's more comic costumes come to caper.

Once again welcoming retail buyers from across the home and gift sectors, this year's Spring Fair – one of the UK's largest wholesale trade events – had a huge spectrum of goods on offer. If that wasn't enough to warrant a trip to Birmingham, arguably England's second city, there was also an impressive array of trend and innovation-highlighting seminars to be had.

One of the most popular presentations came courtesy of Ian Shepherd, Founder of The Social Store, a London-based branding consultancy, and Chairman of The Business of Influencers, a newly formed steering group for the still relatively novel role that "influencers" – individuals with a high level of social-media clout – can play within the marketing mix. His presentation – The rise of Influencer Brands and their Impact on the Retail and Gift Market – proved, for many, to be a fascinating introduction to this relatively new phenomenon.

While turning customers into 'brand advocates' has long been the aim of many marketers, Shepherd took it upon himself to demonstrate the myriad new opportunities opened up by celebrity brand ambassadors. Among those he sees as creating huge new online audiences for retailers, he singled out such child social media stars as Tiana Wilson and Jojo Siwa, who have now become true celebrity character merchandisers, capable of using their online influence to sell their own range of goods as well third-party brands.

Detailing both their approach and effectiveness, he said: "YouTube has proved a hugely effective way of influencers reaching their audiences. In the children's sector, for instance, some 84% of all content is creator-driven. It's also worth bearing in mind that a Tiana video regularly reaches an audience of 1.2 million, six times more than the biggest children's TV programme."

Over in Hall 5, meanwhile, it was all but impossible to miss the lively caterwauling emanating from The Party Catwalk, which was providing a temporary home for an array of comic costumes from the likes of Amscan, Palmer, Rubies and Bristol Novelty. In the case of the latter, the fun clearly being had by its giant inflatable babies was, at one point at least, peremptorily interrupted by a zombie clown. Thankfully, Rubies' Captain Marvel was on hand to save the day.

Far more sombre was the impressive mega-stand belonging to The Portmeirion Group, the Stoke-on-Trent-based business behind the Portmeirion, Spode, Royal Worcester, Pimpernel and Wax Lyrical glass / ceramic brands. Working in tandem with its US subsidiary, the company now sells its various ranges through retailers in 50 international markets.

With the company, this year, choosing to showcase one prime example of its brand portfolio in particular – Spode – Head of UK Sales Stephen Richardson briefly outlined its heritage and future prospects, saying: "Although a quintessentially British brand, Spode has worldwide appeal, with many of its more traditional patterns – such as Italian Blue – still selling extremely well. Our aim, though, has been to create new designs while staying faithful to the overall Spode feel, designs that will be more on-trend and more in keeping with the expectations of some of our newer markets. A prime example of that is Kingsley, an adaptation of an original Spode design with cranberry as the feature colour and ochre and teal accents."

Despite commanding something of a premium price – four cups and accompanying saucers for a relatively hefty £100 (US$130) – Spode didn't seem to lack ready buyers at the event. This will be seen as particularly good news for the UK's Potteries region, which has recently welcomed back much of the group's ceramic production after its extended sojourn in cheaper foreign parts.

In complete contrast to Portmeirions' perennial presence was Warwick-based Sarah Horne Botanicals, which was attending the Spring Fair for the first time. An award-winning floral artist, Sarah Horne, the brand's eponymous founder, has more recently turned her talents to ceramics, with all the items in her collection coming adorned with her own plant / flower designs.

Photo: Tiana Wilson: Tiny toy influencer.
Tiana Wilson: Tiny toy influencer.
Photo: Tiana Wilson: Tiny toy influencer.
Tiana Wilson: Tiny toy influencer.
Photo: Botanical beverage receptacles from Sarah Horne.
Botanical beverage receptacles from Sarah Horne.
Photo: Botanical beverage receptacles from Sarah Horne.
Botanical beverage receptacles from Sarah Horne.

Explaining how the range evolved, Horne said: "It was only in the process of putting my ideas down on paper that I realised I had developed my own illustrative style, one born from my passion for all things floral." Now reproduced on Potteries' china, her designs have a distinctly fresh look and a classic horticultural feel. Again at the premium end of the market, a paired cup-and-saucer set is priced at £55.

Rather lower down in the per-unit cost league was Eddington's, a Berkshire-based, sustainability-minded supplier of kitchen and cookware. Introducing the company's new drinks-on-the-go system, Managing Director, Roger Murphy said: "The Pokito pop-up cup is a great solution for people who are genuinely concerned about sustainability. It's a real alternative to using paper cups. Priced from £8.50, it collapses to fit into your pocket or handbag."

In particular, the company was looking to promote its range of If You Care baking items, environmentally-friendly cookware endorsed by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international body dedicated to ensuring best practice in sustainable forest management. Highlighting one of the range's hero products, Murphy said: "Our Bees Wrap food wrapping, available in a range of sizes and designs, is bio-degradable and reusable. Beeswax-coated wrap is a fantastic alternative to cling-film – it can be washed and dried and will last up to a year.

"When used in conjunction with jojoba oil, the beeswax manifests effective antibacterial properties, which help to keep food fresher longer. We currently sell starter packs from around £8."

Another company trusting in organic alignment to boost its appeal to consumers was Sweyn Forkbeard. Taking its name from the first Viking king of England – a monarch apparently well-known for his chin-hirsuteness – the London-based company offers "a range of organic grooming products for the discerning male".

Highlighting the company's most in-demand items, Founder George Garcia said: "Out of more than 100 products, our most popular lines are our beard oil, shaving cream and English shaving oil. All of our range is 100% natural and everything is made in London."

Garcia launched the business in 2015 with global distribution his ultimate aim. At present, his distinctly packed luxury products retail from about £21.25 – with that princely sum securing you a 30ml bottle of beard oil.

Sticking with the big beard motif, the stand occupied by the central-London housed Noble Collection proved to be a veritable Aladdin's cave of fantastical wizard's wands, furry beasts and precious movie memorabilia. Originally founded in Washington DC, the company has gained a worldwide reputation for creating the finest licensed collectors' items for a range of film and TV properties, including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and many others.

Outlining just which products were currently appealing to the great British public, UK General Manager Dick Jude said: "Last year's top-selling items were the Niffler Plush from Fantastic Beasts selling at £19 and Harry Potter boxed wands for £30. As we take great care in the design and production of all our items in order to ensure authenticity, they are all in the premium-price bracket."

Photo: Sweyn Forkbeard’s sustainable shaving kit.
Sweyn Forkbeard's sustainable shaving kit.
Photo: Sweyn Forkbeard’s sustainable shaving kit.
Sweyn Forkbeard's sustainable shaving kit.
Photo: Niffler-stocking Noble Collection’s stand.
Niffler-stocking Noble Collection's stand.
Photo: Niffler-stocking Noble Collection’s stand.
Niffler-stocking Noble Collection's stand.

The 2019 Spring Fair took place from 3-7 February at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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