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Novelties Remain Distinctly Unworn-Off at Las Vegas Impulse Buy Expo

Drinkware, foldable sun hats, louche loungewear, sunglasses for exhibitionists and Second Amendment millinery all jostled for the attention of bargain-hungry wholesalers at the Affordable Shopping Destination Market Week show.

Photo: Hit and myth: Uniform unicorn demand remains a constant of many US expos.
Hit and myth: Uniform unicorn demand remains a constant of many US expos.
Photo: Hit and myth: Uniform unicorn demand remains a constant of many US expos.
Hit and myth: Uniform unicorn demand remains a constant of many US expos.

Seemingly a million miles away from all talk of punitive tariffs and trade wars, it was all unicorns and rainbows at Affordable Shopping Destination (ASD) Market Week, Las Vegas' twice-yearly tradeshow for impulse-buy novelties. Still not quite on their way out, these uni-horned wonders, along with thousands of topical-ish trinkets, lured a wide array of wholesalers, all on the hunt for bargains in the run-up to the summer travel and events season.

Strictly speaking, the event now comprises nine shows, ensuring it covers a wide range of high-margin merchandise – from gift and home accents to fashion, novelty and beauty. For the second consecutive year, it was also co-located with the Prosper Show, a how-to-do-it event squarely targeted at Amazon marketplace sellers.

The spring 2018 event took place against a backdrop of mixed messages for the sector as a whole. On one hand, according to a March 2018 report by IBISWorld, the Los Angeles-based market-research group, the gift shop and card industry has contracted somewhat as a consequence of external competition over the past five years. At the same time, though, overall industry revenue has continued to rise, with consumers increasing their spending on many of the nonessential items that are the stock-in-trade for the industry.

The continued rise in disposable income levels has also allowed consumers to travel more and purchase souvenirs / mementoes from gift stores in tourism destinations. It's expected that, over the next five years, the industry will benefit from still higher levels of tourism-related activity.

Clearly looking to capitalise on this trend was Boston-based Blue Moon International, with the company's array of foldable sun hats proving to be one of the most colourful and well-attended displays at the event. Commenting on the popularity of its location-linked headgear, Sales Manager Yiting Zhang said: "People wear them during their visits and also collect them as a way of saying: 'I've been to all these places.'"

Initially, the company has just focused on destinations in California, New York and Florida, but it is now looking to broaden its remit. In line with the upcoming FIFA World Cup, it has also launched a range of flags, allowing spectators to show off their national allegiances.

Staying in the clothing sector, comfort while travelling is one of the factors behind the popularity of packable loungewear, including such items as soft tops and bottoms folded into a pouch. Commenting on the success his company has found in the sector, John Mauck, an Account Director with Illinois-based DM Merchandising, said: "Athleisure has been strong over recent years so, as an extension of this, we moved into loungewear products, first pants and then matching shorts and tops. We've found that everyone wants to be as comfortable as possible whenever they can."

A similar thought process went into selecting the latest additions to the company's range – comfy cardigans and machine-washable shoes. Assessing the response to the latter, Mauck said: "Originally, we sold them solely through airports and hotels, locations where people bought them after a day wearing uncomfortable shoes. Such was their popularity, though, that now we even sell them through hardware stores."

The company has also found particular success with its range of novelty socks, with its best-sellers including Comic Con-themed hosiery and its selection of taco, avocado and funky popcorn-motifed under-shoe-wear. In another innovative move, the company has also launched a line of matching women's and men's underwear. Clearly more than happy with the response to this latest offering, Mauck said: "We're very much ahead of the game with this. It's done very well for us at the show."

Photo: Blue Moon’s foldable sun hats.
Blue Moon’s foldable sun hats.
Photo: Blue Moon’s foldable sun hats.
Blue Moon’s foldable sun hats.
Photo: Bespoke beverageware from Bewaltz.
Bespoke beverageware from Bewaltz.
Photo: Bespoke beverageware from Bewaltz.
Bespoke beverageware from Bewaltz.

Across the aisle, it was scarves that were attracting bargain-hungry wholesalers, particularly those being promoted by Washington-based JC Sunny Fashion. Asked just which motifs were most in demand, Delta Gutierrez, a member of the company's sales team, said: "Birds of all types are popular, especially hummingbirds, and people are still buying owls and pineapples, something they have been doing for years now. In the case of older folks, they tend to go for butterflies or sheet music."

It could be that older folks are also the target market for low-tech, decidedly non-digital, slide-in photo albums, although California-based Pioneer Photo Albums believes that these one-time staples of pharmacies and supermarkets may actually have wider appeal.

Championing their apparent return to the mainstream, Sales Manager Roger Cortright said: "We saw sales of albums level off a few years ago when everyone went digital. Now they're climbing back up as people realise they want to look at their pictures without having to struggle to find them on their phone first. The revived popularity of instant cameras has also helped."

With many such albums sure to be chockful of pet portraits, that's probably proof enough that PetPail – a Utah-based trader in cat- and dog-friendly travel feeders – can be sure of finding a veritable army of would-be purchasers.

Explaining the rationale behind his range, company Founder Rolane Grinnell said: "We have lunch boxes, so why don't we also have lunch boxes for our pets? For my part, I travel with my shih tzus and my car was always a mess, so I wanted to create something that could change all that."

Grinnell's solution was to design a portable pet feeding system that incorporates sealable meal packs, water dishes, coolants, waste bags, a shoulder strap and a spife – a cross between a spoon and a knife – to scoop out the food. Apparently, his dogs took to it so well that he now even uses it at home.

Definitely better suited to out-and-about use was a range of sunglasses – many in unusual configurations or fashioned from novel materials – showcased at the event by California's TH Sunglass Corporation. Commenting on the styles that were selling well in 2018, Sales Manager Julie Yan said: "This year, everything is very flashy. Oversized retro and highly decorated frames are very popular, as are light tints, glitter frames and ocean lenses. Round lenses and aviator shapes also show no signs of going away any time soon."

In any typically bright US summer, it would be folly for any sporter of sunglasses to venture out without an accompanying hat, which is pretty much where Capsmith, a Florida-based headwear manufacturer, slides into the mix. According to Dan Smith, the company's President, many perennial design favourites – including beer, truckers and college-affiliated – remain very much in demand, as do caps that make clear the wearer's views on the ongoing right to bear arms debate.

Predicting a few of the upcoming trends, he said: "We are constantly working on new fits to cater to different style needs, such as deep-fit crowns and bill structures. We are also seeing a renewed focus on classic caps that fit just right.

"Overall, pastels are still on-trend, especially mint and melon for women. For men, though, we have seen a return to more classic and traditional looks, with a particular focus on textures and patches. Tweeds, pinstripes and oil cloth are also getting increased traction this year."

Alongside wearable accessories, drinkware is also providing something of a channel for self-expression. Looking to capitalise on the current craze for creative carafes, California wholesaler Bewaltz had on offer a wide range of reusable water bottles, travel tumblers and mugs.

Commenting on styles currently most in demand, Account Director Jessica Luo said: "Ice-cream and unicorn tumblers have been doing very well, especially among the younger demographic, as has our Forest collection, which features delicate animals and plants in glass half-dome lids."

Photo: ASD Market Week Spring 2018: No end of novelties and topical trinkets by the ton.
ASD Market Week Spring 2018: No end of novelties and topical trinkets by the ton.
Photo: ASD Market Week Spring 2018: No end of novelties and topical trinkets by the ton.
ASD Market Week Spring 2018: No end of novelties and topical trinkets by the ton.

ASD Market Week Spring 2018 took place from 11-14 March at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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