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UK Spring Fair Proves Apt Showcase of Household Innovation and Style

Although the UK economy is cautiously seen as on the up, many retailers are still wary enough to seek reassurance and value for money through identifying the latest innovative household offerings and novelties available at the Spring Fair.

Photo: The Greatest Gifts on Earth? Suck it and see.
The Greatest Gifts on Earth? Suck it and see.
Photo: The Greatest Gifts on Earth? Suck it and see.
The Greatest Gifts on Earth? Suck it and see.

Predictions say that we're in for another 2% growth in the market, but retailers flock to the Spring Fair – one of the UK's key venues for debuting new products – knowing that they need to excite their customers with new trends, novel ideas and 'must-haves'. This year's edition was no exception. The Spring Fair caters for buyers from both independent retailers and the multiples, with a dazzling array of gift and household products from the UK and overseas.

Reassuringly, there was something new around every corner, with the first to catch the eye a humble (or not so humble) new kettle from Grunwerg. A Sheffield company, Grunwerg is best known for its cutlery and as the UK distributor for Japan's famous Global knives, but its Vektra range of kettles seems to have brought something genuinely new to the kitchen. According to Sophie Newton, the company's Marketing and Brand Manager, these new products have been designed in the UK, but manufactured in Japan.

She said: "The V1 Series Vacuum Kettles have a double wall that keeps water hot for up to four hours. Our new Vektra 4 Series, which launches in the summer, also has a unique base that enables water to be heated to a precise temperature. It's ideal for lovers of herbal and green teas, which are best brewed at around 70°C". The Vektra 1 retails around the £65-£75 mark subject to size, while the Series 4 price will be announced in the summer.

One very British-looking stand came courtesy of the Abraham Moon & Sons collection of woollen home furnishings and accessories, particularly its range of traditional checks and tartans, all on show under the Bronte by Moon brand. While the Yorkshire weaver has been creating fabrics at its Guisley home since 1837, the company's Export Sales Manager, Edward Wilkinson, maintains the brand is now making inroads in China.

Adressing this most challenging of markets, he said: "Our traditional tartan duffle coat liner has proved to be a big hit with the Izzue and Chocolate brands in China. Here at the show, though, our best-selling check wraps have proved popular with retailers." The company's wraps are pitched at the top end of the market and, in the UK, would set you back somewhere in the region of £85, with the throw blankets coming in at around £60.

From classic woven wool to a myriad of knick-knacks or – as SuckUK so modestly puts it – 'THE GREATEST GIFTS ON EARTH'. Fun, original, useful, quirky, novel, this is how the SuckUK.com sales team pitches its range, with one staff member saying: "Everything is designed by our team in London, manufactured in China and sold online anywhere on earth."

While it has a huge range of clever stuff, a few products particularly stood out – a rechargeable light that fits into the neck of an empty bottle, a solar-powered garden light in a jar and a customisable cookie-stamper. Without a doubt, its esoteric range has something for everyone.

Similarly eclectic was the sparkly, classy and quirky range of phone cases by Vibe, a Manchester-based company. There was a full range of accessories on show, but its dazzling, glitzy cases were commanding the most attention, making every female phone a fashion accessory – "oooh" a must-have. Indeed.

There was a big presence from across the pond, including an impressive stand from Massachusetts-based Yankee Candle. According to Andrew Mitchell, the company's Sales Manager, the candle brand was having a great show with a lot of interest in its Quarter Two range, particularly its Aloe Water, Cassis and Shea Butter offerings. If there's a candle for every occasion, then Yankee probably has it. Its new products, available from April, are branded as Café Culture and include Pain au Raisin, Tarte Tatin and Cappuccino Truffle.

Waxing lyrical about his product range was, appropriately enough, Mike Armstead, the owner of Wax Lyrical, a Lakeland-based scented candle business. Armstead bought the ailing company back in 2006 when it was about to go into administration. Recalling his decision, he said: "I turned it down at first, then on a wet afternoon my wife took me into the factory shop and I ended up buying about £100 worth of scented candles. The next thing I knew, I'd bought the company."

Wax Lyrical is a true British success story and now exports to Russia, Japan, Australia and throughout Europe. As well as selling under its own brand, Wax Lyrical piggybacks with several other brands such as The Royal Horticultural Society, Jelly Belly, Fired Earth and Julie Dodsworth. These successful partnerships seem to be as much about presentation as they do the candle's scent. According to Armstead, the top seller in the range is the Fired Earth collection, said to proving to be very popular in Asia.

Photo: Auteur’s stylish cookie-cutter.
Auteur's stylish cookie-cutter.
Photo: Auteur’s stylish cookie-cutter.
Auteur's stylish cookie-cutter.
Photo: Must-have phone cases from Vibe.
Must-have phone cases from Vibe.
Photo: Must-have phone cases from Vibe.
Must-have phone cases from Vibe.

While the market in leather goods is predicted to decline again in 2015, Robert Copeland, Area Sales Manager of Ashwood Leather, was seeing liitle sign of it at the Spring Fair. He said: "The number of retailers are down year-on-year, but signed orders are up to target." Ashwood sources sheepskin from the UK and most of its leather hide from India, manufacturing to either its own designs or bespoke for clients in the UK, Europe, and Russia and beyond. As well as ladies and men's bags, one of its best-selling products is the Zena, a sheepskin boot. With a wholesale price of £29.95, the Zena makes big margins and still retails at a fraction of the price of an UGG, its Australian competitor.

A slightly more outré offering was on show from Shreddies Ltd, a Leicester-based manufacturer of specialist underwear. Using Zorflex-activated carbon cloth, originally designed for chemical warfare suits, the company's pants actually filter out what it coyly terms "unwanted odours". Invented by company founder Paul O'Leary in 2006 and designed by students at De Montford University, Shreddies provide stylish solution to an embarrassing problem. The company is building its customer base through selected distributors, retailers and online sales.

Anti-flatulent fabrics aside, the most dazzling display at the Spring Fair was put on by the Portmerion Group as part of a promotion its new, exclusive collaboration – Ted Baker Portmerion. The venture sees quintessential English china partnering with an iconic fashion house, with the series presented in two distinctly styled ranges – a floral bone china collection and a casual porcelain giftware range.

Explaining the thinking behind the collections, Phil Atherton, Portmerion's Group Sales and Marketing Director, said: "Rosie Lee has been inspired by Ted Baker's new season apparel collection, even down to the china mugs styled on the cut of the designer's dresses. Surprisingly, even though the gift range has been targeted more towards a male audience, it's had huge interest from the ladies." The Ted Baker Portmerion collection officially launches this month.

By far the biggest and glitziest stand at the show, with a very big "oooh", though, was the Pandora exhibition. This featured historical displays, showing the company's humble beginnings in Denmark, up to today's global marketing empire, which sees the business operating more than 10,000 sale points in 70 countries. Introducing the company's jewellery range, Marketing Manager Emma Collings said: "Every piece of our jewellery is painstakingly hand-made in Thailand. Each piece is as individual as our customer's personal style. That's what makes Pandora jewellery special – a combination of fantastic quality, individuality, and  a price that is affordable to anyone." Pandora presented several collections for spring and Mother's Day at the Spring Show, including Graphic Lines, a new multiple ring collection.

Retailers out to find 'the next big thing' also had plenty to discover on the Auteur stand. In fact, according to Vivienne Cudahy, Managing Director  of the Oxfordshsire-based homewares brand distributor: "Everything on our stand is the next big thing." True to her word, she had on offer a small, but very exclusive collection of 'I must have products'.

Cudahy clearly knows her market and, as a former fashion buyer for Harrods, all of the products were heavy on style. Its Spring Fair collection included a butter knife that melted butter just by holding it, as did a companion ice cream scoop, a plate that defrosted meat without heat, a gravy boat that stayed warm, bottles that filter tap water instantly and chunks of Himalayan rock salt for grating (apparently the purest on the planet).

While the audited number of visitors for the 2015 Spring Fair are yet to be released, they are believed to be a little down on the 2014 figure of 65,770.

Photo: Spring in their step: Visitors arrive at the 2015 show.
Spring in their step: Visitors arrive at the 2015 show.
Photo: Spring in their step: Visitors arrive at the 2015 show.
Spring in their step: Visitors arrive at the 2015 show.

The UK Spring Fair 2015 took place at the NEC in Birmingham from the 1-5 February.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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