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Vibrant Winter Market Buoyed by Drinkware and Updated 80's Toys

With the high level of activity at the recent Las Vegas Winter Market seemingly surprising exhibitors, hopes are up that sales of high-tech beds, personalised pillows, heat-sensitive cups and reinvented executive toys will follow suit.

Photo: Puzzle from the past: Areaware’s reengineered take on Snake Blocks.
Puzzle from the past: Areaware's reengineered take on Snake Blocks.
Photo: Puzzle from the past: Areaware’s reengineered take on Snake Blocks.
Puzzle from the past: Areaware's reengineered take on Snake Blocks.

So bustling and vibrant was the recent edition of the Las Vegas Winter Market that theories soon began to fly as to just what had spurred this unexpected level of activity. Was it the strong economic indicators or, maybe, the tax cuts? Could it even have been the booming housing market in many US cities that had loosened purse strings all round?

Whatever the cause, the upturn was undeniable. Overall, the event recorded a 13% year-on-year rise in attendance, with strong visitor growth also recorded in several of the event's sub-categories, with home décor up 9%, gifts 12% higher and, topping them all, the already hugely well-attended furniture sector, which notched-up a 17% increase.

Commenting on the success of the show, Robert Maricich, Chief Executive of International Market Centers, the company behind the Las Vegas Market, said: "Against a backdrop of overarching industry optimism, we have expanded both our permanent showrooms and our temporary exhibition space. This generated a corresponding increase in buyer awareness, turnout and signed orders."

The expansion of the temporary exhibition space referenced by Maricich saw the opening of a third site for the Pavilions, the pop-up structures that ring the showground proper. These housed 500 gift and home décor stands, with some 200 of the exhibitors newcomers to the event.

Overall, gifts continued to be the largest single category within the Pavilions, with some 2,000 square feet added this year in order to accommodate 50 new exhibitors. Other growth areas included fashion accessories and baby / kids, with the latter said to be up 60% compared with last summer's event.

Even the addition of this temporary showspace, together with the existing 5 million sq ft of permanent showroom space, is seen as insufficient to house the ever-expanding expos held in Las Vegas every year. As a consequence, plans are already in place to build a new 350,000 sq ft expo facility adjacent to World Market Center over the next 18 months. Whether this will mark the end of the pop-up Pavilions remains to be seen.

Smart Beds and Light Couches

First and foremost, the Market is always going to be seen as a furniture showcase, with the quality and variety of the products showcased in this particular category making its heritage more than apparent. This year, though, even this traditional sector was not exempt from a digital upgrade.

Leading the charge here was Reverie, a Michigan-based manufacturer of sleep products, which was keen to promote its "mind-controlled bed of the future". This digitally enhanced divan is said to track sleep quality by monitoring brain waves and then raising the bedhead in response to certain alpha or beta wave patterns. It also comes with Alexa-enabled voice control, zonal sound (isolatable to just one side of the bed), foot warmers, pressure map support-adjusting technology and a 3D wave massage facility.

Summing up the company's approach to high-tech slumber, Chief Executive Martin Rawls-Meehan said: "Today's bedding consumer doesn't expect much from a technology standpoint – but they should. Our bed of the future clearly illustrates why."

Even the humble pillow was not spared a modern-day makeover with Protect-A-Bed, a Chicago-based sleep-accessories manufacturer, enlisting virtual reality (VR) to help consumers decide which of its 43 nocturnal head supports was the best fit. This sees the company's proprietary Sleep Tailor system photograph the would-be pillow-purchaser, guide them through a series of questions regarding their preferences, then deliver the optimum choice after consulting its "biomechanics model". Fancy.

Photo: Reverie’s digitally enhanced divan.
Reverie's digitally enhanced divan.
Photo: Reverie’s digitally enhanced divan.
Reverie's digitally enhanced divan.
Photo: Heat-sensitive mugs from Think Pray Gift.
Heat-sensitive mugs from Think Pray Gift.
Photo: Heat-sensitive mugs from Think Pray Gift.
Heat-sensitive mugs from Think Pray Gift.

A little more reassuringly low-tech was the lightweight modular outdoor furniture on offer from Michigan-based Comfort Research, a company previously best-known for its range of Big Joe beanbags. With each component of its new furniture system weighing less than 10 pounds, it's decidedly family-friendly and easy to move around.

Explaining the thinking behind the new range, Matt Jung, the company's Co-founder, said: "We introduced our new and improved Orahh moulded foam at last year's show. This gave us the facility to produce solid-base constructions capable of supporting more than 1,000 pounds in weight, which led to us building on that and creating our new line of multifunctional Big Joe Modular indoor / outdoor seating."

Gift and Novelties

Remember Snake Blocks? In truth, who could forget those colourful half-cousins to the Rubik's Cube that intrigued and infuriated in equal measure back in the early 1980s? Well, this vintage toy's comeback bid proved to be one of the biggest draws over on the stand of Areaware, a New York-based gift distributor.

Sporting something of a designer makeover, rendering them less of a fidget toy and more of an architectural construct, this 21st century take on Snake Blocks boasted a distinctly contemporary colour palette with its blend of pinks, cobalts and lipstick reds. Similarly, popular – and again distributed by Areaware – was the Blockitecture range of architectural building blocks, which allow bored executives to construct post-modern cities, parks and even factories, all without the need to vacate their office swivel chair.

Outlining the evolution of this particular executive distraction, Sales Representative Ruth Belliard said: "We started out about three years ago with just a couple of variants and now we're up to 10. We've also launched a smaller-size puzzle with bigger pieces as some people found the original size a little intimidating.

"In terms of other popular corporate gifts, the Dymaxion folding globes are selling well, with even the multi-nationals buying them. Puzzles that feature gradients of a single colour are also very much in demand at the moment."

Retro-eighties Rubik's-style reptiles aside, interactivity and unpredictability continue to be highly prized when it comes to choosing gifts, with the colour-changing mugs on offer from Think Pray Gift, a Minnesota-based gift distributor, matching at least one of these criteria. Once filled with a hot beverage, colourful images and pithy messages gradually appear on the outside of the mug, with the options available including a tree passing through different seasons and a fascinated polar bear gazing at the Northern Lights.

Explaining the appeal of this heat-sensitive drinkware, Tim Knowles, the company's Vice-president for Sales, said: "It's all about instant gratification and it's worked out very well for us. We started out with just four options and now we offer 25 different mugs."

Taking a somewhat different approach to the mug market was Andrea Dasha Reich, a Czech-born, New-York-based artist whose drinkware items all feature her signed designs. Commenting on the success of the collection, Rainer Kuhn, President of Covo, the range's Florida-based distributor, said: "They've been very popular, with sales particularly strong through museums and aquarium shops.

"Overall, the insulated drinkware category is proving remarkably robust, with the US hydration craze showing no sign of abating. At the moment, people are buying drinkware that matches their personality and fits in well with their home décor. I can't see that it's ever really going to go out of style."

Photo: The Winter Market: A busy show that bodes well for several sectors’ prospects over the coming months.
The Winter Market: A busy show that bodes well for several sectors' prospects over the coming months.
Photo: The Winter Market: A busy show that bodes well for several sectors’ prospects over the coming months.
The Winter Market: A busy show that bodes well for several sectors' prospects over the coming months.

The 2018 Las Vegas Winter Market took place from 29-31 January at the World Market Center Campus.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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