Scotland's Trade Fair went well. The attendance was almost exactly the same as last year, with just over 4,000 visitors. Retailers also seem to have had a good Christmas trading period, so interest, confidence and ordering was, on the whole, good.
There's no doubt that it's harder and harder to attract buyers. These days there are numerous platforms for them to find new stock. Many shows compete for their attention both at home and abroad. Agents with cars full of goodies pitch up on their doorstep, while various online platforms - often exhibition websites - catalogues, supplier websites and social media all conspire to provide buyers with enormous choice when sourcing products. It's a much busier landscape, which is of course good, and has made all organisers work hard to compete for buyers. It's a real joy when you get it right and they comment on the quality of the new products at your show, the new suppliers they've found, how useful it was and how much they enjoyed it. Ultimately this is what all organisers are trying to achieve.
There are a few things that give shows an advantage, such as seeing, touching and smelling the products and having them all in one place, but human interaction is one of the strongest benefits. Getting together, keeping abreast of industry news and developments, talking, negotiating, arguing, meeting, gossiping, laughing, shaking hands, looking someone in the eye and so on.
These benefits are the same for everyone, but they're particularly useful for the more remote rural businesses, of which there are many in Scotland. For those that make the effort, the inspiration, knowledge and ideas are hard to find elsewhere.
Buyers are voracious about wanting to see new products and companies. Our Launch Gallery for 50 new businesses was good this year, although the products were possibly better suited to high-end retailers and galleries. No two years are the same - sometimes the companies are more commercial and on other occasions they're more highbrow. The standout area at the moment is our speciality food section, which is now 140 companies strong. The crossover area of food and gifts is really starting to fire, particularly as many of the big destinations in Scotland now have very strong offerings. We're starting to make good inroads into the restaurant, hotel and food service trade, which will have spin-offs into products such as soaps, candles, tableware, pictures and prints. It's good to see some of these initiatives gaining real traction with buyers.