There was a strong sense of optimism at the 15th annual Fine Furnishings & Fine Craft Show, which was held Oct. 22-24 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, R.I. The mood was different than the last two years when exhibitors grudgingly took their chances in light of a bad economy.
Better attendance was one reason for the upbeat attitudes: it was up 17 percent from 2009, according to show producer Karla Little. There were about 90 exhibitors, including almost 30 first-timers.
"I think the Providence exhibitors were the most optimistic that I've seen in a long time. They loved the new product debut cards we put around and the sold signs we offered as part of the booth package. They became conversation pieces for booth visitors," says Little.
A tour of the show floor revealed exhibitors were dedicated to maintaining a good attitude, whether they were selling items or not. Those who weren't making immediate sales were still optimistic about future leads and simply getting their name out.
Robbi Staples of Dartmouth, Mass., says he had his best show in his seven years as an exhibitor. He also knows how to play the sales game.
"Without question, a higher percentage of people that attended were looking to buy. People are well aware of our lousy economy right now. They also know that just about everything is negotiable. Since building custom furniture is my full-time profession, I was motivated to get sales, not just compliments. If you were willing to negotiate, they were willing to buy," says Staples.
Asher Dunn, a first-time exhibitor from Keesh Studio in Pawtucket, R.I., was not in a position to compare the show to previous years, but still gave positive feedback based on his first impression.
"The show was a lot of fun for us. We enjoyed not only meeting so many people that were excited about our work, but also the experience of meeting the other exhibitors. The show was a good platform for local exposure. Our studio is just three miles from the convention center, so it was very local for us," says Dunn.
Kevin Mack of Kevin Mack Fine Furniture in Malden, Mass., sold a $4,000 clock only 10 minutes into the show's opening. He's now a firm believer in the show scene.
"I spoke to at least a dozen exhibitors who sold items large and small. I have hesitated in years past to get my contract for booth space, waiting to see what the economy dictates. No longer; I am all in. This year's show has demonstrated the need and want for fine goods, priced accordingly. Anything will sell if they feel the quality is there," says Mack.
Rob Brand of Sebago Furniture in Naples, Maine, is a third-year exhibitor, who says he entered the show with low expectations and walked out with higher spirits.
"The economy has been down the last couple of years, so my luck has been so-so at the last few shows I've been to. This year at Providence, I captured a bed set and table order and also sold items off the floor," says Brand. He adds that his pieces are very utilitarian, rather than outlandishly contemporary, which he believes helps draw consumers looking for practical items.
The show's furniture awards went to Mack for best traditional body of work; James Langston (Newport, R.I) for best traditional piece; Mark Moore (Victor, N.Y.) for best contemporary piece; Peter Sandback (Harrisville, N.H.) for best contemporary body of work; Austin Campbell (North Bennet Street School) for best traditional student piece; and Alexandra Snook (Rhode Island School of Design) for best contemporary student piece.
Peter Scalera and Jill Caprio-Scalera of Peter Lawrence Woodworkers (New Fairfield, Conn.) won the Marc Harrison Award for Marketing Excellence.
Their booth had "a nice incorporation of his work and her work," says Little. "He's a woodworker and she does collage art to complement his furniture. The judges said it was a clean and professional presentation."
Little produces two other annual shows that were held earlier this year in Baltimore and Milwaukee. For information, visit www.finefurnishingsshow.com or call 401-816-0963.
This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue.