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Fine Furnishings seeks a 2010 turnaround

Organizer plans for an increase in exhibitors who will be eager to show their work to clients after a tough year

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Furniture makers are eager to show their work this year in an attempt to rebuild their damaged backlogs due to last year's severe economic downturn, says Fine Furnishings show manager Karla Little, who manages three annual shows in Baltimore, Providence, R.I., and Milwaukee.

"I think that I'm going to see entirely new exhibitors at all three shows because a lot of these guys don't have the backlog of work that they've seen in the past and know that they've got to get out there, show their work, shake hands, be politicians, be salesmen, be marketers and pass out their marketing material.

"In the past 18 to 24 months, [furniture makers] either didn't have discretionary income or they were being very conservative with it. Now they feel like the market has come back, that consumers feel their work is a good investment and are starting to very cautiously spend again," says Little.

The second annual Baltimore Fine Furnishings show is scheduled for May 1-2 at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center/Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore. The other shows will be held in the fall. Little says she expects at least 75 percent of last year's exhibitors in Baltimore to return.

Bill Russell, of Bill Russell Studio in Philadelphia, is a loyal Fine Furnishings exhibitor whose past experience has been with the Providence show. He looks forward to attending the Baltimore show for the first time in May.

"There is no substitute for these shows in terms of meeting the potential client in the most conducive business atmosphere," says Russell.

"Sales at shows are great, but the real value to me is in the opportunity to see clients from a wide geographical area who have sought out what it is we do because they can see, touch and discuss objects designed and made by individuals who have a passion for their work. Karla does a great job of providing an atmosphere where both show-goers and makers feel comfortable, valued and energized."

Fine Furnishings' exhibitors now have the opportunity to reclaim their booth space from the previous year.

"This new measure was implemented because most of my exhibitors are repeat exhibitors and this gives them the opportunity for their customers to know where to find them," says Little.

Last fall, Little added an advisory board for the Milwaukee show that was instrumental in significant changes - new dates, venue, floor plan, increased marketing efforts - all of which contributed to the best attendance in the four years of the show. The advisory board is made up of exhibitors, attendees and members of the industry. Little will be working on developing similar boards for her other two shows as well.

"The big projects for Baltimore and Providence are to build advisory boards for them that are as strong and dedicated as we have in Milwaukee because I clearly saw the advantage of having that board in Milwaukee."

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This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue.

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