IMPRESSIONS OF AMBIENTE FRANKFURT FEBRUARY 2011

After many years of visiting the Ambiente Trade Fair I thought it would be worth recording my impressions of this years show and how it is evolving – so here goes.

It is still so large that you need an iPhone app to find your way round. The show catalogue is heavy enough to give you back ache after a while. Segways would be an idea and getting around is only manageable as a result of plentiful moving walkways and shuttle buses between halls. With eleven halls, mostly with several floors, this has got to be up there with the largest  home wares shows in the world.

While it is at its heart a show for the German market it is also a key international buyers destination. My particular interest is in Hall 4 which now hosts the leading tabletop brands and one cannot help feeling that the move from the permanent showrooms of Hall 10 to the temporary stands of Hall 4 is an indication of the reduced status of this industry sector. The mass exodus of French and Scandinavian brands since 2010 – Baccarat, Lalique, Royal Copenhagen, Desoulieres etc is perhaps more due to the growing prominence of the January Maison et Objet show in Paris than this move but it is an interesting coincidence. This is not to say that the remaining players are not giving it their best shot. The Villeroy & Boch stand provided its usual impression of a teeming anthill of buyers and sales people with coffee drinking as one of its main product¬†focuses. WWRD (Waterford, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton) took the high ground with a dazzling white stand focused almost entirely on new products from the three brands. This was unusual in that the natural conservatism of the industry sales teams tends to dictate a comfort zone display of core products. From the levels of activity it certainly appeared to be a strategy that was working. Close by the Lenox and Dansk brands were making a bold presentation clearly aiming to build their business in Europe. Their display included the now obligatory ‘designer’ product, a range from Kate Spade New York. Rosenthal, Thomas and Hutschenreuther, now under the umbrella of Sambonnet, are said to be beginning to see some of the benefits of group synergies and a more rigorously commercial direction. Portmeirion, with its expanded family of brands that now include Royal Worcester, Spode and Pimpernel, are in a great position to reap rewards from these acquisitions, as demonstrated in their results. They now have the challenge of how best to position them for long term growth.

As usual much of the most interesting product design was to be found in the ‘ Loft’ exhibition in Hall 11, focusing on avant garde and design orientated home accessories, lighting, textiles and smaller furniture pieces.

There is no doubt that Ambiente is a ‘must do’ for home wares buyers worldwide and that it is evolving into an even more international market place with a large and growing presence by Far Eastern suppliers in all sectors. A day and a half is hardly time to do justice to the huge spectrum of Brands and products presented at all levels so this is necessarily a selective set of impressions. The underlying impression was one of guarded optimism for 2011 business.

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