International Market Centers Makes Progress Toward Recovery with First Atlanta Market of 2021

February 3, 2021

“Recovery from the pandemic is a journey and after this week in Atlanta, I can confirm that we have taken a giant step forward,” proclaimed Bob Maricich, CEO of International Market Centers, following the close of the Winter 2021 Atlanta Market, held Jan. 12-19 at AmericasMart.

He continued, “We provided the platform — with safety measures and the return of favorite market experiences — and our buyers and sellers brought the passion, inspiration and dedication that will bring the home and gift industry back. It is onward and upward from here.” 

He added that the nation’s largest gift, home décor and lifestyle trade show reported healthy order writing, buyer traffic from across the country and positive projections for 2021, with buyers and sellers expressing optimism, confidence and demand for fresh, in-stock product at the first Atlanta Market of the new year. 

‘The Market Is Back’

While buyer traffic didn’t reach pre-pandemic levels, the event registered a more than 150% increase in attendees compared to its Summer 2020 counterpart, with spending showing signs of returning to relatively normal levels as evidenced by brands reporting 70-80% of their traditional order volume and average order sizes growing 15-50%, according to IMC officials.

“This really felt like the Market was back,” said Dorothy Belshaw, president of gift at IMC. “In the summer and some of the shoulder markets that we’ve done since June, our goal was to bring buyers and sellers together to support commerce, and to get our safety protocols in place. We really tried to reinstate the customary flavor of the January Atlanta market, and although I wouldn’t classify it as a normal market yet, it was much closer to normal than we’ve felt so far.”

Additionally, the event saw a near historic influx of new buyers, who represented 22% of total buyer traffic, Belshaw added.

Although the show remained largely drive-in and regional, with 76% of traffic hailing from the Southeast, it featured an encouraging resumption of out-of-region attendance, with a 500% gain in Northeast buyers and a 200% gain in buyers from the Midwest and West compared to the Summer 2020 Market.  

National attendance also returned to the show, with buyers from 49 states (excepting Hawaii), Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Altogether, attendees came from 21 countries, including Central and South America. 

Both retailers and designers said they were excited to be able to source products in-person at Atlanta Market again. 

“You have to use your five senses when buying… you just have to see it in person,” explained Jamie Pursell, owner of Birmingham, Alabama-based Leaf & Petal. “As a brick and mortar, our customers are seeing our merchandise in person, so we need to see it in person. [This market] felt buttoned-down, but comfortable.” 

Typically, the biannual Atlanta Market features more than 8,000 brands across all gift and home décor categories, including seasonal, gourmet, tabletop and outdoor. At the January event, 90% of the more than 1,000 gift and home tenants opened their showrooms, demonstrating that the face-to-face sourcing experience is on its way to a return to normalcy.

Exceeding Expectations

According to IMC officials, exhibitors saw better-than-expected traffic, with strong order writing and healthy buying activity in the home décor and decorative accents; gourmet, housewares and tabletop, and seasonal and holiday categories. Some commented that it felt like a normal Market — just with masks on.

“We came into the market expecting to do about a third of our normal business, but we have surpassed that — we had a line to get into our showroom every day,” said Exhibitor Cynde Stewart, president of seasonal décor brand Raz. “These buyers are very confident and we are on a great path for 2021.”

Along with the increase in activity and optimism, the Winter Market also marked the return of its temporary showrooms, aka the trade show, with more than 400 exhibitors strategically placed in eight socially distanced exhibition halls that included wider aisles.  

“After the first two days, I [ran] out of order forms,” said exhibitor Rick St. Angelo, founder of holiday décor brand Standing Stocking by 2 Saints. “I’ve surpassed my numbers from last January already and I haven’t counted it all up yet.”

Across all locations and categories, temporary exhibitors expressed gratitude for the return of the trade show portion of the event and said they intended to participate in the Summer 2021 Atlanta Market, which is set for July 13-19.

The event also brought back some of its popular mainstay Market experiences, including a new virtual adaptation of the Demonstration Kitchen, the launch of new Juniper “Preview Pods” providing a visual overview of the venue’s new B2B e-commerce marketplace, as well as new “Instagrammable” installations.

As with the Summer 2020 Market, the Winter 2021 event strictly followed IMC’s Together Safely protocols with its extensive on-campus safety procedures that included the required use of PPE, temperature checks, showroom capacity limits and social distancing measures.  

Each year, AmericasMart Atlanta hosts 14 Markets for the gift, home décor and apparel industries. The campus is open year-round and features more than 400 permanent showrooms across three buildings serving the retail, commercial and design communities.

Next up, IMC and AmericasMart will host the Spring Mini Market, set to go live March 3-5.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.