Valuable exposure or vanity event?
Yes, they are fun, but is it time well spent? Let's be clear, this post doesn't refer to trade shows. Those are only open to industry professionals and are the main means of keeping pricing competitive (no one is going to your stall if you offer a 20% discount and everyone else is offering 30%). We're talking about the crowd pleasing design weeks, of which there are several (Focus, Clerkenwell Design Week, London Design Week (Chelsea) etc). They are largely attended by journalists, a few designers and well off 30 somethings who want to browse and invest in the latest products, but run a mile when they hear the pricing.
Renting space at the events can be phenomenally expensive for up and coming designers, so you get a very selective view of what's available (and let's face it, you are covering that cost when you buy the product). As with any fledging business, whilst their product may be thoroughly desirable, they may struggle with competitive price points, workable lead times and may have limited production runs. In contrast, you also get very well known brands who can afford large stalls, who go every year, which are of little value to the designer or journalist.
Despite this, we do recommend attending the design shows. If you aren't interested in purchasing, there are many talks and workshops which are free to attend (and no design event would be complete without copious free cocktails). There are also public installations to explore. If you are interested in buying, then most suppliers offer discounts for orders made because of the show (just mention them when you place the order, and don't leave it too long after the event). You will also have the opportunity to inspect products which aren't available in a showroom. There is no greater test for a sofa or chair than sitting in it, or for a chest of drawers or wardrobe than opening all the drawers and checking the smoothness and soft close. If you go every year, you soon develop a good eye for what will be useful or big in the up coming year. You also get to match quality to price and therefore offer your clients the best value for money.
We did particularly well at Clerkenwell Design Week last year. The large format porcelain tiles used in several of our bathrooms were spotted at Urban Lab (we were lured in by the free sausages). We have 2 Poliform Mad Queen chairs going into our Knightsbridge property this month (they are the comfiest things you have EVER sat on). These lovely Lederam lights are in 2 of our properties.
Can't wait to see what they have in store for us this year. Watch this space