retail watch | Feb 15, 2024 |
5 key takeaways from the winter gift and home show circuit

If it’s the dead of winter, it must be gift and home show season. The home furnishings industry jetted to Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas and New York to shake off its post-holiday hangover and get back to the business of doing business. For retailers, interior designers and everyone in between, it was time to see new product, compare notes on store happenings, and pin down plans for the months to come.

I went to every major winter gift and home market over the past six weeks, and these were my five key takeaways:

The Gift Business Is Pretty Good. The Home Business, Not So Much
The holiday selling season for most retailers of gift and related products was mostly OK. Not pandemic-bonkers-OK, but not the-sky-is-falling-recession either. Most retailers seemed to have beaten the inflationary rate with their increases, and that’s not too shabby. On the furniture side, however, it was a different story. Sales remain slow—and while shoppers can always buy another tchotchke, they don’t really need another sofa. The projected rebound for the sector is still on the distant horizon.

Inventories Are Mostly Back to Normal
By and large, retailers have cleared their back rooms of all the ill-considered goods they foolishly bought during the last days of the Covid surge and have been trying to unload ever since. Most said they were in good shape when it came to inventory levels and were looking at bringing in more merchandise—some for the first time in a long while. On the supply side, some of the factories that make all of this stuff (especially in China and especially in furniture) remain clogged up, and that end of the sourcing pipeline will still need a period of sustained growth to work it all off. It’s a process.

Don’t Expect Major Supply Chain or Inflationary Price Increases
For most of the past few years, you couldn’t swing a dead purchase order without getting into heated conversations about broken supply chains, port problems and that dreaded inflation rate. All of the above seem to have receded into the background in 2024, and even Houthi rebels, a war in Gaza and a drying-up Panama Canal aren’t spooking anybody. Sure, container prices are on the way up again, but compared to the worst of 2022, it’s nothing that can’t be absorbed by somebody along the chain.

New York, New York: Two Isn’t Better Than One
Gift and home show activity in New York remains very much a divided affair. NY Now, successor to the long-running New York Gift Show, has weathered ownership changes, the defection of a dissident group of exhibitors, and the inclement weather several years ago that got some people out of the habit of attending. In 2018, a group of exhibitors, mostly higher-end, more designer-focused suppliers, broke away from the show and established a separate event; the two were held concurrently but under different managements and aegises. The launch of Shoppe Object created two competing events on opposite sides of Manhattan and with opposite bases, splintering the critical mass that once existed. Sadly, this is not a case of “one plus one equals two”—it’s one and a half at best, making the market experience less convenient for buyers without adding much to the equation. For New York to remain a viable stop on the show tour, these two competitors will have to figure out a better way to coexist, and they need to do it soon.

Reports of the Decline of Shows Are Off Base
All of these shows—even the two New York events cumulatively—are fully back to pre-pandemic levels, and remain the way buyers and sellers want to engage. Yes, the online B2B marketplace Faire continues to gain in popularity, but few on either side of the buying equation seem to want to forsake in-person activities. The misguided predictions of the demise of physical retail stores in the online onslaught have proven to be foolish, and it’s the same case with the wholesale end. Yes, some smaller regional shows are sliding away, but the major events remain the primary way business is conducted. Don’t be throwing away your badge lariat anytime soon.

The next stops on the home circuit are Chicago for housewares and New York for textiles in March; then in April, it’s High Point for furniture and New York for tabletop. We can all reasonably expect more of the same.


Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.