trade tales | Oct 13, 2023 |
9 designers on why they do (or don’t) attend trade shows

Fall is prime trade show season, with markets and design center days galore. We asked nine designers—Anne Altizer, Jacob Laws, Kevin O’Gara, Brian Paquette, Rebecca Plumb, Chanae Richards, Timala Stewart, Anne Hulcher Tollet and Kevin Walsh—how often they make time to attend trade shows.

Rebecca Plumb
Rebecca PlumbCourtesy of Rebecca Plumb

Get together
“I attend trade shows two or three times a year, and it keeps me motivated in my business. It’s inspiring to see and touch all the beautiful things, but more importantly, it’s a chance to connect with other designers. When you’re face-to-face with a real person going through similar challenges, it breaks the cycle of comparison that social media can create.” —Rebecca Plumb, Studio Plumb, Sacramento, California

Brian Paquette
Brian PaquetteCourtesy of Brian Paquette

Skip the trip
“I attended so many [trade shows] when I was first starting out in this business. The internet has changed our access to all of these fairs and has honestly made it hard to justify the trip. I also wanted to become a bit more internally inspired, and as we had more access to the design world around us, I felt it more and more important to block out a bunch of it and focus on what felt right and authentic to me and what was the best fit for our projects.” —Brian Paquette, Brian Paquette Interiors, Seattle

Anne Tollett
Anne Hulcher TollettCourtesy of Anne Hulcher Tollett

Field trip
“Every year, we take our design team to High Point Market for nearly a week, and though it is exhausting, it is so beneficial! We are fortunate to be a group of women who really get along, so the five of us pile into an Airbnb and live like college girls for several days. Aside from seeing everything that vendors are rolling out, we do a solid three days of antiquing for our current projects. The team gets a chance to really analyze comfort, sitting on pieces and testing them out. We are all different shapes and sizes, so we only recommend and flag the profiles that we deem to be truly universally comfortable! But more than the design education the trip provides, it’s a big dose of team bonding—ordering takeout while we watch movies in our pj’s pounding the pavement completely exhausted, looking for Coke Zero and chocolate; seeing our beloved reps from favorite vendors; and forming inside jokes. I cannot recommend making time for this week in North Carolina enough.” —Anne Hulcher Tollett, Hanover Avenue, Richmond, Virginia

Chanae Richards
Chanae RichardsCourtesy of Chanae Richards

Monthly meetup
“I attend trade shows at least twice per year. To cover more ground, members of my team will visit specialty showrooms for both traditional and emerging brands on a monthly basis. This way, we get up close and personal with our reps and get the goods on durability, stock levels and all of the juicy bits you can’t always get at a trade show.” —Chanae Richards, Oloro Interiors, Philadelphia

Jacob Laws
Jacob LawsCourtesy of Jacob Laws

Opt out
“I have attended several trade shows and have found that their benefits can [vary]. I was honored to have been one of High Point Market’s ‘Style Spotters’ in 2021. As big of a compliment as that was—and it really was—that is how I discovered that trade shows just aren’t my thing. I like to take my time and wander a little. I’m the same way when I’m shopping for myself, too—I’m decisive. I usually have a very specific ‘something’ I’m looking for, so I am not typically just browsing, which my schedule rarely allows for. I also don’t design from a trend-driven perspective, and usually the shows are all about trends. More than anything, I think it’s just overwhelming, and you leave not really remembering anything very special because there is just so much. It’s sensory overload for me. The grueling schedule, appointments, invitations—not to mention the 17 million people all trying to look at the same thing that you’re going to see online the following week anyway? They’re just a little bit much for me.” —Jacob Laws, Jacob Laws Interior Design, Charleston, South Carolina

Timala Stewart
Timala StewartCourtesy of Timala Stewart

Social studies
“I attend trade shows twice a year. The most vital benefit, in my opinion, is the chance to nurture relationships. This can be with your vendor reps, design colleagues and other attendees that you meet along the way. In-person connections last [in a way] that digital can’t always [replicate]. I’m also a continuous learner, so I prioritize attending seminars to keep up with the latest trends, tech and business practices.” —Timala Stewart, Decurated Interiors, Tampa, Florida

Anne Altizer
Anne AltizerCourtesy of Anne Altizer

Relationship maintenance
“I have been going to trade shows for so long that I remember how hard it was for designers without a storefront to get into some of the showrooms. Boy, how things have changed! Now, even if you are a designer who does not intend to have direct accounts with manufacturers, it is still well worth the time just to see what is happening in the industry. High Point Market is the best fit for our firm, as it is more furniture-focused and only a few hours’ drive. Every two or three years, we attend Atlanta Market as well to check in with our vendors who don’t show in High Point. Product sales are an important part of our revenue stream, so maintaining direct vendor relationships is very important for our business. We attend markets not only to see, sit in, touch and feel new product releases, but also to show our continued commitment to working with those vendors. I believe it is very important for our clients to understand that we have not only seen and sat in most of the products we are presenting, but also that we have direct contact with the factories, which allows us to better manage the process, from presentation through procurement and shipping.” —Anne Altizer, Anne Altizer Interiors, Charlottesville, Virginia

Kevin O'Gara
Kevin O'GaraCourtesy of Kevin O'Gara

Trending up
“I find trade shows to be a wonderful source of inspiration, even when I’m not shopping for any projects in particular. As overwhelming as large marketplaces can be, I think it’s important to get a firsthand look at new arrivals to have a big-picture view of design trends. As an influencer, I also find that perusing showrooms offers helpful markers for consumer sentiment and design direction for retail brands six to 12 months down the line.” —Kevin O’Gara, Kevin Francis Design, Atlanta

Kevin Walsh
Kevin WalshCourtesy of Kevin Walsh

Letting inspiration strike
“Attending trades shows regularly offers a multitude of opportunities to learn, connect and grow within the interior design community. The benefits include a rich source of inspiration, allowing you the opportunity to discover new ideas, materials, color schemes and arrangements that can spark creativity. It is also great exposure for networking with vendors, craftsmen and fellow designers as well as [gaining] product knowledge.”—Kevin Walsh, Bear Hill Interiors, Little Rock, Arkansas

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.