Gift fair tests mood for holiday shopping
KAI RYSSDAL: We missed Christmas in July, but you can safely say it's Christmas in August in New York City. Manhattan is hosting The New York International Gift Fair this week, the last real opportunity for retailers to stock up before the holidays. And if you think it's tough to figure out consumer behavior in the present tense, imagine trying to project four months ahead.
For the first time in three years, the trade show had so much demand from vendors that it leased all of its exhibit space. But then came the debt downgrade and the markets the past two weeks and the ensuing economic unease.
Sally Herships stopped by the show to see how to see how sellers -- and buyers -- are coping.
SALLY HERSHIPS: Marty Kubicki makes nightlights and wall sconces. They're porcelain, and decorated with pictures of fairies and trees.
MARTY KUBICKI: And note these are also on rotating bases, too, rotating fixtures so you can sort of point it differently.
CUSTOMER: Oh, right.
KUBICKI: See it looks like a wall sconce that way.
Kubicki has come to New York from California to sell his wares at this week's Gift Fair. It's a trade show where retailers go to stock up for the holiday season. Kubicki is one of 3,000 exhibitors. You can find everything from his night lights to designer baby accessories to solar powered wind chimes -- that's what you're listening to now.
The recession changed how Kubicki ran his business. Three years ago he had ten employees. Four left, and he hasn't replaced them. And a lot of the retailers he sold to stopped answering their phones.
KUBICKI: They would just not be there. Absolutely. At least a couple hundred of my customers. A couple hundred have gone down in the last couple of years.
That's a tenth of the stores he sells to. To make up for lost sales Kubicki had to start selling directly to the public at craft festivals. So after all the craziness in the markets last week, it's understandable that he was a little nervous. This is the last big trade show of the season. His booth and plane tickets were already booked, so Kubicki says he cut back on other travel costs.
KUBICKI: We got a little cooler for the room, we were making cereal in the morning.
Yet despite all his concerns, while we were talking, a buyer walked up. Tammy Close seemed really taken with his nightlights - especially the ones with fairies.
TAMMY CLOSE: This is what I need. I need every fairy, either in a box or...
CLOSE: In that frame item.
Close is buying merchandise for one of her N.J. gift shops, and I asked her how her business is doing.
CLOSE: We're actually doing really, really well. As long you have that price point, you stay within that price point, people feel like they can treat themselves to something.
Like Kubicki's night lights which Close is picking up for $26 a piece. Kubicki's gift show sales are up 40 percent over last year. And Close is one of over 30 new clients for him.
KUBICKI: I came here a little frightened, but it's been OK so I'm happy.
Maybe the only missing element is a price increase. Kubicki says his material costs and expenses have gone up, but he's just not ready to ask his clients to pay more.
In New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.