Mart pushes to lure gift sellers

Matt Colucci was able to expand sales beyond his company's Midwestern customer base by signing new orders for holiday-oriented figurines at this week's World Market Center winter show.

But it took more than sales prospects to get Colucci's company, ESC Trading of Columbus, Ohio, to agree to come to the Las Vegas show for the first time.

With the World Market Center trying to strengthen its roster of gift exhibitors and buyers, Colucci, an ESC Trading co-owner, was able to take advantage of an offer for free lodging at the Hard Rock Hotel and a flat $250 storage fee for any samples he chooses to keep until the summer market.

"They are really going for it," Colucci said about the World Market Center's ambitions. "A lot of the regional shows are dying. I think it will come down to who's going to be the major mart for the West, Dallas or Vegas."

Sales of large furniture items such as dining room sets, the center's predominant focus since it opened in 2005, stumbled badly during the recession and continued to decline in the fourth quarter of 2010, several industry sources said. By contrast, the smaller and less expensive gift and home decor item market has started to rebound, World Market Center CEO Robert Maricich said. Numbers gathered at other markets by Brandwise, which produces sales software, confirm the improvement.

World Market Center has offered incentives to get gift item companies to give Las Vegas a test-drive. Maricich estimates that about 10 percent of some earlier markets involved gifts, but that share has grown to about one-third and could rise to half. To do so, he said, would involve some consolidation of markets spread throughout the West.

"Is this (Las Vegas) a good gift show? Not yet," said David Schemenauer, president of the Marshall Group, an Elkhart, Ind., glass products maker. "But there is more traffic than there used to be and there isn't a good Western show out there."

As the number of gift shops declined in recent years, marts in places such as Denver and Los Angeles have seen declines, several exhibitors said. Others, including those in Kansas City, Mo., and Columbus have closed. Atlanta stands as the undisputed heavyweight among gift marts, followed by Dallas.

Officials at Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, declined to comment on the competitive climate or could not be reached.

"All the shows are competing more for people," said Arden Yerelek, vice president of national sales for Three Hands, a Sylmar, Calif., designer and importer of home collections that include furniture, lighting and home accessories. "The customer base in general has dropped over the last five years."

Besides fewer retailers, Brandwise President Todd Litzman said, the owners of the surviving retailers now attend marts instead of sending buyers. Because owners don't want to stay away from their businesses, they like to travel shorter distances, boosting smaller shows.

However, he added. "If Vegas can get lot of big players in one spot, they could do well."

Lorna Estes, a buyer for Knott's Berry Farm in the Los Angeles suburb of Buena Park, said, "There has been a lot of buzz, a lot of hype here and I hope it continues. My feeling is that a lot of buyers would like to come to Vegas because there is more to do at night than in Atlanta."

Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at or 702-387-5290.