LED this way and that on the road to recovery – Spring Fair NEC 2014
This last weekend I went on what is an annual pilgrimage for many business owners – that glorious ‘assault on the senses’ known as the Spring Fair at the NEC.
If you haven’t been there, or to the smaller Autumn equivalent, then it is basically where the nation’s shopkeepers – both online and bricks and mortar – gather to see what latest and greatest ideas they can stock their warehouses and shelves with to entice the punters to part with their cash.
It was interesting to see what’s changed and what hasn’t since my last visit in 2011
The first thing that was noticeably different is that the ‘buzz is back’. You could see that even on the opening Sunday, when the general public like to take a peek, there was business being done. The last time I witnessed anywhere near a ‘buzz’ at a Spring or Autumn Fair was way back at the start of 2008 before the impact of the financial meltdown hit home in the UK.
The other big general change from a couple of years ago is that tablet PCs have become not just a flashy accessory but an essential exhibition tool – from snapping visitor badges, to demonstrating product variations to collecting order information, the exhibition stands were awash with tablet toting staff tapping and swiping away.
Here are a few more observations and highlights from this year’s visit …
1. The ‘new’ e-commerce zone
In the context of 16 large NEC halls being filled from end-to-end with all manner of tat, the ‘new’ e-commerce zone was minuscule and tucked away in the far corner of Hall 1.
That said, a fair sized crowd had made its way there even early on the opening morning for the free presentations on search marketing and optimisation – no doubt hoping to gain insights into the impact of the latest Google algorithm changes and probably feeling disappointed that the main messages were still the same. Ironically though, a few conversations with the SEO experts revealed that while ‘adding links to your site’ was their mantra for quite a number of years, it is now more a matter of ‘removing detrimental links’ that will see you climbing up the rankings – hmmm.
Obviously, technology vendors were taking some tentative steps in trying out this ‘new’ zone as generally those offering these types of product and services have dotted themselves amongst the stands in other halls.
I was surprised and also very pleased to see that Commerce Guys had a small presence in the new zone and it was a very useful opportunity to find out more about what they are up to with their product and service developments.
2. If there’s space, add an LED or 10
The trend at this years show was undoubtedly ’embedded LEDs’. All manner of products now can seemingly be enhanced with the addition of an LED – or better still, many LEDs.
Wall decorations, furniture and clothing are prime candidates for LED enhancement, as are personal and practical items such as umbrellas. While some products gain an added creative dimension, others look tacky and garish and will undoubtedly be filling those car boot sale tables for years to come.
The area guaranteed to get you gawping in amazement at how and where LEDs can be used these days is the one filled with Christmas decoration suppliers.
It always feels a bit uncomfortable walking these particular isles at this time of the year given that the vast majority of us are pleased to see the back of Christmas and have only just put away their decorations for another year but it is also an excellent reminder that retail activities have a long lead time and if you want to make a killing over Christmas 2014 you need to be planning and buying stock a good eight months in advance.
In this particular field Premier Decorations clearly live up to their name as they had the biggest stand area of any vendor and had created a magnificent boulevard through the middle of it using the latest in LED enhanced artificial trees. I was less convinced by the LED embedded tapestries but I’m sure they will become popular.
3. Phone controlled digital clothing
One step up from clothing embedded with LEDs is truly ‘digital’ clothing that incorporates computer controlled screens and micro-motors. Making innovative and creative use of these things are the ‘party costume’ manufacturers who are producing t-shirts and other items that feature moving eyes and moving parts that, in some instances can be controlled via your mobile phone, as illustrated by this animated image from one of the main suppliers featured at the show – digitaldudz. If you think this image looks freaky, wait until you see some of the real things!
4. Camping stove that charges your phone
I was pleased to spot this innovation while getting bored in isleways devoted to the endless ways of designing and making scarves and hats in the Fashion Jewellery, Accessories and Luggage hall.
5. Bizarre and stylish ways to hold your tablet
As mentioned earlier, there was an abundance of tablet computers in use on the exhibition stands. However, the many varied and bizarre ways in which these modern slabs of computing technology can be packaged, protected, charged, held and positioned was a key theme throughout the product displays.
The most eye-catching from this year’s visit was the Venus of Cupertino, a hand crafted sculpture into which an iPad can be slotted and charged. This is the first design by Scott Eaton and his latest ‘Hercules’ design was on display too.
A fad and fashion I’d be quite happy to see the back of now is the ‘retro’ and ‘shabby chic’ look – illustrated by companies like this. Personally I think it’s crazy that people are prepared to spend a small fortune on simulated ‘rust’ particularly on items designed for the garden. During a winter when it’s barely stopped raining, anything metal that’s sitting in the garden more than a few weeks becomes covered in rust. Why then would you want to pay a premium for faked rust? Hopefully now that the long recession seems to be over it will become fashionable to look forward again rather than wallow in nostalgia for the rusty, worn and moldy items that I used to find in my grandparents sheds.