‘Zoom calls or phone calls can’t replace or imitate the energy that in-person trade shows bring to business.’
Jesse Sutton, Bon Voyage/Sutton Home Fashions
Crowded aisles, interested buyers and booths popping with color. Noisy chatter, lively demos and friends reconnecting. Contacts made, orders written, media spotlighting products and spreading the news.
The Travel Gear + Luggage expo, presented by the Travel Goods Association (TGA), opened with uncertain expectations after a three-year show hiatus and concluded on a high note. Those in attendance March 4 to 7 at McCormick Place in Chicago agree: It was good to be back in person, great to connect with colleagues and beyond exciting to see, touch and handle product.
As Airline International Luggage President Jerry Kallman summed up the experience on behalf of the United Luggage Dealers Associates (ULDA): “This had the flavor of a true international show, and there seemed to be buyers from multiple countries and multiple industries. It definitely had the vibrant atmosphere that we were hoping for!”
More than 1,600 exhibitors and nearly 30,000 home, housewares and travel goods professionals from 125 countries came together to discover new products, establish and develop relationships and unite and advance the industry. Among those in attendance were exhibitors and buyers who came specifically for the Travel Gear + Luggage expo but many there for The Inspired Home Show (TIHS) found their way to this expo, too – a result of the collaboration between TGA and the International Housewares Association (IHA).
“To finally be able to meet in person, experience the energy on the showroom floor, see all the booths filled with product, and then hear so much positive feedback has been so rewarding,” said Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association and publisher of Travel Goods Magazine. “This show brought with it so many opportunities — for selling and buying products, networking, collaborating, learning – and after three years of not holding a show — of gathering the industry together and having fun.”
Chris Ann D’Alessandro of Heritage Travelware found the expo to be extremely valuable. “We met with our factory partners, which we have not been able to do in such a long time,” she said. “And we were able to schedule many meetings with new and existing partners. I also think we benefited from more traffic from being at The Inspired Home Show.”
“We like to see a product and the quality up front,” said Katie Heth Lentine of Groskopf’s Fine Luggage & Gifts. “You can’t get the feel of an item and the way it works without being there. The same goes with finding new items. It’s like a needle in a haystack trying to find goods online. The show is the best place to look for new items,” she added.
“We are still a pretty new company, and it is really hard to pick/add lines to our store without seeing products,” said Burton Robertson of Traveling Bags. “Zoom is not the way to purchase items.”
As Lee Eiseman, director of the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training and executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, who spoke at the show, noted: “An object unseen is an object unsold.”
‘The number of attendees and the quality of attendees was a pleasant surprise.’
Josh Hall, Nomatic
Many exhibitors on the Travel Gear + Luggage expo showroom floor expressed satisfaction with their booth visitors and optimism about their products’ reception and orders received.
“The buyers walking the show came from Macy’s, Bealls, Ross, Marmaxx and more,” said Jesse Sutton of Bon Voyage/Sutton Home Fashions. “We had international buyers from Europe, which I was pleasantly surprised to meet.”
Chris Wootten of Pitkin Stearns called his company’s presence at an expo that was part of The Inspired Home Show the best thing that could have happened to Rockit Sleep.
“We were seen by many influential eyes and the exposure to them was valuable,” said Wootten, adding that he has not been at a show where show management was so visible, friendly and helpful.
“This was our official Reebok luggage launch and the reaction of everyone walking into our booth was very positive,” said Cinthia Gouger of the Bugatti Group. “Some of the major customers we met were AAA, Bealls, Bentley & Co., Burlington Stores, Cie, Coppel, Costco Canada (roadshow buyer), Costco USA (web team), Macy’s, Portmantos, Ross Stores, Staples, TJMaxx, TKMaxx, Winners and WM Canada (web).
“We also met with worldwide distributors from South Africa, New Zealand, Israel, Turkey and Mexico, and new suppliers from China and lots of digital sellers,” Gouger added.
Tania Rodrigues described the show as a “roaring twenties success story. Focused and driven buying teams showcased great enthusiasm for the bounce back to travel. The Walter + Ray booth team wrote with current clients as well as met and opened up business channels with new travel goods and luggage buyers.”
Barbara Booth, co-founder of QBSleeves, the company that created the Go-Be travel tray sleeves, agreed with Rodrigues’ assessment of the buyers, further stating that the show provided plenty of opportunities to meet buyers.
“As a startup with a truly unique product, we rely on trade shows to build brand awareness and vendor relationships,” said Booth. “The Travel Gear + Luggage expo at The Inspired Home Show was by far the best trade show we have attended since we launched in 2021. We were not only impressed by the number and quality of the vendors and exhibitors, but by the networking events, panel discussions and the various ways we were able to showcase our product.
“The New Exhibitor event on Saturday morning was amazing, and we were thrilled by the opportunity to be displayed in the News Center as well as in a glass display for new products,” Booth continued. “The Inspired Home Show treated new exhibitors as all-stars rather than the underdog, and we came away with an incredible number of leads and new relationships, including buyers, manufacturer’s reps, merchandising managers, bloggers and brand specialists from CBS and GMA.”
The 2023 Travel Gear + Luggage expo marked the 32nd consecutive show for Seymour Daiches of Macy’s. His impression of the show, including conversations with vendors, was that it felt like there were many more people in the aisles. “I do feel that is very important — even if retailers may have not purchased products,” said Daiches. “There were a number of vendors who seemed quite busy, including Travelers Club, Sutton, Prima, Solite, Bugatti, Travelon and Heritage.”
‘Aligning with The Inspired Home Show was a fantastic move.’
Andrew Schofield, FLYYPOD
Collaborating with The Inspired Home Show brought numerous benefits to Travel Gear + Luggage expo exhibitors, including opening up opportunities for new buyers.
“Our biggest leads were from The Inspired Home Show,” said Chris Clearman of Matador, listing Cabela’s, The Container Store, Staples and the Hudson Group among their crossover opportunities. “We wrote a nice stack of orders and will likely close some larger retailers in the coming months.”
Matador also met with and wrote orders from many regular TGA show attendees.
“I would say that this was our most successful TGA tradeshow yet, and possibly our most successful tradeshow of all time,” said Clearman. “I consider the combination of the two shows to be a huge success.”
Edward Gerch of Kingport Trading LLC agreed that the show was successful and said that he was visited by new customers as a result of exhibiting in Travel Gear + Luggage. “I discussed possibilities for future orders,” Gerch said.
Tracey McGhee of Ms. Jetsetter enthused, “I hope it continues! It brought value to the show.”
Lexie Lotte of Sherpani noted that her booth had visits from some of the biggest national retailers as well as top rep group and collaborative opportunities. “We found being combined with The Inspired Home Show not only expanded the size of the show but also exposed us to potential buyers, accounts and other business opportunities we may not have had solely at TGA.” Lotte added, “This was a very productive show for Sherpani. I have been so slammed post show!”
Buyers also agreed the collaboration was a smart move, with Macy’s Seymour Daiches describing The Inspired Home Show (and its timing) as the perfect venue.
‘Full-house crowds sat in on keynote presentations.’
Frank Frystak, Frystak Associates
All in attendance had access to four keynotes, which focused on trends in consumer and retail evolution, including one by Walmart’s head of home goods and general manager of home marketplace.
The Show’s Innovation Theater sessions featured industry experts speaking on a range of timely topics, including opportunities on TikTok; the intersection of trends, travel and housewares inflation’s impact on spending; and leading-edge visual merchandising and sales opportunities.
“Leveraging the speakers from TIHS to learn about the trends in the travel goods industry and home and housewares was very helpful,” said D’Alessandro, noting that Heritage Travelware staff attended several speakers’ presentations.
“All in all, there were a lot of great companies that attended, and the panels at the Lakeside Center were beyond amazing,” said Go-Be’s Barbara Booth. “In fact, the Lakeside Center events were my favorite experience at the show.”
‘The companies that did not attend missed out on a great show!’
Jessica Oviedo, Titanio Travelgoods Group
Ellen Quirk of the Potpourri Group/Magellan’s had hoped to see vendors she hasn’t seen in three years. “This is the major — I might go as far as to say the only — travel goods show where buyers have the opportunity to meet new vendors, continue relationships with current vendors and find the newest products to the market,” said Quirk.
“As a multi-year TGA Board member and officer, I always felt it was my obligation to support the show regardless of date or location,” said Ed Gerch, president and CEO of Kingport Trading LLC. “Exhibiting at the show could be good or bad for my company but we had to think of the association and the industry. Obviously, each company has its own personal, financial and other components to consider, but positions in the hierarchy bring obligations that should be met,” Gerch added.
“We are seeing business come back in the travel area,” stated Quirk. “Planes are full, car travel has improved, and international travel may be a bit slower to rebound but I am hearing that there is an uptick in this area as well, which is reflecting an increase in our business,” she continued. “We are seeing healthy growth.”
According to recent data from the U.S. Travel Association, travel spending continues to steadily increase and was 4% above 2019 levels in January 2023. As of mid-January, just over half of all Americans (52%) and 79% of leisure travelers are planning to travel for leisure in the next six months. Additionally, air demand exceeded 2019 levels for the first time in January and is now 3% above 2019 levels.
Buyers are responding to this growth with interest in and orders for product.
Traveling Bags is planning to place numerous orders and add lines of luggage and other goods as well as orders from existing companies. “We found new vendors from the Travel Gear + Luggage expo and other areas,” said Robertson.
While Macy’s didn’t place any orders, Daiches did have conversations with a number of vendors about adding products.
Jay Friedman of Lazar’s Inc. spent two and half days at the show and also visited North Hall, South Hall and Lakeside Center. “I worked with many new vendors and placed more orders than I expected. We placed orders at the show and will order from others afterwards. I also found new vendors in the Travel Gear + Luggage area,” Friedman said.
“We want to be able to see as many vendors as possible in ONE place,” said Tiffany Zarfas Williams of the Luggage Shop of Lubbock. “The vendors who showed up (and had good, relevant product) had a successful show. This was the year where it paid off if you made the investment to be there.”
“We are so pleased our collaboration with the International Housewares Association was greeted so enthusiastically by and proved rewarding for Travel Gear + Luggage exhibitors and buyers,” said TGA’s Michele Marini Pittenger. “The positive feedback to this collaboration and the overall success of this show is especially gratifying after three years with no show.”
Pittenger added, “Conversations about collaborating again in 2024 are taking place. In the meantime, we at the Travel Goods Association want to express our sincere appreciation for the support and confidence and hard work of those who attended and exhibited at the 2023 Travel Gear + Luggage expo at The Inspired Home Show. You made the show a show to remember!”
See more photos from this year’s Travel Gear + Luggage expo in the Photo Gallery on the TGA’s Show website. Read about the products introduced at this year’s Show in Part II of our post-Show coverage, “New Products Unveiled in New Collab at New Venue: The 2023 Travel Gear + Luggage Expo at The Inspired Home Show.”
A member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers) and Authors Guild, Kathy Witt also writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Southern Living magazines and the blog RealFoodTraveler.com, among other publications, and has written six books, including Cincinnati Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for Cincinnati’s Hidden Treasures.
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