While 2021 saw a virtual-only trade event, which brought the country’s makers together with international buyers online, Showcase 2022 proved better than ever because it blended the benefits of a traditional in-person trade show with lessons learned about online B2B sales.
How Showcase benefits the Irish craft and design sector
The event is the most important date on the craft and design sector’s calendar.
“It was established by what was then the Crafts Council nearly 50 years ago on the basis that it is very difficult to bring the whole craft and design sector overseas, and much easier to bring buyers here.”
The Local Enterprise Office Showcase features first-time exhibitors. “For any small producer starting out, who wants to sell outside of their studio, Showcase provides them with the ability to do that,” Brian explains.
“All sorts of retailers, from pharmacies in Dublin to gift shops in Donegal, exhibit to overseas buyers who travel to find products they won’t see anywhere but at Showcase.”
Unique craft and design
The originality of the products is an important part of Showcase’s appeal.
“Buyers come to Showcase because they get unique products of a very high quality with a story attached.”
Its purpose is not to generate profit, but to strategically develop the craft and design sector. However, serious business is done. At Showcase 2020, €25 million worth of orders were made, up 6% on 2019.
400 exhibitors took part in that show which was visited by 4,187 individuals, representing 2,600 businesses/shops.
McGee correctly anticipated a strong showing at Showcase 2022. “We saw high levels of anticipation and excitement because buyers hadn’t been anywhere for two years,” he points out.
While there were fewer buyers from long haul locations such as Asia and the Middle East, those present were very serious about buying.
A digitally enhanced expo
Because the future is likely to see an increase in online marketplaces, Showcase 2022 was digitally enhanced.
The Showcase Connect digital platform opened to buyers two weeks before Showcase 2022 launched at the RDS, enabling exhibitors to organise meetings and pitch products.
The platform remained open for two weeks after the show to allow exhibitors to answer queries.
Craft and design innovation
Another reason why international buyers visit Showcase each year is because Irish craft and design companies are consistently bringing forward new products, says Enterprise Ireland’s Ross O’Colmain.
“For any business that is developing new product lines, a physical trade show is the best way to keep existing buyers interested, to win new buyers, and to get feedback,” Ross says.
The craft and design sector encompasses everything from jewellery and homewares to gifts. What most have in common is growing export orientation.
Strength in stories
Showcase 2022 exhibitor Copperfish uses timbers reclaimed from the decking planks at Belfast harbour, where ships like the Titanic were built. These are authentic, traceable timbers with a story attached, which is why luxury stores in the US want them.
“Buyers are looking for things that aren’t available anywhere else,” explains McGee.
The apparel and fashion side of the sector is performing well too, says O’Colmain, who points to a rise in interest in items such as Aran sweaters, driven by influencers such as singer Taylor Swift.
“Many businesses in the sector have posted strong sales results throughout the pandemic, which in itself is encouraging. But for companies that are launching new products, doing so without meeting, engaging with, or presenting to buyers in person is very hard. That is what has been most difficult over the past two years,” says O’Colmain.
“People wanted to get back to those kinds of interactions, and that’s why Showcase was so important.”