We have just returned from Maison and Objet in Paris, and to say that we were inspired is an understatement. We were beyond inspired. Mesmerized is perhaps a more appropriate word.
With almost 3000 exhibitors (of which 45% are international brands) and a staggering number of visitors walking the halls everyday, it is easy to see why this is one of the most important events in the world of consumer design.
We observed, had conversations with the big boys and girls of design and collected more brochures than we know what to do with! But in the midst of all the excitement and glamour, we were careful to note down lessons we could share with you.
- Product niche: Forget about being all things to all people. In an economy that is as diverse and as complex as that of the artisan and design sector, it is critically important to define your product niche. What this helps you do sooner rather than later, is understand the specific dynamics that affect your product segment, define the target market, identify and respond to competition, build a brand and become more focused when seeking growth opportunities- whether through distribution or an extended product range.
- The growing demand for high-end home decor and home textiles: The good news is that while this trend was once only spoken of in relation to the Western world, Africa is now a contender for increased consumption of luxury goods and services. Countries such as Nigeria, Angola, Morocco and Kenya are listed as the markets to watch out for in this KPMG report. However very few artisans and designers dare to claim this label in their product offering. Could it be because it isn’t such an obvious market segment to decipher? Or do we lack the capacity to deliver on high-end goods? Follow the Africa Luxury Forum for more on this trend.
- Online presence: an asset or liability?: Maintaining an up-to-date and relevant online presence can be quite a task even for the best of us. However, the thing to realize is that, it is often the first point of contact for many a potential client, and so can work for you just as easily as it can against you. So how do you stay consistent while churning out great content? EOFire suggest 7 ways you can begin to do just that.
- Distribution channels have shortened: There was a time when accessing export markets was impossible without the wholesale importer. A significant development today however, is that the layers of intermediaries have become redundant due to direct sourcing by independent retailers. Equally, even though export agents in the country of origin are still considered a necessity, more and more producers are taking on the responsibilities that come with the safe and reliable movement of goods.
- Co-creation is the new form of value addition: The paradigm shift from a company-centric to a consumer-centric logic means that consumers now have greater bargaining power. They expect more experience, less product and will naturally gravitate towards companies that engage them in the creation process. Similarly, buyers are looking for (among other things) a flexibility that allows their input in the design process. Having said that, a word of caution is necessary: while making the opportunity available, ensure that there are clear instructions on the process, outcome, costs and deliverables.
- Towards contemporary minimalism: A cursory look at products exhibited at Maison and Objet was proof of something we have known for a while: the market for the indigenous (also known as ethnic or traditional) aesthetic is rapidly diminishing. The dominant trend was more minimalist – clean lines, well defined shapes and forms and toned down color schemes. In instances where the indigenous element was evident, it was encompassed within a contemporary look, a trend now referred to as global.
- When creating a display, space is an integral part of the product, and vice versa: This is where exhibitors unwittingly sabotage a great product. Too often, space and product are seen as two separate entities, so that there is little thought and planning on how each will highlight the other. Have you ever walked right past a booth because there was too much going on? Or walked into one and felt an instant calm? You get the picture.
- Fairtrade principles are now mainstream considerations: The 2013 Rana Plaza collapse marked the greatest escalation yet in consumer demand for ethically sourced products. Issues of health and safety of workers, environmentally sustainable production, fair wages and non-discriminatory practices have now become major considerations in purchasing decisions. For producers, this means paying as much attention to the value chain as to the end product.
- Product development remains a major gap: Speaking from an African perspective, product development (described as the process of design, creation and introduction of a new product to market) remains a challenge for many companies within the sector. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that most companies lack skilled personnel for this portfolio, limited funds and hard-to-come-by market information, the sector’s ability to innovate as quickly as the market demands is severely stunted. Perhaps a potential solution lies in outsourcing, a cost effective strategy that has become increasingly popular in production. We see this as a future trend, as knowledge on intellectual property rights becomes more practice and less theory.
- Yes, trade shows are worth the investment: As distribution channels become more varied and easier to access, many people question the longevity and future role of trade fairs such as Maison and Objet. The argument- beyond the prohibitive cost- is that buyers will find you anyway, given the trend towards direct sourcing and the real-time opportunities the world wide web presents. However, trade shows present a more significant opportunity. They are the single largest gathering of industry players from all over the world. Architects, interior designers, shipping company representatives, real estate moguls, academics, design lovers, media owners…you are bound to encounter them all under one roof, and in less than a week! This is networking on another level.