Formex report: How to use the trade show as a pattern designer
Formex is the Swedish trade show for interior design that takes place at Älvsjömässan just south of Stockholm twice a year - in January and August. Here is a review of how Formex and other trade shows like it can be valuable and how to make the most of it as a visiting pattern designer.
I've been to Formex as a visitor for a few years now, and since the very first visit I have pondered whether I should exhibit myself sometime or not. But not anymore. Now I know I won't.
Because in my opinion, Formex and other trade shows with the same concept is not for pattern designers. Well, at least not the way we think it is anyway.
So why did I decide not to exhibit myself? Well first of all, one should never say never, but for the plans I have now, this just doesn't fit in. To put it simple because this is not where my main target group is coming to buy. So why do I keep coming back as a visitor? Well, there are a few things with the trade show that can be valuable for a pattern designer still.
This year though, I was a part of the exhibition though, as Gemstone was a shown in the booth of Svanefors. And that type of participation is exactly what I'm aiming for :-). I made a short separate post about this if you're curious:
How to use Formex as a pattern designer.
First, I’d like to clarify who this trade show is for - from a pattern designers point of view. Well, there are a handful of visitor groups to mention.
The visitors at Formex
1) The number one and largest group is retailers, such as interior design boutiques and web shops. They come here for inspiration and to purchase products to sell during fall/winter (and spring/summer at the January show). So for a pattern designer visiting, this is not really a target audience that you will interact with yourself during the exhibition or as a pattern designer in general, unless you count listening in on their conversations and checking out what they are checking out as a part of a retailer research. For example - What type of patterns do they think is on trend right now? What seems to capture their attention and interest?
For retailers it's important to find products that will appeal to their customer - the consumer, the shopper of interior goods. A bit difficult angle to approach, I know, but instead of thinking of this group as (pretty much) useless at the show, I just wanted to give you an idea of how they actually can be valuable to us.
2) The second group of visitors to consider is the press. For every trade show there will be some journalists visiting, wanting to make a story of the current trends, news and newcomers when it comes to exhibitors and designers.
3 ) Other designers, just like you and me. If you have the opportunity to connect and meet up with some other designers and discuss what you see at the fair, it can be a truly rewarding experience. You do have colleagues in them, not only competitors. Colleagues with the same challenges and struggles and being able to gather and discuss the world of pattern design together is great and very helpful.
Now there are probably more, and sub groups, but these are the main ones to consider.
Ok, now let’s turn to the exhibitors. This is where you can get some great value, but not in the way that you think.
Exhibiting as a pattern designer
So Formex is focused on retailers and shops as I mentioned above. And therefor the exhibitors are focused on making orders and selling stuff to them.
Physical products & production
As a pattern designer you can of course also be an exhibitor. To really squeeze the best out of Formex as an exhibitor you need to have stuff for the retailers to buy from you. They want physical products for their shops, not pattern designs. So if you want to exhibit, you need to have at least a prototype of your product to show (or rather a line up of products) that they can touch and feel and order from you. And so you also need to have an existing, functioning and tested production in place in case you get a large order (oooh, that would be a nice scenario, right?) and be able to deliver quality products in reasonable time.
Providing something newsworthy for the press
But, if you’re not into selling physical products yourself, at least not on that level (that's me), you can still get some great value from exhibiting. The press is one thing. Getting some press coverage is always a great thing. The more eyes on you and the great things you do the better. But you’d have to have something that is newsworthy to the journalists or bloggers you want to attract, a story, a concept, something very specific or unique and easy to grasp and relate to - that they can create a story out of.
Example: Pattern me bright
A great example of something (that I consider truly newsworthy) is my friend Gina aka @patternmebright, who is a pattern designer who exhibits at Formex this year for the first time. Her booth is in the section called ”Design Talents” and this is something that the press are interested in, newness always has a potential story. She has a concept for her designs that is really exciting, interesting, unique and soooo right timing wise. All her patterns are created around the fact that the way history has been written and documented isn't very equal. Every design is based on a story of women who’s lifes and actions had important impact for women’s rights and value in our society, but never acknowledged the same way she would have if they were men. The motifs in every pattern relates to that story which creates a depth to the pattern and also something to talk about - simply put, it's storytelling through design at it's best. You can read more about Gina and view her work here and also on Instagram.
My point is that this type of concept and storytelling is very interesting and newsworthy and hence valuable for the press to create a story from - which their job is about.
Visiting as a pattern designer
Another way to get something out of trade shows such as Formex as a pattern designer is to gather inspiration and ideas. But not ideas for new patterns. Not the way you think anyway.
Why I say that is because the things you see and view at the fair is what designers have already created, it’s the trends right now, so this is already done and produced. It's a train that's already left and arrived at the end station.
But here are 7 tips on how to use trades shows as a source of inspiration and new ideas:
7 tips how to use Formex as a visiting pattern designer
1) Trying to see some kind of direction of future trends. This is difficult and something to regard as a piece of the profetic puzzle. What path are the current trends pointing to? What could be the next logical step and development trend wise? What is the opposite, the anti-trend to the current one? If you want to be first with a new trend, or contributing to start a new one, this is how you should think.
2) Just walking around, in this atmosphere, for this business can make you feel like you actually belong there, that you are a part of this business. In case you weren’t so sure before. Especially if you are at the beginning of your creative journey, you might not even have formed your own business yet, even calling yourself a pattern designer may make you feel like a fraud. But visiting a trade show like this, within a niche where you want to work, is a great start. If not, see it as research for your coming plans. Research is crucial for a good business plan, so if you do that you can definetely pat yourself on the shoulder and consider yourself on a very professional level. And just for the record; if you make pattern designs, you should call yourself a pattern designer.
3) Check out the exhibiting companies and their styles. Make a list of the companies that you like and that you think would like your designs. What companies could be a great match to your work? These are the ones that would be best for you to start approaching. If you think and even know that you would be a good match to a specific company, your confidence will be much higher approaching them than with a company that seems far away from what you do.
4) Talk to the exhibiting companies. This is your target group. But, the fair is not the perfect timing for pitching your designs to them. It’s definitely doable, but their focus then and there is to meet their customers, the retailers and sell. But, what you can do is to say hi, present yourself, ask them about how they work with the patterns that they use on their products. Where do they get them? Do they have in-house designers or purchase via an agency, pattern banks or do they do collaborations with freelance designers and so on. Feel their pulse, and let them talk. Listen in and see if you can ask more questions about their process. What problems do they encounter when it comes to finding patterns and prints? If you can, find their painpoints, need for help and service. That you later can provide for them.
5) Study the booths and their products. What categories of products have patterns and prints? Are there any that doesn’t? And then note how the prints are scaled, big, small? Actually study anything that can give you some more info on how these companies work with prints on their products and what type of patterns that are suitable for different product categories.
6) And also, if you are producing printed products yourself to sell in a webshop for example, here you can get some intelligence about what sells and also ideas for new products that you could make and sell. Or just get ideas for new product mockups.
7) Spy on the press, to see what they seem to think is newsworthy and interesting. Note that most of them will appear on the first day and you will have to spot them out yourself. A tip is someone with a big camera ;-)
Ok, so that's it. Hope it shed some light over Formex and other trade shows for you if you have ever considered attending as either an exhibitor or visitor.