Byline: Mark Tosh and David Moin

NEW YORK--More than 8,000 visual merchandisers, seeking the latest in store fixturing and display concepts, are expected to descend on the Visual Marketing & Store Design Show, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here May 20-23.
Representatives from budget chains seeking the simplest metal racks to designer specialty stores seeking customized, high-end fixturing, will be able to shop an estimated 150 to 200 exhibitors, according to George Little Management Inc., the show's organizer.
"The most current thinking in visual merchandising, fixture design and merchandise presentation vehicles are very much in evidence in that show," said Bryan Gailey, vice president, principal, FRCH Design Worldwide, formerly known as SDI/HTI. "It's a place to find trends."
Running concurrently with the visual merchandising show at the Javits Center for the second year in a row are: International Contemporary Furniture Fair, the National Stationery Show, and Surtex, which features surface designs and textiles. Visitors registered for any one of the shows have access to the other three exhibit floors without additional charge. In total, the four shows are expected to draw about 45,000 buyers and 2,200 exhibitors.
"We were gratified to see that with the addition of The Visual Marketing & Store Design Show in the May market, visual merchandisers and store designers discovered a wide range of contemporary furnishings while retailers in the stationery, card and gift industries found a variety of resources for display and shop fitting," said Alan Steel, executive vice president of marketing at George Little. William Viets, vice president and director of visual merchandising, Saks Fifth Avenue, said, "It gives you an opportunity to step away from your market just a little bit and find options in other areas. It's more bang for your buck."
He said the event has been "re-invigorated" with the help of the National Association of Display Industries, a group of manufacturers and retailers, which advises Little Management. Viets is a NADI board member.
"It used to be a really deadly, boring old show," he said. "It's getting better every single time." Instead of "just mannequins and flowers," Viets said, the show has diversified into promoting point-of-sale products, security systems, computers and even elevator interiors.
He said he attends the visual merchandising show to discover new talent, rather than shop products. "What we look for is new talent and manufacturing ability, people with ideas that we like so much we ask them to do custom work for us."
Gailey, who will attend the show, said he anticipates spotting new mannequin collections based on book illustrations and cartoon characters, and "elaborate furniture presentations." "Stores have to be more competitive, and much more responsive to customer needs," Gailey said. "That means places to sit, nicer customer service areas, adding nicer bathrooms - things that pamper the customer and create a retail environment that's more residential."
Ruth Mellergaard, president of Grid International retail design, said the four-in-one concept has attracted far more buyers, and that she will be looking for new lighting and fixturing trends.
One new idea, Mellergaard said, is the development of metal halide bulbs for retailing. The bulbs, which produce very clear, white light, had been available primarily for parking lots and stadiums. They can enhance the appearance of clothing, jewelry and food, she said.
"Now the bulbs are being made in a smaller wattage so they can be used in retail," she said. "And manufacturers are designing fixtures to take these new bulbs."
Another trend is "matte-finished " metal fixtures, which are replacing those with shiny chrome finishes, Mellergaard said. And some fixturing firms are combining the matte-finish metal and natural wood in the same design, Mellergaard said.
Darcy Bisker, national sales manager of Cies Sexton Photographic Imaging, an exhibitor, said she believes visual merchandisers are emphasizing natural elements to give stores a "softer" look. The firm develops visual merchandising ideas by using photographic images of objects and patterns. It works with Nordstrom's, Kohl's, Duty Free Shops and Benetton, among other stores, in designing backgrounds for banners, table coverings and patterned floors.
"Retailers are trying to get away from chrome, brass and plastic laminates," she said. "The whole idea of employing natural elements in patterns, whether it's for visual banners, or on the floor or around the store, is very appealing to retailers."

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