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There's place like HOMI, as exhibitors welcome rebranded Milan show

After 50 years as Macef, Milan's leading home and lifestyle show has taken on a dramatic new lease of life as HOMI, but is the re-boot more than just a re-badging? Buyers and sellers have their say on this European mega-expo.

Photo: New products brewing at HOMI: Romero Britto’s tea-for-one teapot.
New products brewing at HOMI: Romero Britto's tea-for-one teapot.

People – their styles, their diverse tastes and the way they inhabit their personal spaces – were at the very heart of the first edition of HOMI, the newly re-branded Macef, Milan's 50-year-old home and lifestyle show.

Explaining the approach to this year's event, Cristian Preiata, HOMI's Exhibition Manager, said: "The show focuses on the preferences dictated by changing trends and the multicultural diversity now present in every city." It is an approach that seems to have worked, with exhibitors from more than 100 countries attending the inaugural event.

Overall, the greatest number of visitors came from Russia, Spain, France, Japan, Greece and Turkey. Speaking after the event, the organisers seemed largely confident the show's deliberately young, colourful and contemporary feel had been a success.

The rebranding of the long-established expo also seemed to have gone down well, with the event retaining its distinctly Italianate take on just how homes and living spaces will look in the future. The pre-publicity for this year described the show's new identity as: "A simple name holding many sensations, the letter 'O' symbolically represents the circle that encloses the environment and the person, and the MI at the end pays homage to Milan, a metropolis par excellence." So, obviously more to it than just choosing a word that sounded a bit like "home" then.

Explaining the thinking behind the show's new approach in greater depth, Enrico Pazzali, Chief Executive of Fiera Milano, the show's organiser, said: "The economic situation forced us to react to a changing world. To keep up with those changes, it became crucial to build a new project. So after 50 years of Macef, it was a great moment to unveil HOMI. Of course we are only at the beginning of the journey, but we are looking to make the show global, with HOMI travelling to Russia after the September edition."

This first show focussed on 10 distinct 'satellite' halls, each featuring a particular aspect of the home furnishing sector. These included Living Habits (dedicated to tabletop and table accessories); Home Wellness (well-being and relaxation); Fragrances and Personal Care (the newest products in the home and personal fragrance sector); Fashion and Jewels (a showcase of bijoux jewellery, clothes and fashion accessories); Garden and Outdoor (a focus on outdoor spaces and lifestyles); Home Textiles (materials and carpets); Hobby and Work (favourite home objects for people on the go), and Kid Style (wooden toys, clothes, tableware, cutlery and other colourful accessories designed to enhance young children's dining experience).

Among the most popular sectors at the show was Fragrance and Personal Care, which boasted a HOMI special fragrance lab as one of its highlights. Here buyers had the opportunity to be guided through a range of diffusers, candles, incense and potpourri by a number of professional 'noses'.

Exhibitors in this section included Bolsius Italia, the Italian division of the long-established UK aromatic candle manufacturer. Explaining the decision to attend the event, Alain Grillo, the company's Sales Director, said: "This is our second time in Milan. We exhibited at Macef last September, and now at HOMI, where we are sharing a space with Wax Lyrical, a British home fragrance company.

"Comparing the two shows, I would say that HOMI has a greater breadth of product and attracted a wider range of buyers. It is the only show that we are exhibiting at in Europe and we have been very pleased to meet up with big buyers from so many of the leading European garden centres.

"The fact that the show moved its dates to Sunday-Wednesday had a real impact. It meant that we saw the smaller buyers on the first two days of the show and the larger retailers on the second two days – including some really big buyers."

Another fan of the reinvented show was David Crawford, Head of Wholesale Sales for Yankee Candle Europe. He said: "We exhibited at Macef for over 10 years, but HOMI has been our busiest ever show in Milan and has produced record orders. We met important new buyers and saw repeat business from existing Italian retailers.

"It's difficult to do a direct comparison – as HOMI is a brand new show – but every day was very, very busy with the product doing the talking. Our Italian business grew 65% in 2012/2013 and we are confident that we will see further growth in 2014."

In the Living Habits/housewares halls, Barbara Marchetti, Sales Executive for Messulam, an Italian distributor for a number of overseas houseware companies, including Portmeirion, Romero Britto, Tavola, Picowa, Lalique and Royal Copenhagen, was another to be more than satisfied with the re-branded event. She said: "HOMI was a very good show for us – with many buyers looking for big brand names and good quality products."

The German company Koziol was among the many major brands taking advantage of the timing of HOMI to unveil its new ranges for the summer. Monica Paganini, a director of Merito, Koziol's Italian distributor, said: "The company has seen a new audience. There were definitely more international buyers from outside of Europe here, and more Italian buyers too."

In the Fashion and Jewellery sector, buyers were greeted by a colourful array of fine and fashion jewellery across the two show halls, as well as an array of fashion accessories, including the latest bags and scarves. Here, too, business with brisk.

Assessing the traffic at the event, Arianna Di Baccio, a director of Pisa-based Le Borse di ADB, said: "It was a busy show, with buyers interested in our brightly coloured bags and jewellery, many of which were made out of rubber, with a definite influence from 'wipe clean' tabletop textiles."

Aside from the exhibitors, many of the buyers attending HOMI were also impressed with the new show. One clearly delighted attendee was Laurie Sorensen, Home Merchandise Manager for The Shopping Channel (TSC) in Canada. She was in Milan to look at new ranges of dinnerware, linens and bedding.

Photo: Rubber goods from Le Borse.
Rubber goods from Le Borse.
Photo: The Bolsius Summer Collection.
The Bolsius Summer Collection.

Barely able to hide her enthusiasm, she said: "HOMI was fantastic. It is a huge show for both indoor and outdoor products and the dedicated space for product sectors makes it easier to shop. We visited to find products that would work for TSC but in a new way.

"Our audience is looking for something that has a designer look but that comes at a medium price point. They want us to be solution-based in order to make it easy for them to make a purchase."

Sorensen, who was attending the show with Lella Liuzzi, TSC's Vice President of Merchandising, said they had definitely seen more authentic European trends and brands at HOMI than they would normally do at comparable American and Canadian home shows, where products tend to be 'pre-filtered'.

Explaining the difference, Liuzzi said: "It's important to us, because Canada has a strong European base. As we are a TV shopping channel, colour is crucial. We noticed a lot of subdued colour options for dinnerware along the lines of New York's Kate Spade. We were also very impressed by the coloured stemware that we saw.

"We also particularly liked some small plates in a bamboo and ceramic combination which would be ideal for eating tapas. Our main focus at the show was on the Living Habits and Home Textiles halls."

Visiting the show from Russia was Dr Ilya Senin, Head of Division for Orangery (horticulture) and Decor at Tvoy Dom, a leading Moscow department store. He, too, was impressed by the show's debut.

He said: "I am responsible for horticulture and the outdoors, as well as interiors and gifts. I came to this show looking for products relating to the home and garden sectors.

"We currently have four stores in Moscow and will be opening a further two stores in 2014. We are well-known for the wide range of goods we offer. We sell good quality products across all departments, including the kitchen and dining sectors.

"Overall, we are seeing good growth, with more and more Russians wanting to create a better home ambience. Their living space is becoming very important to them and they want to be surrounded by beautiful things."

Senin added that he had found HOMI particularly impressive, saying: "It has its own personality and it is important for the show to develop and have a future. It would definitely make sense for me to visit HOMI again with other Tvoy Dom category buyers, especially as there are several brands that we don't see at other exhibitions. We focus on a wide assortment of quality products and it is important for us to see a greater range of items in order to offer our consumers a wider choice.

"At this show, I've met a lot of Italian producers and have seen a lot of great design and quality. I'm looking to create smaller collections featuring good quality products in the medium to premium price range and, at HOMI, the individual sectors were deeper than usual."

Among the buyers in the Fragrances and Personal Care hall was Lorenza Mottini, owner of Idea Casa, an Italian furniture retailer. He said: "For me, one of the most important stands at HOMI was Yankee Candle. Customers see the candles on the Italian TV shopping channel QVC and are delighted to find the products in my shop. In the area where I'm based, I'm fortunate to be one of the only Yankee Candle stockists."

Three 'format' stores were also unveiled at the show, all aimed at showcasing the retail outlets of tomorrow. They included a contemporary showroom, complete with everyday objects, as well as a kitchen and a dining space that demonstrated the different ways of displaying and telling the story of tableware and accessories.

There was also a fashion and jewellery store featuring products from a number of exhibitors that highlighted the three trends for Spring/Summer 2014 – natural architectures, aesthetic passion and crystalline reflections. In addition, a Home Wellness area showcased the latest trends for the bathroom, wellness, personal care, relaxation and fitness sectors.

According to Preiata, while Macef concentrated on the product, HOMI concentrates on the product's end use – showing just why any given product could be important to the user and how retailers should demonstrate this.

Explaining the rationale behind this new approach, he said: "The distribution market has changed and its volatility makes it impossible to move forward based on an event philosophy that counts on market stability.

"Today, demand is less stable, less liquid, yet still full of business opportunities if you look through the right 'lens'. We want HOMI to provide that 'lens' and to be a new way of seeing the market.

"The largest sector this year was Living Habits, a sector dedicated to kitchen and accessories. A number of the smaller sectors, though, such as the Garden and Kids sectors, laid important groundwork for shaping the new HOMI concept. Even areas generally dedicated to individuals, such as wellness, still have room to grow, while the Fashion and Jewels sector confirmed their strengths."

Photo: A HOMI win: rebranded show woos buyers and sellers alike.
A HOMI win: rebranded show woos buyers and sellers alike.

HOMI 2014 took place 19-22 January at the Fiera Milano Rho in Milan. It attracted 1,500 exhibitors and 94,000 visitors. The event will be returning to Milan from 14-17 September 2014, before moving to Moscow's Crocus Center from 15-18 October 2014.

Sue Marks, Special Correspondent, Milan

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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