Showcase number 45

We should be glad and impressed that the Showcase Exhibition, held in the RDS every January, last year reached its 45th anniversary.   It bills itself, correctly, no doubt, as Ireland’s leading Trade Exhibition, for fashion, household, gifts and other goods. But some former colleagues may be unaware of CTTs  progenerative role in this perennially trade-productive institution..

It was, indeed, in the seventies -and  Yes, about 45 years ago.  CTT used to do a lot of promotional work in North America, both at consumer and trade level, and usually featuring a high class, design and reputation-influencing major department store (and its branches)  most every year. This had the interesting result that Ireland became fashionable, for some while, and recognised as a Go To country for   quality and well designed  imported goods, due to our continuous association with influential top department stores.   (And, it must be said, because of the phenomenal market position of Waterford Glass ) (I believe Ireland was featured inside stores and in their newspaper advertising, etc more than any other foreign country in the 1970s). This in turn led to some unexpected benefits of real importance. One was the Revlon promotion in 40 cities across the nation, which you all know about (No?). Another was a very interesting spawning of Irish Gift Fashion boutiques, or specialist shops selling Irish clothing, household good, textiles, gifts, gourmet foods, etc.  These sprung up across the country and almost all of them, no exaggeration, were created and later managed with very close assistance from our offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Biddy Greene recently estimated to me that there must have been c. 150 of them. I’d say maybe closer to a hundred. Tony Courtney, Ann Tormey, Rosemary Craig and others on the  team in those days  could probably write a book about them.  We should have built a franchise (- and, truth, I nearly did.. Nobody knows that till now )(I still have the business plan!)

Owners of these shops were often, and lets say, typically, retired or pre-retirement professional retail buyers and spouses. One of the benefits they enjoyed was an annual trip to Ireland to research new suppliers.  And  CTT in Dublin provided a great service to them at that time –   personal couriers and transport to take the buyers around to  factories, a superb service both to the Irish shops and to our indigenous consumer good suppliers. (When we got a tip that the Chairman of Bloomingdales, the famous Marvin Traub, was coming to visit  Waterford in 1980, he was absolutely delighted to get a courier and car from CTT)

 However, it was eventually decided that this was a rather expensive way to provide the continuing service, in times of budgetary  constraints, so we looked for ways to “group” the visits and product research activities and eventually decided the best idea was to set up an exhibition for them in the RDS for a few days, at which all interested exporters- about 50 initially –  could exhibit, and we could arrange special group airfares from Aer Lingus.   We called it a US Buyers Show Case.  That was a very  successful event and later we passed the organisation of the annual show over the Goods Council and they  invited Irish retail buyers in also, then Northern Ireland manufacturers, and eventually it was taken over- I assume by the present owners of the event- and turned into “Irelands leading trade exhibition”. It seems to be doing very well. Congratulations to the organisers.

 Only thing is, I sort of doubt if there are many US buyers any more.. A lot of the shops seem to have gone with the wind. I asked Enterprise Ireland in the US for a list of Irish shops a few years ago, and was told such a list didn’t exist. They had no information. So,  I suppose Ireland was a fashionable idea for a while.. but fashion changes.. (Still, ’tis a pity we didn’t hold onto the shops. They would have been a very useful design and  test input and market influence on new products from Ireland.  Development from the market. That might have been a very appropriate new role for CTT. )

PS: There may be a couple of dozen left, as featured in Irish Central website a few years ago…

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