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Novel and Practical Xmas Gifts Take Pride of Place at Yorkshire Expo

It may have been summer outside, but it was Christmas in the packed halls of Harrogate's 2018 Home & Gift Buyers' Festival, with present-minded buyers on the track of yuletide surprises for both individual and corporate gift-giving.

Photo: Festive balloonacy: Inflated gifts at down-to-earth prices from Birmingham-based Jellyfish Balloons.
Festive balloonacy: Inflated gifts at down-to-earth prices from Birmingham-based Jellyfish Balloons.
Photo: Festive balloonacy: Inflated gifts at down-to-earth prices from Birmingham-based Jellyfish Balloons.
Festive balloonacy: Inflated gifts at down-to-earth prices from Birmingham-based Jellyfish Balloons.

It may have been the middle of summer, but there was a distinct Yuletide theme on display at the 2018 UK Home & Gift Buyers' Festival, held in the Yorkshire town of Harrogate in July. Indeed, many exhibitors were rolling out fresh product lines for the Christmas market, including such traditional favourites as soaps, candles, clocks and jewellery. Among them, however, were a number of novel ideas that could offer the market something a little different.

One young business demonstrating plenty of this fresh thinking was Version 22, a design company from Loughborough in Leicestershire, which was established by local university students in 2012. It's adopted a thoroughly modern business approach, crowdfunding new gift products through the New York-based financing platform Kickstarter before launching them on the wider market. Explaining why his company uses this model, Version 22's Founder Simon Lyons said: "Crowdfunding is great because it tests the market and raises the money for production at the same time. We did Kickstarter campaigns in 2014, 2016 and 2017 and we're going to do another one later this year."

So far it has served the company well. Version 22 has already won several design awards and been featured on the UK TV show Buy It Now. It's sold its products to customers in about 85 countries, mostly through direct sales to end-users, but also via trade distribution deals in 10 territories.

Functional Gift Products

Lyons described his company's merchandise as 'functional gift products', saying: "We try to design things that use as little plastic as possible in the packaging. The products themselves are colourful and attention-grabbing. They solve a real problem in a different way – something you could give as a gift, but that you might also buy for yourself."

At present, Version 22's lead product is a unique cutting tool called Nimble. Demonstrating how it works, Lyons said: "Nimble is a one-finger safety cutter that can be used to open boxes, parcels, envelopes or food packaging. It started life as a disability aid for people with arthritis who had limited hand function, but it's taken on a life of its own with customers of lots of different ages ordering it."

Introducing some of the company's other products, he said: "There's the Nimble cutting mat accessory, which is a silicone cutting mat, but also on the underside it's polished so you can drape it over a jar lid to grip and open jars.

"Then there's Mobu, which is a more recent launch. There are two different products – Mobu clips and the Mobu Connect. The clips use a patent-pending method of attaching different cable sizes, from skinny earphones all the way up to thick charger cables. Mobu Connect, meanwhile, holds the clips in place so your phone charger's in reach on your bedside table and your laptop charger doesn't fall off the desk."

Later this year, Version 22 is set to launch Geco Hub. Introducing this latest innovation, Lyons said: "It's a wall-mounted grab-and-go storage hub for all the things that you use so often you don't want to store them away – everything in your pocket basically, notably your wallet, mobile phone and keys." The units are modular, so they can be tiled together to create a mix-and-match colour scheme. They can be mounted with or without screws, a useful concession for those living in rented accommodation.

Creative Gifts

Another young company with an innovative range on offer was Selfie Clothing, which started operating out of the Suffolk town of Newmarket, near Cambridge, two years ago. Describing the company's product range, its Marketing Executive Joe Carrisi said: "We create bespoke colouring craft kits for kids. Mainly related to clothing and accessories. Every product comes in a tube and you get your fabric pens and your garment inside it."

Selfie Clothing's range of clothes for two to 10-year-olds includes T-shirts, caps, pyjamas and, most recently, capes featuring superheroes or unicorns, an addition to the range that has been proving very popular with customers. It sells through its own website as well as the online gift portal notonthehighstreet.com, has a direct retailer in US, and exports to several other territories, including Kuwait and Dubai.

At the show, the company launched its dedicated Christmas range, a calendar and two colourable festive stocking designs. Explaining that the company is eager to explore the fashionable notion of creative gifts, Carrisi said: "Kids these days are on iPads a lot and they're on mum's phone or whatever, so it's good to get them away from that. This is an activity that takes a couple of hours and means they've not been on a screen and they've got something to show for it afterwards."

Also exhibiting its new Christmas products at the show was London-based cosmetics firm Bubble T. Rebecca Crutchley, the company's Marketing and Communications Manager, was enthusiastic about the opportunities the show offered, saying: "This is our first time in Harrogate and we're exhibiting our range of fun and fruity bath and body products. Mainly though, we're here today to show off our Christmas gifts – bath sets, DIY gift sets for making your own bath bombs and a big cosmetics advent calendar."

Photo: Cutting-edge gifts: Version 22’s Nimble.
Cutting-edge gifts: Version 22's Nimble.
Photo: Cutting-edge gifts: Version 22’s Nimble.
Cutting-edge gifts: Version 22's Nimble.
Photo: Crafty Christmas fare from Selfie Clothing.
Crafty Christmas fare from Selfie Clothing.
Photo: Crafty Christmas fare from Selfie Clothing.
Crafty Christmas fare from Selfie Clothing.

The company started out in 2014 and now sells its products in 25 markets, either through retailers or directly via its public and trade websites. Bubble T's customers are primarily women, but its products are designed to appeal to all age ranges, with Crutchley saying: "We find that a lot of younger people love it, but also people in their late 20s, as well as a large audience of older people buying for their daughters and granddaughters. There's a huge variety, but I guess our core audience would be aged somewhere between 18 and 30."

Magic and Sparkle

Visitors to the Gift show couldn't fail to notice the striking balloon designs being carried around by many attendees. These were the work of the Birmingham company Jellyfish Balloons, with the idea behind them strong but simple – a four-metre string of custom-made LED lights set into a bespoke PVC helium balloon, creating a floating 'jellyfish'.

The product was launched at the 2018 Spring Fair in Birmingham in February. Recalling how the balloons had been received then, Hayley Smith, Office Manager for Jellyfish Balloons, said: "It really was insane at the Spring Fair. We took nearly 700 orders. We're not just selling a normal, plain party balloon, though. We're selling a bit of magic and sparkle. They're great for events and promotions as well."

The balloons appeared to be going down just as well at Harrogate, as Smith pointed out, saying: "I've already had four orders from people on other stands for promotions. I said, 'You've noticed them and they've stopped you. They stop everybody, so all you need is your logo on the side'."

The company was also debuting its new winter variant – a polycarbonate stick that acts as a stand for the balloon and offers new possibilities for decoration and display. Explaining how the new product had come about, Smith said: "It fulfils all the proper safety requirements and it's really robust. I've got three children and they're my product testers. We tried out 94 different types of plastic stick. At one particular moment, we had 135 different types of balloons at different levels in our office, seeing how long they would float for."

Jellyfish Balloons buys the batteries required for its product in bulk and sells them on to customers at cost price and can offer them advice on how to source helium. It's already exporting its balloons to many overseas territories, including Dubai, France, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. According to Smith, trade orders for Jellyfish Balloons have been placed by the iconic London toy shop Hamleys, but she turned down an offer from a major UK supermarket chain, which was determined to set its own price for the product.

Highly Distinctive

Not to be confused with Jellyfish Balloons, London-based company Jellycat was one of the most well-known names at the Harrogate trade show. Established in 1999, Jellycat has been producing an ever-growing variety of high-quality soft toys. Jellycat designs are highly distinctive, which gives the company an edge over many of its competitors. According to UK Sales Assistant Holly Burling, the company is continuing to expand its range. Expanding upon this, she said: "We have more than 300 new additions this season. We've got a few new ranges like Puffles, Perkies and Jumbles and obviously lots of new items for Christmas. Our sea-life range has been selling really well, so that's been expanded too."

Jellycat's top seller, however, remains one of its original items – a soft, long-eared toy rabbit called Bashful Bunny. However, one of its newer ranges that was gaining a lot of attention at the show was Amuseables, cartoon-style fruits and vegetables available in the form of small cuddly toys, bags, pouches and keyrings. Commenting on how well these products have been selling, Burling said: "They've been super popular, especially the avocado. That range was new last year and we've brought in a lot of new bits."

Burling added that one of the reasons for Jellycat's success is that it's bright, colourful designs appeal to all ages, saying: "I'm 24. Everyone in my house has a Jellycat toy and there are four of us. It's not just for children at all."

Jellycat, a long-standing global trader, is continually looking to expand its international reach. Following on from the Harrogate event, the company was set to attend a trade show in Shanghai for the first time.

Photo: Harrogate’s Home & Gift Buyers’ Festival 2018: The summer Santa show.
Harrogate's Home & Gift Buyers' Festival 2018: The summer Santa show.
Photo: Harrogate’s Home & Gift Buyers’ Festival 2018: The summer Santa show.
Harrogate's Home & Gift Buyers' Festival 2018: The summer Santa show.

The Home & Gift Buyers' Festival 2018 took place from 15-18 July at the Harrogate Exhibition Centre.

Catherine Jones, Special Correspondent, Harrogate

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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