Milwaukee show sees active crowd interest

The third annual Fine Furnishings & Fine Craft Show in Milwaukee was held Sept. 27-28 at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee. Similar to its sister show in Providence, R.I., and other furniture shows that have been held during healthy and unhealthy economic times, some exhibitors made great sales, others had no sales, and many obtained good contacts that often lead to down-the-line sales.

“My overall reaction was mixed,” says Karla Little, Fine Furnishings Shows manager. “We had about 80 exhibitors, which was the same as the first year. I was disappointed in the attendance, which was slightly off last year. But the people that were there understood what the show was all about — 99 percent of the people there had either been to the show before and knew what to expect. Or if it was their first time coming, they weren’t surprised, they knew what they were going to see.”

There were several shows in the Milwaukee area prior to the Fine Furnishings & Fine Crafts Show that saw decreased attendance, and a long-standing remodeler’s show took place the same weekend and reported a significant drop in attendance. Little says other competing factors included the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team’s appearance in the playoffs and attention paid to the Green Bay Packers football team.

“The good thing was the people looked, seemed, and were our demographic. I personally saw some collectors who had been there all three years,” Little says. “I saw some interior designers who had been there all three years, and the ones who were kind enough to say, considering what’s going on, ‘The show was beautiful, the work is still high-quality, there was a nice mix, it was well laid out and it was well-presented. It was fun to see exhibitors who have been there all three years and have new work.’ ”

Major award winners included:

  • Best Contemporary Piece of Furniture: Gregory Kirby of Kowata Tree Woodshop of Milwaukee for his walnut cabinet on stand.
  • Best Traditional Piece of Work: Gary Keener of G. Keener & Co. in New Carlisle, Ohio, for his Carlisle lingerie chest
  • Best Traditional Body of Work: Justin Kauffman of Kauffman Fine Furniture in Pendleton, Ind.
  • Best Contemporary Furniture Body of Work: Michael Doerr of Michael Doerr Woodworking in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
  • Marc Harrison Award for Marketing Excellence: Paul Smith of Cathedral Woodworking in Olivet, Mich.

“I think there were fewer hobbyists and more motivated buyers than the previous year,” says Kirby. “I sold a mahogany table that was delivered last week, and I’m working on another project for the same person, and I’ve gone out for another consultation for something else. To me, it really seemed like a good show.”

“This is the best quality show I’ve been to; everything else I’ve done has been outdoors,” says David Stine of David Stine Woodworking in Dow, Ill., who sold a large live-edge red oak table for about $10,000. “I thought everything was super-professional in this show. I also thought Karla was really great and it was well-run. The attendance, I thought, was a little light, but that may have something to do with the economy. But as far as the people coming through, they were real knowledgeable and ready to buy something.”

Little worked incredibly hard on increased and different marketing approaches for this year’s show, and will continue to expand on those efforts for next year’s show.

“Jumping ahead a little bit, I have put together six really key people for an advisory board, and I have six others sort of targeted … and I’m going to go out there and meet with them with a really clear agenda, do some focus groups with exhibitors and attendees both public and trade, and try to see if we can fine-tune what we’re doing. Is it the right place? Is it the right building? Is it the right dates? Do we have a strong enough foundation with the show for both exhibitors and attendees to build on for next year?”

No matter what the results of those meetings are, Little says she is planning on having a show in Milwaukee next year.

“It was still sort of true to Fine Furnishings form,” she says. “The majority of exhibitors were furniture. It was a really nice mix of contemporary and traditional and mixed media. We had a nice selection of exhibitors who had been there for three years, some two years and some that were brand-new, so there was still some fresh product for the attendees.

“The silver lining in the whole thing was the sales. There were some wonderful little bright spots.”