This is my 4th year attending the American Glass Expo, and definitely the best results we have had thus far sale wise. However, this is not a sentiment shared by everyone in attendance. Let me rewind a bit for everyone, as this is a wholesale industry tradeshow I know not everyone is aware of what transpired.
This year the AGE show was moved to the Hard Rock Hotel instead of being held at Alexis Park Resort across the street. A bigger, better hotel hosting the show can only be good news right? Not really the case most of the time with our industry. With a bigger and better hotel, comes a much more strict and corporate structure being enforced by hotel management; something that we did not have to deal with at Alexis Park. Ultimately, for us, it means a much less accepting and hospitable experience as the Hard Rock is not as open to everything encompassing our industry.
The reason AGE has been the premier glass event year in and year out has a lot to do with the incredibly relaxed and open environment at Alexis Park, essentially a resort that got taken over for the week by supporters of functional glass art, it was our own little world while AGE went on. It allowed stores to walk from room to room around the resort, smoking wherever they please with no persecution while buying glass art for their stores. The exact opposite of what ended up happening at the Hard Rock Hotel. I have had countless stores come to me expressing their disappointment from this year, from the incredibly disorganized structure in the tower to the absolutely unbearable lines for registration / badge pick-up. I think it’s safe to say that A LOT of buyers did not have a positive AGE experience.
With that being said, I also want to talk from the vendor standpoint. Many of my friends being artists or distributors gave me a great amount of insight into the results they had. If you were in the artist arena, chances are you did extremely well. Why? Because the people in the tower who had rooms got very little foot traffic, funneling all the buyers into the artist arena. While I am sure this was not at ALL the intention of AGE organizers; this is precisely what happened. Vendors in the artist arena reported fantastic results with sales higher than usual, while the room vendors went as far as taking a huge loss at the event with the lack of traffic and hotel fines many ended up having to pay. Fines they should not have been subjected to had AGE organizers done their due diligence and had the rooms arranged prior to exhibitors having to move everything around in their own rooms. Exhibitors who moved their bed, in order to make room to actually display their product; got hit with a $1200 fine by the hotel if they were caught. You would think that organizers would have a little more initiative in making sure the rooms are acceptable for setting up a booth, instead of thinking that people are going to lay glass down on the bed for display? Whether it was an oversight or just something they didn’t deal with, it really took away from what exhibitors were able to do as far as having a cool booth. I know of at least 10 exhibitors who said they would not be returning to AGE next year unless something was done about what happened this year. The organizers really do need to figure out a way to compensate for the large amount of complaints taken in this year, or risk losing their exhibitors.
So far it sounds pretty gloomy right? Don’t worry; there were some positives to take away from this experience too. This year we definitely saw the best functional glass art offered in comparison to any other year; the artist arena was bursting at the seams with top-notch glass art. Artists like Banjo and Mike Shelbo had glass available to stores, something we have not had the fortune of being offered in the last few years.
I also believe this AGE was a catalyst for a lot of people questioning if wholesale events like this are going to be feasible for high-end functional glass art moving forward. Art Galleries do not go and buy fine art at a wholesale price, so why should Glass Galleries? Shows like this really keep adding to the grey area of glass when it comes to Craft VS Art, since we treat the art like any other product. This of course only being applicable to the very high-end functional glass art sector, not so much the everyday needs of headshops. Personally, I threw out the notion of “wholesale” long ago; as an expert on functional glass art it is up to me and my judgment to asses if a price quoted to me by an artist has enough room for me to add my percentage for services rendered. I think this is a mentality that is very much starting to resonate with a lot of artists as we move more and more to the classification of Art and away from Craft. This mentality is one that will challenge the likes of shows like AGE when it comes to the Art pieces, the separation of Headshop items and Gallery items if you will.
We saw a few instances of this happening already; in our case we held VIP Glass appointments for our clientele, offering a much more intimate and high-end experience to match the luxurious glass art we sell. Selling $20,000 pieces from a fold-up table in an arena is just not how I imagine us moving this industry further. Another instance was a private party held at the Bellagio by a group of artists, who wanted to offer their art in a much more exclusive and intimate setting also. This is a trend we are definitely seeing develop more and more, and it will lead to the eventual separation of ideology when it comes to how we approach items for a headshop and items for a Gallery, hopefully.
I still firmly believe in AGE, for years they have held it down as the best; but after dropping the ball this hard in Vegas they are going to need to work very hard to get their customers and exhibitors back. A task I think they can definitely pull off.