Enterprise Ireland has just opened an Irish goods showroom in the AmericasMart complex in the Southern city. The 2,000-square-foot space, formally entitled Design Gallery Ireland, is being used to showcase the products of 11 Irish companies that have taken a marketing plunge in an effort to woe the mainstream American buyer.
The transatlantic move to Atlanta has been prompted by tougher economic times. The Sept. 11 attacks, foot-and-mouth disease and pinched pocketbooks have all combined to reduce American tourist spending in Ireland itself. But Enterprise Ireland and the 11 companies believe that their products are still highly desirable to American consumers and will sell well if those consumers get to see them on a regular basis and become familiar with their brand names.
AmericasMart Atlanta is widely viewed as being the No. 1 gift and home furnishings marketplace in the United States, according to Ruairi Curtin, Enterprise Ireland’s New York-based vice president for consumer products.
“Irish companies have been exhibiting at mainstream product trade shows in the U.S. for years but the number of those shows has dramatically increased with the result that the traffic at each of them has been diluted. So Irish exhibitors have not been getting a return on their efforts,” Curtin said.
The best single mart in Enterprise Ireland’s view was AmericasMart, Curtin said.
Best also means big. The Atlanta mart is spread over 4 million square feet and is stuffed with exhibits featuring home interior products, linens, rugs, fashion accessories, jewelry and various gift products. And all under one roof. Or, more precisely, three.
The mart houses 1,200 showrooms in three interconnected high-rise buildings in downtown Atlanta. Each year, according to Enterprise Ireland, the mart hosts more than 300,000 retailers from every U.S. state and 70 countries.
“The idea of the Irish showroom is to give the participating Irish companies a home away from home and an opportunity to enhance their credibility and progressive image,” Curtin said.
The companies that have crossed the sea to Atlanta are Blarney Stone Enterprises, Nicholas Mosse Pottery, Stephen Pearce Pottery, Newbridge Silver, Philip Gray, Forde Crafts, Wild Goose Studios, Galway Crystal, Tipperary Crystal, Solvar Jewelry, and Donegal Parian China.
According to Curtin, the decision by the companies to establish a presence in the United States is an especially significant one since it involves a long-term commitment in both time and money.
“This venture is not for companies that are looking for some quick action to build their business,” he said. “Short-term thinking will not reap favorable rewards. It is those who are willing to plan for the future and consider themselves visionaries for growth who will succeed.”
To put round figures on it, Enterprise Ireland is expecting short-term sales gains by the companies of about $600,000 a year each and $3 million a year thereafter as a result of their exhibiting at AmericasMart.
At the same time, the move to Atlanta is not without cost to the companies. Each is contributing close to $10,000 to cover merchandising, space cost and the services of a full-time manager who will take up the job in the summer.
In the meantime, there is already someone in place to answer any questions concerning the Irish products on display.
Enterprise Ireland has leased the show space for an initial three years and will match each participating company’s monetary contribution for that time period. After that, it is expected that Design Gallery Ireland will become self-sustaining.
Curtin said that while the showroom was now up and running, its formal opening would be held in July when AmericasMart holds its week-long summer show aimed at buyers who purchase for the retail industry.
Curtin said that no company has been turned down for the initial move to Atlanta. Eleven had asked to participate and 11 had been included.
“We have the right mix right now and all the companies have committed for two years,” Curtin said.
Each company is free to expand its exhibit, space permitting. Each can also set up new exhibits in other AmericasMart showrooms or share space with a U.S. company.
“The main thing is the companies have to really serious in their approach and sense of professionalism,”Curtin said.
The Atlanta venture, he said, was one of the biggest and most important consumer-related projects undertaken by Enterprise Ireland in recent years.