Talking all things giftware with Sarah Ward – Talking Tables UK Trade

Talking all things giftware with Sarah Ward

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Within my Talking Topics series, I was delighted to talk to Sarah Ward. I think she may have a higher step count than anyone else in the industry from all the trade shows she visits to meet with us all.

Sarah is the chief executive of the Giftware Association and kindly arranged for us to chat in her hometown of Nottingham. I was keen to know more about her role and her views on the current health of the giftware industry.

I asked Sarah what her main mission is. She replied that she is charged with ensuring that the gift industry survives and thrives, particularly the wholesale and supply side of the gift industry. If this community of suppliers survive and thrive then we can continue to offer the retailers innovative and sought-after gifts.

We discussed the definition of a gift. Well almost anything now, if it can be packaged within pretty wrap and exhibited at say Spring Fair. We have all seen the growth of alcohol and food as newer, very giftable items and probably all enjoyed receiving them from under our tree last month.

I asked Sarah how her mission of ‘survival and thrive’ manifests itself. You will have probably seen Sarah at the many, many trade shows she walks around – some 35 trade shows per year.  Sarah loves the human side of her role which is apparent when she is speaking to us all at the shows and connecting us all encouragingly. Sarah sees getting over the five year mark as quite key to a positive onward trajectory for newer entrants to the gift industry.

  • Sarah is a mentor to many of us in the gift industry, offering up her advice from her own days of being a buyer and as a supplier, plus sharing her learnings of being among multiple gifting suppliers.
  • Sarah offers advice on connecting funding opportunities; for example, if seeking your first international trade show.
  • She finds herself offering cash flow advice which may be important in those early years of becoming a gift supplier.
  • As a sponsor of the Gift of the Year awards, of course, Sarah is a key driver for quality and innovation.

I asked Sarah what she saw as some of the key challenges facing the gift industry. She answered:

    1. The difficulty of sourcing locally. Much as many of us giftware vendors want to purchase UK made goods, in reality the infrastructure is not present today with very little local manufacturing. As a middle ground, some vendors are looking to the Eastern European countries successfully.

    2)   Cash flow is a significant and particular challenge for giftware wholesalers. The industry as a whole has to buy product upfront, paying factories early in the cycle and it can be a long time until that is realised into cash after delivery to the retailer. The banks are not very empathetic. 

    With this in mind, Sarah is lobbying for shorter payment terms by larger retailers to the gift suppliers. She sees this as the biggest single issue to help a varied base of gift suppliers to survive.  If the government would tune in and support, the cash realised would in turn generate more productivity and allow more vendors to scale up and innovate.

    As well as supporting the giftware suppliers via conversations and mentoring, Sarah lobbies on behalf of the giftware industry. Vitally, she meets regularly to speak on our behalf, feeding in our perspectives to the Bank of England, parliamentary groups and specific MPs with an interest in our sector.

    I asked how the Gift Industry is changing over time. As expected, we both feel importantly there are key changes in being more sustainable. We are now more finely attuned to avoiding gathering more unnecessary ‘stuff’ so retailers are more mindful of the value in the gifts they offer, leading to more functional gifts.

    But Sarah also observes a shift back to people. Sarah said more business owners are more mindful and respectful of the human side of work, with a need to hold onto their staff, leading to better investment in the career development of their colleagues. I thought this was a definite upside within a challenging environment.

    I really enjoyed talking to Sarah and from our conversation learnt about the broader issues facing us in the gift industry and some of the challenges facing us as a gifting supply base. The gifts we all give and receive create much pleasure and drive many, many retail purchases, so I wish Sarah all the best as she continues to work with such dedication to our industry and all our businesses.


    Find out more about the Giftware Association here.

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