Posted on 5/2/2012 12:40 PM by Debbie Designer

Last month, I popped over to NYDC's Hospitality Design showcase. Now, as some of you may recall, I am not the biggest fan of these kinds of glad handing events. I trudged on, however, head held high, in hopes that perhaps this evening would be different. 

Seeing as this was a hospitality-focused event, the Design Center had a (quite genuinely good) idea to pair up designers and restaurant owners and invite them to speak about their collaborative design projects. 

I arrived in time to catch Will Meyer and Gray Davis of Meyer Davis Studios over at the Keilhauer Suite, which is honestly a very beautiful space, as you can see from the image below.  

 

They were chatting about their collaboration with chef Andrew Carmellini to design Locanda Verde in NYC and The Dutch at the W South Beach. 

While the showroom itself was alluring, it was very difficult to hear the speakers. I found myself eyeing around the room, admiring the space's modern, crisp partitions and airy layout--and of course, looking for the food--while muffled comments about the design projects evaded all sense of meaning.

I figured there would be some culinary delights lurking. This was a restaurant event after all, right?

Wrong.

It was the same old same, except for the chips. Oh, the chips! Why anyone would choose to have such greasy, crumbly, finger clinging food is beyond me. The poor people running those showrooms must have a nightmare to clean up. 

And so the conclusion was the same:

If in most networking situations there are winners and losers, these ones tend to be mostly just losers. The showrooms are getting crowds coming in, but are those people really paying attention to the furniture? As far as I can see, most of them aer eyeing down Cindy Allen for a photo op, or struggling to hear the panelists speak. (Why is it always so hard?) 

The real obstacle here is how to break the showroom event mold, and actually get people interested in what your company is doing. The gimmicks that draw crowds are the same gimmicks that distract them. So what's a host or hostess to do? 

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Hellman-Chang's studio for an event, and it was a wonderful counterpoint to what other showrooms are doing. The young design duo held a dinner party in their studio in Bushwick, right amongst their equipment and scrap wood. It was an easy way to tell the story of their handcrafted furniture (stations spread throughout the space showcased their classic Z Table at each stage of production), and keep the "gimmick" focused on what their brand actually represented.  

That event was hosted for the press, but it could just as easily have been for designers. Getting a captive audience, and sitting around with them at a dinner table is far more valuable than luring them into your space to grab a free glass of wine and eyeball the room before heading off to the next. 

More designers should take note, and find ways to draw crowds that are genuinely engaged--and not just leaving greasy fingerprints all over the merchandise.