Pulse is one of a handful of retail gift shows for the trade that take place every year in the exhibition centres at Earls Court and Olympia.
In a large aircraft carrier space, over 700 hundred companies spend thousands of pounds to rent a cubicle that will showcase their wares to visiting country-wide retailers, from the big boys down to the small independents.
Over the course of 4 days they will master a rictus grin and try to force pricing lists on passers-by, with the insistence of a free London newspaper distributor on Oxford Street.
They will don the outfit that best reflects their brand (original! fun! alternative!), sit on impossibly small stools that maximize the miserly space they have mortgaged their souls to secure, and forge tactical friendships with their neighbouring stalls, like prisoners on the same block.
Once they have squeezed out the watermelon of transferring the goods from HQ to the centre (queue for the loading bay, find heavy trolly, realise it’s raining , unload 26 suitcases onto trolly, wheel through scores of people doing same) they must build and prettify the stand: pay for extra lights; for a security gate; for an official photographer; for somebody to love them.
The haul of the goods is why the clever ones make ping-pong balls or something useful out of cotton wool buds.
A buzz of excitement ensues. Will it be a good show? Who’s new? Will anyone notice some discreet sketching of the competition’s designs? You got what @£*%ing discount on your stand for applying late?
Then everyone gets pissed on the welcome wine and the beauty of their 4 x 4 inch space, eventually drifting off to dreamland on the sofa of their London friend.
Ping! It’s showtime, baby! Work it, work it, own it!
In preparation for round-the-clock voyeurism, 700 faces slap on the lippy and wax wayward hair follicles.
Little do they suspect that the weight of fierce boredom will lead them to forget their public by Tuesday afternoon, when they will be using their miniature stools as balancing platforms to pluck their pubes, Big Brother-styley.
What are they selling?
Well, if you are going to learn a lesson in business at a trade show it is to take one very simple idea and flog it to death.
The simpler the better: glamorous bra-straps, patterned light-switch covers, revolving tea strainers.
There is no need too trivial to create. No, really- there isn’t.
Alternatively, you can take an extremely complicated idea and diversify into any product you have ever thought of and a few you haven’t.
Representing one or both approaches will be:
The Ginormous Stand Selling Everything from Europe
The Hideous Stand Full of Hideous Things You Can’t Believe Anyone Likes
The Innovative Stand Selling Spoons That Double Up As Chopping Boards
The Linen Stand Selling Lots of Linen For Lovely People Draped in Linen
The Woolen Scarf Stand with Funny Shaped Scarves
The Busy Busy Overdressed Stand That May Enduce An Epileptic Fit
The Eco-Friendly Biodegradable Magically Disappearing Product Stand
The Mad Lamp Stand
As well as several kiddie labels named after the adorable progeny of the owners, and millions upon millions of slogans plastered on anything that moves: ‘I’m a little shit!’, ‘My gay godson loves golf!’ etc.
Who are they waiting for? Who will burst through the doors in the best of their wardrobe, gossiping like loons?
Why, The Retailers.
Mostly female, they divide into two camps:
Joan is from Chelmsford where she has set up a small shop selling precious things, with her sister. She is comfortable around the hips, with personality spectacles, a flowing skirt and a scented aura. She is making a London week-end of it, which will allow her to open ‘Joan’s Treasures’ at 11 am sharp on Monday morning.
Phoebe is from the Harvey Nichols giftware department. She is posh, fashion-forward and enjoying skiving off at the beginning of the week to drink a glass of champagne from a tall plastic flute. She’s also trying to look humble. And failing.
Meanwhile, all the men at the show are affable and creative. They like to wear pressed shirts and have a chinwag and you could herd a fair number into a tent hosted by Barbra Windsor and her toy-boy husband Scott Mitchell, at least one of whom they will fancy.
If fitted with a pace-measurer the visitors would happily rack up 40 miles apiece pacing along the never-ending aisles, while the Show Feedback Form will reflect only a mild resentment that they must pay £75.20 for a cheese sandwich.
Because they’ve got the day off, the chequebooks, the power to choose and no idea that the recession will close them down in September.
For my own part, I sneak in to keep an eye on trends for when I bring to life my fantasy gift business idea.
I do so by sporting a badge that identifies me as a ‘Designer’, which has the desired effect of alienating all stalls apart from those hawking packaging.
Those that wear one saying ‘Buyer’ know to perfect the 45% leaning angle. Head jutted out, in the vein of Chariots of Fire, it allows for a peak at the goods, whilst positioning the feet to make a hasty exit if assailed by an eager stallholder.
For stall-holders know there is nothing more important in this world than to identify who is giving off that first whiff of interest and if it is the kind of retail arse they need to start licking.
If a match is found you don’t want to be anywhere in the vicinity, in case some of the saliva misses and lands on your coat.
Actually, I don’t think I would even mind.
Because I absolutely love these shows!
Maybe it’s the collective entrepreneurial spirit. Maybe it’s the thrill of tripping over a truly good design. Maybe it’s just seeing all the knick-knacks in their shrink-wrapped shop-front windows.
But I suspect that these shows bring back fond memories of my sewing machine and the filthy lucre that it wove: there is little more satisfying than creating something yourself which someone else wants to pay you for.
Long live capitalism. Long live Pulse.