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Izzy’s standing ovation

CEO steps down as GA members discuss online selling, copying and funding

ONLINE selling and the problem of product copying were the major discussion points at the GA Members’ Day and AGM where a record attendance also gave CEO Isabel Martinson a standing ovation.

Isabel said goodbye after almost 15 years leading the Giftware Association, telling the audience she’d had an amazing time working with some great people in a “fabulous, so friendly” industry.
Known as Izzy, she added: “"The reason I wanted to come into the creative industries when I left the Navy was that my father is an artist – and I know what artists are like. They are wonderfully creative people but sometimes they're not terribly good at the other things. That's what has made the job so rewarding and special for me."
Having also served as chairman of the Trade Association Forum, Izzy reassured everyone that she’s not, as some people thought, ill or getting divorced, adding that her mother "wasn't feeling brilliant" and her husband has taken early retirement so she is joining him on sabbatical before returning to the workplace.
Isabel, pictured with GA officers including Greetings Today columnist Henri Davis, concluded: “The GA is bigger than all of us and I’ve been lucky enough to be its custodian for the past 15 years.”
GA Chairman Michael Papé presented Isabel with a luxury leather handbag as a parting gift from the members of the GA national committee, adding that her departure from the association marked the end of an era and “all of us are very sorry to be losing Izzy”.
She had often steered The GA through difficult times, but always took the association forward, offering great support to members large and small. Izzy had long been recognised as an expert in the gift and home industry, drawing crowds to her seminars and surgeries at trade fairs. She had fought The GA's corner and increased its reputation and profile within government circles and the wider industry to ensure that the voice of members was heard. She would be a hard act to follow.
"For all of us, The GA is about its members – large and small, retailers and suppliers," Michael concluded. "Over the last 15 years Izzy has dedicated herself to getting the industry collaborating more closely, sharing knowledge, information and best practice. This will be her lasting legacy."
Michael also introduced the Elkan Simons Award, named after the GA’s founder, which was presented by his son David to Stone The Crows! MD John Allan for his outstanding contribution iver more than 37 years in the gift and home industry.
The event included a lively debate on the Next Generation In Gifts, featuring GA Chairman Michael Papé, also a director of toy and gift company Ravensden, with panellists Steven Smith, co-founder of Gift Of The Year winners Thabto; Natalie Yates, founding director of Gifts From Handpicked; Steve McGuire, global sales director and senior vice-president of glassware supplier LSA International, and Sara Allbright, John Lewis buyer for home and gift collections and candleshop.
There was much discussion of online selling versus bricks and mortar stores, with Steve McGuire pointing out that LSA ensure their brand credentials are applied correctly by internet retailers “to prevent the race to the bottom on price”.
An electronics importer in the audience said one of the biggest issues his company faced was copying.
"I don't think there have been any test cases of people being prosecuted," he said, adding that a leading brand was being sold in many High Street stores that didn't meet UK compliance standards.
Having contacted Trading Standards about one item which had been copied, he said he was told the documentation was correct and the matter was closed. "When I asked, 'Did you actually test the product?' they said, 'We don't have the budget to do that.'"
Michael Papé was aware of Trading Standards teams around the country who spend a lot of their time seizing counterfeit and unsafe goods sold on online platforms, but added: "They are doing their best but are massively under-resourced.”
From the audience, Jeremy Corner, of Blue Eyed Sun, said one of his greetings card designs had been used directly on a wedding album but, when the Greek sellers were approached they had bought it unknowingly and in good faith from China.
Steven Smith said Thabto were copied "quite a lot and we work very hard to try to track them [the offenders] down as soon as possible. You've got to focus on your brand and ensure the customers understand that you're all about quality goods. Build relationships with great retailers”.
The meeting also covered the association’s key activities over the past year, the election of United Oddsocks’ Gary Schaffer to the national committee, the extremely positive feedback from the Meet The Buyer events, useful advise on how to improve click-through rates from online marketing, and alternative funding and investment.
A full report is available on the GA website with a video taken on the day.

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