Rooted in the purpose to champion creativity, the One of a Kind Show has been a tradition for the Toronto community since 1975.
Taking over the Enercare Centre in Toronto in late November annually, the Winter One of a Kind Show (OOAK) brought together 600+ artisans from across Canada into a single location over a two week period.
With the return of in-person events in 2022 and the opportunity to bring lessons learned from the 2020 and 2021 pandemic years, Retail Insider sat down with Janice Leung, Director of the One of a Kind Show, to talk about this years event and the future of the event.
“We are so excited to be back IRL supporting the artisan community this holiday season,” said Leung. “Our intention with this Show is to inspire shoppers to support Canadian businesses and allow individuals to rediscover the power of creativity and celebrate our community.”
“We’ve gathered the most creative entrepreneurs from across the country, and for 11 days, they are all under one roof. What really sets our event apart from other shopping is that it’s not simply ‘shopping’ when you buy from One of a Kind. You’re also supporting small businesses, getting to know creators behind the brand and at the end of the day, you’re helping them do what they love and transform their passions into a career. We’re proud to have been able to champion that movement since our first show in 1975 and we feel very lucky to be able to do that to this day.”
The One of a Kind Show features a full conference floor of creators, including the Rising Stars, Fashion District, Original Art Gallery and the popular ‘Flavours’ section. Also included is a programmable section called “LET’S MAKE” by cricut.
“It’s really about what the core of One of a Kind and what it’s is about for us, it’s about championing creativity. I think more than ever, there are more partners and sponsors that also align with our vision. In that sense, we have been able to lay out what our ‘why’ is and work with like-minded partners that will allow us to do that.”
“Shopping will always be the key element for One of a Kind. But we are also looking at answering the question of how do we utilize experiences so that people feel that when they come to OOAK, they are participating in something bigger?”
Long-term vendors and prospective future vendors are able to connect directly with the team to secure future One of a Kind Show participation.
“Our sales team spend a lot of their time going to other events, sourcing through social media, and really understanding what our community is doing. That way, they are ready for the next event. It’s truly an ongoing cycle in which one show is on, but we’re already working on the next.”
“The Spring Show exists in that sense, even though the two shows (Winter and Spring) are different, and I think people come to the events with different purposes. What’s great about the spring show is that it allows some more of the emerging makers to test the waters and see what OOAK is all about, and then graduate to the bigger event.
One of a Kind is about scale. The 2022 winter show went from November 24th to December 4th, with weekdays and Saturdays being 10am-9pm and Sunday 10am-6pm.
“Our vendors, when they first start out, they may not necessarily be ready for One of a Kind,” said Leung.
“A key reason is that we are a huge show and that you have to produce a lot of inventory and there’s a lot that goes in behind the scenes. For us, our team will work with them and nurture them through the process, so that they can think of OOAK as a career goal.”
Being on-site at a conference can be overwhelming for a small business, staffing a booth for 11-hours a day everyday for two weeks.
‘We work with a really great staffing agency and we make sure that the artisans know that it’s an available resource and how they can utilize it,” said Leung.
“It’s interesting to think about having a day off during an event, as sometimes I think that small business owners may think that ‘this is my everything – I can’t take a day off’. But we know that if you don’t take a day off, you’re not at your best. We do try to encourage our vendors to have balance, and we feel like in order for them to do that…by providing them a resource like a staffing contact that they would be able to find that balance.”
“There’s also a sustainability aspect to it, when you are utilizing a local agency, you’re also creating local job opportunities for people within the community that you’re in. That’s a nice element to the process that transpires beyond the very nature of the show and broadens it into the community.”
During the pandemic, OOAK was able to pivot due to the seasonal impact.
The 2020 show was entirely virtual, with a website created to allow creators to connect with the community.
November 2021 had a timed entry function, as the province was in the midst of another COVID-19 outbreak and implemented health guidelines that limited the size of indoor crowds. That year was also impacted with no sampling, which is a substantial part of the experience in the food category at the show.
“We are learning that people are shopping differently. The 2020 show was purely virutal, as there was no other choice at that time so they were all shopping online because that was all they had. Whereas, Last year, people were slowly coming back but we were still at a stage where certain guests were not comfortable being in person.”
“But I think this year, people are ready to get back into this ‘new normal’ so they do want to come and shop in person. I think that is a trend that the retail industry is seeing in general, as ecommerce is dropping a little bit for the in-person experiences.”
“We try to tell our artisans that it’s going to be a bit of both for the next little bit. We’re not going to go back to purely ecommerce and ecommerce alone – but we also know that it’s not going to be purely in-person either. We try to give them educational opportunities and a different way of thinking about the show. If people don’t buy right away, how can you continue you nurture that lead so that you build a life-long relationship with that customer.”
“It’s kind of that bit of learning, but it’s also what are some of the ways to drive people to the event and shop from you immediately. With shipping costs rising and increased costs – not having to pay shipping and not having to wait – that’s a nice little benefit as well.”
Rising Stars – The Future Creators
One of the sections of the One of a Kind Show that draws attention is Rising Stars.
“I think the Rising Stars is a great way for the creators to test the market and get their feet wet.”
“We noticed an interest trend, that during the pandemic, for many people, it was a time of self-reflection. We have people who started out leaving their 9-5 and start a business.”
“A good example is Jillian Davis from Leaf and Root. Before the pandemic, she was a dental hygienist and couldn’t work during the pandemic so she started a passion project. So she creates fun planters with cheeky sayings on them and then she got a Rising Star booth at the last show. It has resonated with our community and her audience that she’s now got a bigger booth.”
“I think that another thing that happens when you start your business online is that you don’t actually have that face-to-face engagement with your customer. Sometimes when you think One of a Kind, you think about shopping. But it’s also a great way for our vendors to do customer research. What do people like and what are they not receptive to. And when you take all that insight and make your business better.”
With the Winter Show being two weeks and the Spring Show being four days, the team at One of a Kind and Informa Connect are able to think about future trends.
“We talk a lot about our vendors. We talk a lot about our partnerships in order to create unique experiences. Another area we’re looking to is programming and how we are able to give another level of prospective to allow people to come to the show and experience the vendors and the show.”
“We brought late-night shopping back, which was paused during covid. but it allows customers to shop until 11pm with free parking and free coat check and programming all night. It puts the show into a ‘Show within a Show’ feeling and gives people a reason and a different audience. We also implemented a family day, which was planned on a Toronto District School Board PA day. This gave families an opportunity to come to the show and make memories together with family-friendly programming.”
“I think programming is another way to contextualize the shopping in a little bit of a different way that we’ll see how that goes into the future.”
One of a Kind is produced by Informa Canada, which produces and manages over 45 seminars, conferences, trade and consumer shows every year, including Fan Expo. With events in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Saskatoon, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg, the reach spans coast-to-coast in Canada. As a well known entity, Informa Canada produces events in many sectors including construction, design, craft, art, real estate, furniture and furnishings.