A Quietly Confident Market
March 23, 2009,
It appears New York Home Fashions Week beat the odds. Nearly everyone I spoke with late in the market and in follow-up conversations last week said they left market with a more positive outlook than they entered it. Suppliers said retail sales were beginning to show signs of life in the two to three weeks before market.
Yes, Virginia, there is a sense of optimism — cautious, to be sure. But people are feeling better than they would have expected to a month ago.
Price points remain a big talking point, natch. I also found it interesting that a number of vendors made of point of discussing the soundness of their cash and/or debt positions. There was some discussion about factors remaining highly skittish, refusing business on accounts they would have previously insured and jacking up rates on those they continue to cover.
Certain existential realities of the recession were in evidence. There was noticeably more unoccupied showroom space around the market than there had been in September. A number of showroom leasers said they're being offered some good deals either to remain where they are or to relocate to another building — most commonly a few months of free rent or more showroom space at the existing rent rate.
In another cost-cutting move, in some showrooms the percentage of product developed specifically for the market ran between 40% to 60%, with the remainder being new product shown last September. As one vendor put it, "Everybody's happy I can get them samples right away. They're the same samples I've been waiting for them to ask for since last market."
In terms of product, suppliers showed all kinds of color — strong, bright, mellow — you name it. Just as the Shabby Chic sensibility was the must-have look a few years ago, Anthropologie fit the mood of the moment.
Overscaling remains very much with us. I saw of lot of modernized baroque motifs. Think Brocade meets West Elm.
The question of organic vs. eco-friendly for the volume retail market has been settled largely in favor of eco-friendly, with true organic reserved for the best customer's best price tier.
I saw a lot of emphasis on packaging — in terms of eco-friendliness, cost reductions and/or improved marketing appeal.
Packaging also came into play in some spots as suppliers bundled up product (sometimes with hard goods) in presentations that could hit a value price point on an endcap or in a seasonal gift promotion.
I wouldn't say anyone claimed to see a precise turnaround point on the horizon, but there's a sense that maybe, just maybe, it could be closer than everybody thought. Most execs still expect more doors to close. Most expect more vendors to drop out.
But there's less angst and more confidence now among those who believe they're going to survive the recession — among both retailers and suppliers.
Everybody's got their game face on and they're ready to play.