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Jennifer Marks

Checking the Market Mood Ring

If there was one subject upon which nearly everyone agreed during the recent New York market week, it was how much they hated the weather. Mother Nature aided the conversation by treating us to the most bitter weather we'd encountered all winter and tossing in a snowstorm for laughs.

One fairly prominent supplier vowed to enlist like-minded fellows to hold their own market week on the traditional schedule. I know of one retailer who proclaimed no one from the company would set foot in a February market again. And a lot of people started asking about Las Vegas, although I still sense a great deal of skepticism there.

In addition to Vegas, I was surprised by how many supplier execs inquired as to the Atlanta Gift Show, the New York Gift Fair, and the Dallas show. None were looking for alternatives to the New York market — rather, they're looking for add-on business. Some have already started making the moves in those directions.

Suppliers appear to be much more flexible than they were two or three years ago, and several are finding niches outside traditional volume channels. People at market talked about business they're quietly doing with mattress stores, furniture stores, independent retailers, Internet retailers, drug stores, automotive stores, grocery stores, and hotels.

Here's the great thing about suppliers spreading their wings: I firmly believe that those who are now playing in other arenas are going to wind up developing unique, niche products that work their way back into the mainstream.

I didn't hear nearly as much about eco-friendly product as I expected to. Possibly that's because eco was the new thing last year and it's now funneling into the mainstream.

As to the trend of putting bazillion pieces of bedding and room décor in a bag, the practice seems to have topped out. Suppliers in the big-set business agreed the things have already grown too heavy. One noted that the logistics require manufacturers to skimp on sizing, which is leading to some problems with returns.

The mood of the market ranged from okay to upbeat. People said the business is challenging; but they didn't say it as though that's a new thing. They say it as a fact of life.

I came out of market with the sense that most of the deadwood has been cleared away. Most of the established companies I visited seem to have figured out their strategies. Meantime, the relative newcomers have packed their staffs with domestic vets who know the market.

I think we've passed over the threshold.

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