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Fear factor

Times are sure changing.

We're in a period where safer is surer than innovation and creativity. Perhaps it's a worrisome economy. Maybe it's a fear of war. Or possibly it's simply a fear of innovation and creativity.

We see it almost everywhere.

To create excitement — or, perhaps, to replace creativity — many suppliers are turning more toward designer or celebrity names as their raison d' etre in the marketplace, even as this key marketing element ebbs in consumer acceptance. Consumers are increasingly unwilling to be billboards for designer or product names, reports have told us.

At the same time, conservatism and a heavy degree of caution have taken over at major retailers. Bigger is not always better. The problem is that the marketplace is increasingly dedicated to the big guys. Too bad.

That is not to say that everything looks same-old, same-old in all stores, particularly among independents here and the boutiques and major stores around Europe. Many of these stores typically push the envelope when it comes to what they offer and how they present the stuff. And, typically, for several years hence, their influence follows with the more mainstream retailers. Not this year.

But some of these stores are doing other things, even if they have reined in their home furnishings product innovation and creativity. One might call them tricks of the trade to make themselves stand out from the crowd. One might call them merchandising.

Across this country, even where cows outnumber people, independents are serving their public — and serving them very well. Consumers buy because they want to — because they have to. The owners have a point of view, which is something rare in retailing today.

Then there's the convenience factor of not having to drive for an hour or so to a Wal-Mart or some other big store. Then there's the service element, real service.

These are retailers in towns with big boxes, giant discounters and department stores — and they are successful.

There are a few real innovators among the big stores. We've seen Costco Home's selection and Lands' End's custom service. It can be done.

We are in a time frame where global worries are having a negative impact on innovative and creative design. But there are some who challenge this approach believing that when economies are in the doldrums it is time for more creativity.

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