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  • Jennifer Marks

'Open to Listen'

Given the current state of affairs, most retailers coming in for this week's New York Home Fashions Market have severely restricted open to buy.

Much of what's on the floor now is fairly safe, familiar and predictable. With consumers and retailers equally anxious about what lies ahead, I imagine we'll see more of the same at least through spring 2010.

With little open to buy available, this may be an opportune moment for merchants to expand their "open to listen." That's the phrase one savvy exec used last week when cataloging some of what ails the business.

Some potential topics:

  • What will the economy look like at Back-to-School 2010? Will more college students pivot toward local institutions so they can live at home while they earn their degrees? Or will that be a phenomenon of BTS 2009 — one that will begin reversing course next year?

  • Has the jolt to the economic system permanently recalibrated consumers' appetites for consumption? If so, how? Will it mostly impact the savings vs. spending rate? Or will it swing spending priorities away from the cheap and disposable toward the more durable? And how will it affect distinct population segments differently?

  • Which segments of the housing market are likely to rebound first? Has the housing debacle made McMansions an anachronism?

  • What's the future for green home textiles? Will the Obama Administration's goal of greening up America inculcate a new generation with a green awareness, or will the practical ecological interest at a consumer level continue to focus on food and fuel?

  • What new fiber technologies are in development? How can they be applied by the home textiles industry to create unique, differentiated and solutions-oriented products?

  • Can we build a better mousetrap? Are there new merchandiser concepts, online partnership promotions or cross-branded/cross-category packages that can spur consumer interest?

  • For suppliers who sell beyond the traditional big box channels, what types of cross-channel promotion could you pull together? For example, every Foam Supplier Brand pillow sold at XYZ Drug Store includes a $100 coupon for a Foam Supplier Brand mattress at Big Mattress Chain. Every Foam Supplier Brand mattress sold at Big Mattress Chain includes a coupon for $15 off a Foam Supplier Brand pillow at XYZ Drug Store.

No doubt there are dozens if not hundreds of innovative ideas out there in the showrooms. While everybody is sitting together this week not doing much buying or selling, in addition to reviewing the programs already in development, take half an hour to throw around some crazy ideas.

One of them might turn out to be the next big thing.

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