In My View by Eric Musgrave: There’s no business like trade show business
Independent retailers are back in fashion. That was the welcome news I picked up at the London trade shows last month where no fewer than four agents told me – without being asked – they had seen an upsurge in openings of fashion indies.
“We haven’t seen anything like this for 15 years,” said one with a smile on his face.
It seems that one of the few positives of the COVID-19 pandemic is that consumers have rediscovered the pleasures and benefits of shopping locally.
Working from home and a desire to avoid possibly crowded city centres and big shops has probably aided this retailing renaissance. I wonder also if a lot of people who have lost their job due to the aftershocks of COVID have decided to work for themselves with a retail business.
I wish the newcomers all the luck in the world.
A second theme I picked up from talking to friends at Scoop x Pure and Just Around The Corner is that many established retailers have come through the past two years lighter, sleeker, more focused and with refreshed enthusiasm.
Periods of enforced closure have provided some much-needed thinking time. Ranges have been reviewed. The need to get the product mix right has been re-emphasised.
The survivors have come out fitter. Long may they thrive.
On a personal note, it was a treat for me to be back covering the aisles at the two venues in Brick Lane.
Karen Radley and the team at Scoop x Pure and Juls Dawson and Co at JATC ought to be congratulated just for making their events happen despite the on-off rules surrounding the coronavirus problem.
I really enjoyed meeting up with pals old and new after a gap of 24 months. I am notorious for my love of a trade show. I know of no better way to get an overview of what the next season may bring and how the current season is going.
After 40-plus years in the trade I am still astonished that a large number of buyers do not attend any event. How do they know what’s going on?
Conversely I tend to see the same type of Premier League players of the independent sector at every fair I visit. Their success must be linked to their readiness to go out and look at product.
Much as I admire indie retailers, I fear a lot of them are just plain lazy when it comes to visiting a show twice a year. I have heard all the excuses over the years but the shows give everyone six months’ notice of their dates. So even if a lone owner-driver has to close their shop for a couple of days, they should get out and get into the marketplace.
End of sermon.
Readers who have the time to follow me on Instagram at @musgraveeric will know that each Friday I post the news pages I was working on 20 years ago that week.
Part of the reason I scan between six and eight pages of memories is plain nostalgia, of course, but I am also trying to decipher the current market by remembering what has gone before.
Some of the retailers, brands, trends and fashion looks we once got excited about are now easily forgotten or mildly amusing.
I raised a wry smile recently when I realised in 2002 my journo colleagues and I were spending an awful lot of time writing about the politics and geography of trade fairs as differing factions and organisers championed womenswear events in London, at the NEC and in Harrogate.
Leaping forward two decades and what do we find? The industry still has choices in those three locations – and Juls Dawson has added to the mix with his Manchester version of JATC.
And let’s not forget the INDX shows in Solihull also have a solid reputation.
My considered view is good luck to all of them. I acknowledge that it is tough to ask brands and agents to be at two or three events – especially when the dates coincide – but it is a free country and organisers will stage shows where they think they will attract an audience.
Exhibitors will pay their money and take their choice but my sincere hope is that buyers old and new will attend at least one of these trade events, which I believe are vital to the long-term prosperity of the independent retailing sector.
That, surely, is something worth supporting.
Or who reading this believes trade shows are now an irrelevance?