I write this with a mild case of jet lag and a serious case of my esteemed editor breathing down my neck to meet her deadline. I’m back from a trip to US and Canada.
I was in New York for the Market menswear show. This has combined with it’s slightly younger demographic, Project, so it’s all under one roof at the Javits Centre. My goodness, Americans know how to make the show easy. “Need some more lights on that stand, Sir? No problem; let me run those up for you.” Unlike showing at Birmingham’s NEC for instance, where, once you’ve spent an hour finding an electrician, then endured the obligatory “nah, that’s a specialist light bulb that is mate”, and then end up bribing them in ready money simply to not destroy your stand, you then realise that they’ve left your job unfinished as it’s past three o’clock and that’s overtime. Mate.
And the exhibitor’s food! What a joy! Free breakfast and lunch, that are a pleasure to consume. Not forced to queue for most of the morning for a cup of ‘coffee’ that would be regarded as worse than waterboarding by inmates of Guantanamo.
So what of the show? Well, there seemed a determination not to discuss Trump, though his presence was hard to ignore in the City, as there were large and voluble demonstrations. Apart from that, the mood among the US exhibitors and buyers was very similar to ours. Growth of on-line; disappearance of the middle market; rise of discounters; threat to multi brand stores from the very brands they’ve built up.
We did ok; but not much more than ok. In some ways I wished the show had clearly been a disaster and then I could have said “That’s it; we’re not coming back.” I had serious regular customers who spent time on the stand and worked thoroughly through the collections. One or two potentially very good follow ups. But not enough to call it a resounding success.
What is apparent is how reluctant US buyers are to try anything new. The one consistent comment I heard from fellow exhibitors is how puzzled they are by the lack of time that buyers allow for trying to find new products and suppliers. They simply treat the show as a series of pre arranged appointments. They play it so safe, and wonder why the consumer is bored.
I also absorbed this walking the streets on New York with my other business hat on; the cake and coffee shop. It’s strangely hard to get a good, ‘boutique’ coffee. Starbucks utterly dominates the street on a scale hard to comprehend. And they’re all busy. The American consumer is conservative, brand loving and plainly unadventurous. This is a challenge for brands such as mine where design and colour feature so strongly. Not sure how I persuade them to be bolder. Maybe President Trump could issue an Executive Order to wear more colour……