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The show must go on for independents

As I type, I imagine many of you will be testing out your most comfortable shoes, stocking up on blister plasters and doing a few gentle stretches to limber up your muscles for the twice-yearly trek around the exhibition halls of Europe. Yes, it's buying season again and it kicks off in traditional fashion with Pitti Uomo in Florence next week.

On the other hand, many of you will be doing no such thing, with evidence gathered by Drapers suggesting that many independents will be doing much of their buying from the UK this season. A recent poll on www.drapersblog.com revealed that 63% of respondents intended to travel to fewer shows this season.

Our weekly Indicator survey of independent retailers (see pages 14 and 16) backs that up. More than half (56%) of the menswear retailers we spoke to said they were attending no international trade events this season. While most womenswear retailers said they would be attending the same amount of shows (80%), 18% said they would be travelling less.

This reluctance or inability to travel is symptomatic of the tricky time that retailers of branded clothing are going through at the moment. Even stalwart indies such as Limeys and Brother2Brother have suffered - the former was recently bought out of administration by Icelandic investor KCAJ, while the latter has pulled out of the market altogether.

It's entirely unsurprising that retailers may wish to spend more time in their stores to keep a closer eye on things, especially as we're about to enter the all-important Sales season - not to mention sparing themselves the cost of overseas travel.

The attack on the independent market by high street multiples has been relentless and there are very few gaps that aren't being well served by the large chains or value retailers. Kidswear, young fashion, mainstream womenswear and menswear, plus sizes, maternitywear, lingerie - the multiples have them all covered. In fact, you could get all of that for a good price and at a decent quality in Marks & Spencer alone.

A depressing thought, perhaps. But not one that should have good independents packing their bags and heading for home. Instead, it should have them packing their bags and heading for the shows, because it's precisely there they will uncover those new gems that can set their offer apart from the high street.

If a good price and reasonable quality was all a shopper wanted from their clothing purchases (and for many that's more than enough - some are just happy with cheap), then we'd all be in trouble. However, there are plenty of shoppers who don't want to buy clothes that every second person on the street will be wearing and who have specific needs that aren't met on the high street. And that need could be something as simple as a personalised service.

As we all know, the major benefit that independent stores have over their high street rivals is their intimate knowledge of their client base. That is an extremely powerful tool to take to the shows, and can help to collate an offer that truly sets a store apart from a mass-market chain.

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