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Editor's Comment: Buyer attendance will seal the future of trade shows

What a start to 2016! Second week into the year and we’ve seen a chief executive depart, a series of administrations – as both Atterley and Hawick Knitwear succumbed to the pressures of a difficult economic environment – and a plethora of mixed Christmas trading results.

Debenhams in particular posted some impressive figures and proved that the strategy to move away from discounting is having a positive real effect. Shop Direct also had a record festive season and showed that mobile is a sales environment, especially for the customer.

Although news of chief executive Marc Bolland’s imminent retirement was largely welcome in main as a right move for the retailer, some fairly pointed out the back-end changes that he made in his time there to improve systems and processes will set the retailer up for future trading. Everyone is in agreement that Rowe’s first move must be to sort out M&S’s tumbling fashion sales. Speculation is mounting as to who the next general merchandise manager will be, and it’s no doubt a crucial hire for Rowe as his leadership alongside a fashion product person could just be what turns M&S around. Product selection, visual merchandising, target audience and store organisation all need to be thoroughly investigated but as the winner of Consumer Choice award at last year’s Drapers Awards in November proves, the retailer does still have a place in customers hearts and any improvements in this area will be greeted with open arms by shoppers.

Blue Inc. is clearly in turbulent times and this young fashion retailer, which started trading in its current guise in 2002, is trying to weather the challenging trading conditions by offloading a quarter of its store portfolio. Speaking at the Drapers Fashion Forum last November, chief executive Steven Cohen said “We [create an emotional connection with shoppers] through property, people and product and it is about getting all those things right”. He is no doubt assessing these factors as he determines the future of the retail chain.

This week also saw the kick-off of the buying season with London Collections Men sitting alongside the launch of trade show WeAr. Having attending both last weekend the mood is positive. Despite WeAr visitor numbers being quiet, brands were upbeat and ready to start the season. For those that did attend, whilst Old Billingsgate is a stunning venue and the main floor worked well in terms of layout, I’m not sure the lower ground and upper tier had the same effect. The show is aimed to display the an edited selection of the seasons collections but unfortunately the bulk of buyers didn’t turn out. It will be interesting to see the changes the show makes for its July edition.

A big question that many are posing this year, is whether trade shows are still relevant? With the increased exposure digital platforms allow brands when showcasing product, alongside increased showroom visits, retailers are questioning whether they need to travel to discover next season’s buy. It’s a question we will be posing over the next few weeks as we report back on our visits to the European trade shows from both a brand and buyer perspective.

Moving from trade shows to fashion weeks, the LCM shake-up was greeted with a good reaction and there was a buzz throughout the four days. I particularly saw this at the Soulland presentation (held outside Victoria House) which despite torrential rain was well attended and the wet weather brought a certain atmosphere to the proceedings. Passion for product is such an essential part of this industry and I look forward to meeting many of you at the upcoming shows to discuss the future of trade shows and where they will bring us over the next few seasons.

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