After our recent trips to shows in four European countries, it was good to start visiting events at home in the past week.
As we report in our news pages, it has been very encouraging to find such a confident mood at Scoop, Bubble, PLFM and Jacket Required in London, as well as the IMC buying show in the Midlands. So that’s the womenswear, kidswear, footwear, young fashion and menswear independent sectors all seeing reasons to be cheerful.
We found no one who thinks 2015 is going to be easy, but there are plenty of opportunities for well-run and progressively minded multi-brand retailers and their suppliers. One welcome theme we picked up at several venues was that good, solid indies - even those with a transactional website - resisted the dubious delights of Black Friday and other pre-Christmas giveaways. That’s smart thinking.
All these upbeat reports ought to please the recent (anonymous) correspondent who posted a message on our website complaining that we were running too many stories about closures and administrations. Well, apologies for that, but we have to tell it how we find it and there have been a few big developments among the majors that have hogged the headlines. But this seems a good point to remind readers that we are always eager to hear your news - good or otherwise - and it is very easy to reach the Drapers team. All our contact details are listed here. Do please let us know what’s going on out there.
In one of the more intriguing stories of the week, USC owner Mike Ashley may soon find himself having to explain to MPs what’s been going on in parts of his sprawling retail empire if a bid to get him to face a parliamentary committee is successful. Despite being number one on our Top 100 list of high street influencers, Ashley is no more chatty to Drapers than he is to any other media outlet, so we are often left to speculate what is going on.
One rumour we have received - strongly supported by several reliable sources - is that the sportswear billionaire is no longer friends with another sportswear billionaire, Sir Tom Hunter. Just before USC was put into administration, Ashley sent trucks up to a warehouse in Dundonald, Ayrshire, to retrieve some stock. Alas, the warehouse was owned by Hunter and, allegedly, due outstanding rent. Ashley’s trucks were blockaded by Hunter’s and nothing moved until the rent was paid. Mischief-makers in the industry suggest the Sports Direct owner is sore at Hunter for failing to deliver House of Fraser to him. Hunter sold about 11% of the department store group to Ashley just when every other shareholder was backing chairman Don McCarthy’s deal to sell to the Chinese conglomerate Sanpower.
Entertaining although these spats between rich retailers are, I cannot help having more concern for the 80 or so warehouse workers at Dundonald who are now out of a job with pretty much nil compensation. Separately, it remains to be seen whether part-time Sports Direct employees will be successful in their legal challenge over being excluded from its bonus scheme.
None of this sort of publicity makes fashion retailing appear like a wonderful career opportunity, but most readers of Drapers know it is. An excellent manifestation of this is our Next Generation event, to be held in London on Thursday, April 16. This will bring together about 300 high-flying first, second and third jobbers to hear the experiences and career advice of a stellar line-up of industry names. Attendance at the all-day event is free, but you have to win a place. Click here for details on how to enter. Good luck!