As Drapers is a fashion retailing magazine it seems appropriate to talk about the weather, as that’s what our readers do all the time.
The grim climatic conditions we have been experiencing since before Christmas have done nothing to lift the spirits. As I write this on Wednesday morning it is grey, windy, cold and raining - and I am in the supposedly balmy south of England. The nearby fields are saturated after weeks of heavy rain and I am getting more wear out of my wellingtons than any other footwear.
One good thing, I suppose, is that the disgusting weather should at least put buyers in the right frame of mind to set down their orders for autumn 14. Despite the temperatures and the rain, the independent buyers I have caught up with since the beginning of the year at Pitti Uomo in Florence, a clutch of trade fairs in Berlin and Scoop in London this week seem in a positive frame of mind. While it would be pushing it to claim anyone’s outlook is “sunny”, I have heard plenty of encouraging noises that optimism is strong for a good 2014.
It has to be said, however, that the familiar faces I see at Pitti and around Bread & Butter, Premium and Seek in Berlin are recognised as being among the most able and most successful independent traders, who get out and about into the international market to see what’s what. They are also among the most financially secure businesses - they have to be to afford the drinks prices at the Brits’ favourite bar Gilli in Florence - and so they could be said not to be wholly representative of the indie sector.
Others may be viewing 2014 with trepidation.
Tight financial control and careful management of cash flow will undoubtedly continue to be essential to the success or indeed survival of smaller retailers. I see no reason to expect the banks to become more understanding when it comes to offering finance to small businesses, so these concerns will have to work within their existing means. Our report this week about northern-based mini-chain Duffer Menswear apparently going broke appears to be due to the unholy alliance of low footfall and high overheads. I am sure some others will follow in the coming months, but I am also encouraged by the regular stories we run of independents expanding and opening new units.
Our news of a new own-label format from JD Sports is a reminder that competition for indies is never-ending. Even my most optimistic contacts stress to me that, to use a popular phrase, “it really is tough out there”, and that they have to keep right on top of everything to make things happen. Product, however, remains key, and I hope the upcoming clutch of trade shows such as Pure London, Jacket Required, Moda and London Fashion Week - plus newcomers like footwear event Platform and accessories show Detail - attract independent buyers in good numbers. There are plenty of suppliers that are wholly committed to serving the indies, not the majors, and they deserve support. I don’t expect any buyers to overbuy, but I am more than hopeful that the next few weeks’ activity will produce more sunshine than clouds.
Finally, a quick reminder that the deadline for entries into this year’s Drapers Footwear & Accessories Awards is January 31. The categories and criteria are listed on www.drapersfootwearaccessories.com. The awards will be presented at a black-tie dinner at the London Hilton, Park Lane, on May 1. That will be another inspiring gathering of successful retailers and brands. They might have sold something other than wellingtons by then.