A Summer Wind

June 14, 2017

And so it starts again.

The gift industry is both blessed and cursed by its buying structure of trade shows and markets. It is one that is increasingly rare for the broader home furnishings business and more closely resembles the fashion apparel market of more frequent supplier-buyer exchanges on a seasonal basis.

So, just as it seems we have barely recovered from the winter show circuit, we find the summer one starting the process all over again. This month in Dallas and through the balance of the summer at events in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York—not to mention at countless smaller locations all around the country—vendors and retailers of gift merchandise will gather in the eternal intersection of us and them.

In many ways, the summer season, while generally recognized as the smaller of the two circuits, also offers the more realistic appraisal of the state of business.

At the winter shows, retailers are just off the high of the Christmas selling season, buoyed by the bump December invariably provides, no matter how strong it historically is. Inventories are depleted, enthusiasm is rampant and the money from holiday business is burning a hole in the open-to-buys of many retailers. It is an artificial high.

By contrast, the summer shows offer no such boost. By June and July, retailers have gotten a realistic—sometimes all too real—read on their business and are in a much better position to accurately judge what they need… and how much they have to spend. They’ve seen the way customers are shopping their stores and have a much better idea on how they will continue to do so for the balance of the year.

At the winter shows, too, many retailers may be caught up in trying to catch lightning in a bottle again, looking for more of what worked during the holidays. Sometimes that’s an effective buying strategy, but oftentimes you can end up looking back rather than ahead. At the summer shows, there may be indications of how the new merchandise from January did and what that portends for the back half of the year. But what’s selling next is often very different from what sold before.

Finally, this year more than usual, whatever enthusiasm and optimism there was based on the presidential election and change in administrations has gotten a much sounder footing six months into the year. Campaign rhetoric has been replaced by political realities, and whatever your politics, they are two very different things.

So, the summer markets, albeit smaller than their winter counterparts, are a much better barometer for gauging both overall business conditions and the specific product categories that will make that business happen. And what are they? Surely, the first quarter of 2017 was a challenging one for most businesses, with January and February being particularly soft. It remains to be seen if the nascent recovery of the early spring will be sustainable into summer and beyond. The volatility of the country is an unsettling factor in forecasting business conditions.

And what to buy? Well, if I told you that, you’d have nothing to do all summer. See you on the circuit.