[published in the March 2013 CCCC KidsBiz Newsletter]

Making Discoveries in the Aisles

It’s always encouraging to see a plethora of new brands during market week. These fledgling entrepreneurs represent hope, evolution and the future of the industry. Walking the aisles of the New York shows this month, I enjoyed meeting the first-time exhibitors, who, as always, were eager and excited. Tapping into their buoyant energy is a good way to bury the sometimes jaded nature us seasoned veterans carry, which makes them a necessary part of the show ecosystem. But I must say, as much as I liked discovering the newbies, this show cycle revealed a lot about the hope, evolution and forward-thinking nature of some of the more established businesses in our market. And their stories are even more inspirational given all they’ve been through to get to this point. Here, a few valuable nuggets I unearthed while making the rounds.

Keep learning
The saying goes, evolve or die. But too many decades-old labels lose the ability to change, choosing instead to stick to the status quo or to drift along by market forces. So it’s great to see a brand that’s been around for 30 years uncover new ways to stay youthful—not just in design but also in its business practices. Rather than getting trapped in the way things have always been, the company has taken a step back to reevaluate every part of its collection. By systematically polling its customers and reps, the brand has discovered pearls of wisdom that have allowed it to reconnect with the attributes that made the line a beloved presence on racks in the first place.

Make a commitment
When you ask a retailer how business is going, you never know what response you’ll get. So it was encouraging when an industry friend confirmed that things were going well, and downright intriguing when she said boys’ wear is the gem of her business. That’s not something I hear every day—or ever—so I had to dig for details. It seems her boutique has become a destination for cool boys’ apparel. Committing to the category as others abandon it has resulted in higher tickets for boys than girls. Thanks to a broad selection and an inviting merchandise mix, parents know they can always land a unique find for their little guys. And she ensures new customers make a similar discovery by giving boys’ clothes an equal presence as girls’ in her front windows.

Stay naive
Smart, savvy, talented and experienced are all words that describe another friend in the industry; they also explain why her eponymous collection is booming. But one other potentially surprising adjective has been a treasured personality trait as well: naive. Naivety is that thing that makes you bold and fearless while others fret and hesitate. Even as a new design graduate, naivety mixed with determination prompted her to pull her suitcase of samples down 7th Avenue, making the cold calls that eventually resulted in a plum gig. Easy enough when you’re 20, but most of us lose that ability to be bullish as the years go by. So it’s refreshing to see she’s still knocking on seemingly impossible doors and succeeding. She says maybe she’s too stupid to quit. But being able to hold onto a “why not?” attitude when setting goals despite sometimes harsh realities seems pretty smart to me. —CC