Yes, business is tough right now, worse than many feared. Most retailers say they’re happy doing 50 percent of planned volume; candid merchants who spoke off the record confided declines of 70-90 percent. As one upscale specialty store exec put it, “The sad part is that we were doing great right up to the shutdown: we’d even ramped up formalwear, projecting big business for weddings, proms, and graduations…” Said another, “Between COVID-19, stock market uncertainty, and record unemployment, I thought it couldn’t get any worse. And then it got worse…”
Most merchants have canceled all orders for summer goods; some have packed up their spring/summer ‘20 merchandise to sell next spring (meaning vendors will feel it once again next spring). Many have canceled half of fall ’20 orders, believing there’ll be plenty of goods available should consumer ‘pent-up demand’ actually kick in. All are very worried.
Is there a silver lining in any of this? I see several reasons to be hopeful.
**The gift of work/life balance: Many industry execs have shared with me the joy they derive from working at home with unprecedented time to be with their kids who are suddenly not in school. (But children are one thing, partners are another: I just read that the divorce rate in New York is rapidly climbing thanks to shelter-at-home mandates: June is fast becoming Divorce Month rather than Wedding Month…)
**Increased creativity: The imagination of retailers and manufacturers continues to amaze me. No way any of us are giving in without a fight and the innovative ideas keep coming: personalized style boxes, fashion masks, interactive communication, retailers partnering with brands on webinars, digital magazines, mobile appointments (taking the store on the road), a fashion show in a parking lot (Penners in Houston did a great job with this last weekend: customers reserved their parking spots in advance, models strutted around the parking lot in fabulous, mostly casual clothes and everyone had much socially-distanced fun!)
**A long-overdue change in merchandising, marketing, and trade shows: Retailers are re-formatting their websites for increased e-commerce, re-evaluating their resource structure to focus on brands that are true partners, recognizing that less is more, embracing new technology, moving their mix more casual (without giving up the sportcoat!) and more. Brands are being humanized, with many finding a mission statement bigger than fashion (sustainability, community) and marketing with a new sensitivity to changing values. Trade show execs are totally reimagining how we will buy and sell clothes going forward.
**A more just, generous, and compassionate world: This one trumps all. I get chills watching people of all ages and ethnicities participating in peaceful protests for Black Lives Matter, social justice, police reform, and unity. Clearly, the world is changing (as are our lawmakers and justices!) and these life-affirming changes should be well worth the sacrifice so many of you are making now. So, keep the faith!