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Smarten up and Buckle Down - Misery is almost always the result of thinking

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Smarten up and Buckle Down
25 Apr 2009, Source: APLF Ltd.

Misery is almost always the result of thinking
You borrow a million dollars to buy a house and its value drops to $750,000 and then you lose your job. You have a problem. On top of that your pension policy, likely what is called in the US a 401K, and other savings are largely in equities and they have dropped by a third or more. Then to try and boost the economy interest rates have dropped to near zero so the little cash you have left is earning nothing. Misery.

These are the customers at the end of the line on whom the leather industry depends. Not all are in quite such a bad way but surprisingly many are. Families in the US and much of Europe have seen their family assets fall by some 30% over the last eighteen months and they have slowed their spending while they survey the landscape check that their own jobs are secure.

Extreme hopes are born from extreme misery
No one can pretend that business can be created when the final consumer is not buying and even less when the retailers and brands are closing down or reducing inventory to protect their cash. Yet there are some bright spots highlighted by three trends that we can observe, some of which were first mentioned as we were in a milder recession in the early 1990s. The first is the trend towards small indulgences.

The argument is that we are not buying houses and postponing buying cars yet we are in work and saving to recoup lost savings. Yet we cannot live with zero pleasure and so we need the regular small indulgence. Back in the 90s this might have been a Haagen Daz ice-cream, or something bigger like a new putter for the golfer or perhaps a Mont Blanc pen. Right now we can foresee the leather pocket book, handbag or a nice pair of shoes as fitting the bill. As long as the leather looks and feels like leather, to fit the definition of something that can be handled with love and give continued pleasure over a long period.

The second trend can be called cocooning and recognises that when saving we will stay at home more to eat and watch television. Spending on the home is likely to increase especially if all the housing problems means moving to a new house is difficult. This is the certainly the hope and expectation of the furniture trade, and while a welcome relief volumes may not quite match those when consumers were buying new homes and moving frequently.

To survive the recession we need to smarten up and buckle down
The third trend is well defined by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times who tells us loudly that “one of the most blessed side-effects of recession is that we all smarten up”. Men at work “in casual clothes look simply awful”. Sales of ties have already risen and we can look forward to far more people returning to a separate wardrobe for work and home, with proper business wear and footwear coming back into style for those going to the office each day. No one will dare to attend an interview improperly dressed.

These are not crumbs for the industry, but rather trends that are likely to last beyond the recession for quite while. Those that understand and follow them could still do well amidst the gloom.

- Mike Redwood

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Posted on 25 Apr, 2009

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Smarten up and Buckle Down - Misery is almost always the result of thinking