Is Retail Recovering? Tales From A Trade Show Floor

After completing a $1.5 billion expansion, the Javits Center hosted its first-ever in-person trade fair since last year’s pandemic lockdowns. The NY NOW Show for specialty buyers, retailers saw wholesale vendors gather in Manhattan from Aug. 8-11.

The show featured hundreds of customerr product categories, split into ten sections: accent design; accessories; artisan resources; baby + children; gifts + stationery. Handmade designer-makers; handmade global designs; home design + top; luxury lifestyle; and wellness.
Here are some stories from businesses that participated in the tradeshow floor.
Mary Althoff (founder/owner of Mierco Fine European Linens) has exhibited at NYNOW for over 20 years. Althoff noted that the number was considerably lower than in pre-pandemic times. The Javits was the only area where exhibits were allowed this year.

“The pandemic forced many businesses to close, both wholesalers and retailers. Althoff said that the few remaining businesses are now able to weather any storms and still do business. Althoff said that “Buyers came not to kick the tires,” but she believes there will be more disruptions. The closing of specialty shops for more than two or three months and the increase in shipping costs from Asia caused businesses to suffer a severe decline.

Jaime Windau of Love Bubby stated that, although most stores have reopened, many factors have affected them, such as issues with supply chains and limited tourism travel.

Windau’s wholesale operations were halted in 2020 by the pandemic. But once they opened new stores, steady sales followed. It was a win because they shifted their focus to their online retail site and more people shopping online from home. The brand is a childrenswear brand that specializes exclusively in gender-neutral designs. It was first displayed at NYNOW in 2018. They returned this year to meet with existing wholesale customers and make new connections.
“It is our favorite trade show, and we feel like we have a presence there,” Windau stated that many of the buyers and companies we interacted with were thrilled to see products live in person. “Some buyers were disappointed that the show was smaller than they expected and that not all of the brands they wanted to meet were there. We reminded buyers that the world was still experiencing a pandemic. Some brands are affected by travel worries, and others have supply chain issues that threaten their business. This list could go on.

“Not even an epidemic could stop our customers from receiving treatment.
Chemo Beanies produces head coverings for cancer patients. However, the company managed to survive during the pandemic. The company increased its online retail sales and joined additional eCommerce sites to make up for the wholesale loss.

Angelle Albright, Chemo Beanies founder, and president searched for in-person trade shows specifically to reconnect wholesale customers and reach new customers as 2021 approached. “Not even a pandemic could prevent our customers from receiving treatment. For us, freezing operations was not an option. Albright said that it was essential to be available to our customers no matter what.

Some companies experienced organic growth due to the pandemic. Just My Type Letterpress has relaunched wholesale sales at the beginning of 2021. The response has been positive. Overall, the stationery industry enjoyed a great year as more people sent out cards.
“Those I spoke to in stationery were amazed at how much things have improved over the past year,” stated Lynn M. Jones, a company owner. Lynn M. Jones, the owner of the company, indicated that it is clear that buyers are cautious whether they are wholesale buyers or retail customers. However, Jones notes that “the recent rise in Delta variant COVID-19 case numbers has demonstrated that we aren’t done with the pandemic.”

HeadsUp Design Company, also known as 54Celsius custom candles, saw a significant rise in sales over the last year. Daniel Koval, its founder and Managing director, stated that this company had seen a tremendous increase in its sales. There were no offices and no fashion or service industries competing for disposable income. This resulted in a significant boost in spending on home decor and accessories. Global logistics issues, such as the inability to obtain a product or raw materials, slowed down growth.

54Celsius was at NYNOW for the second consecutive time.
“Retailers that did make it to the show bought, and it was a fantastic show. Although the aisles were quiet, customers were thronging our booth nearly non-stop… this year was also very successful in my industry. Koval stated that cash is a commodity, and people are willing to spend it. The home has become a central part of companies’ workdays. “Home-accessory and candle sales continue to surpass our expectations. Since the pandemic started, I’ve added two more members to my customer support team. Many stores are now online. Others are discovering that consumers are more inclined to shop at local stores as their vaccination rates rise.
54Celsius could benefit from one macroeconomic development: a solution for the global shortage of shipping containers. The company ships its candles via refrigerated containers to Europe, Asia, and the U.S., as well as America to Europe. Due to the shortage, it isn’t easy to obtain supplies these days. This leads to lost sales and angry customers.

“When we do buy a container, the cost has tripled to even quadrupled. Last year, a container route would have cost $6,000, but now it costs $26,000. Koval stated, “The system is broken.” The container shortage has allowed us to strengthen our local manufacturing commitment. We have transferred many lines to the U.S. over the past year, and we will continue our efforts in each market where we sell. It helps us be more responsive to clients, reduces our carbon footprint, and creates new jobs.

“We believe the wholesale and retail industry is definitely in recovery mode. But, it’s a sliding-scale recovery since every business was affected by this crisis differently. The ones who are determined to survive are working hard at ‘willing it.’ Wholesalers and retailers alike remain skeptical until the veil is lifted from open doors. Overall, investment is down, and we don’t believe we will see more significant, more confident buys until we know the direction things are heading in. Although it’s challenging to find buyers, we found that they are also planning with caution.

The Javits Center is always a big draw for the New York International Auto Show, but this year’s edition was a great success.
Dr. Joshua Gordon, a New York-based cosmetics and personal care business, noyah, noticed a decline in demand for its lip products due to the introduction of quarantines and masks. Gordon expanded his product line to include moisturizers and bath bombs. His team believes that recovery will take longer and vary depending on product category or sub-category.

Gordon explained that, just as lipstick sales fell during the pandemic while moisturizers, sanitizers, and other products went up, there is a new shift in which products are gaining momentum. Some categories do better than others, and some do even better than before.
Fortune & Frame reported that business has increased by 300% over the past three years. Principal Kieran Polson stated that the retail industry is resilient. This is due to the industry’s constant evolution. People want to discover and interact with stores. This is leading to more stores opening physical stores and many digital-first brands opening them. It is also creating a more competitive wholesale sector. Brands have better products to compete. Tradeshows and showrooms have to offer the best brands to retailers to best cater to customers.

There are many variables and unknowns to predict the rate of retail recovery accurately.
There was strong evidence that such uncertainties were present just days before NY NOW started its run. The producers of the 2021 New York International Auto Show, which was due to be held at the Javits this month, announced that it had been canceled on Aug. 4. The reason was “… increasing instances of the COVID-19 Delta variant, and the increased measures announced recently to stop its spread,” said an organizer.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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