During the summer markets whirlwind, I was part of a panel discussion at the L.A. Mart alongside a couple of other editors.
Panels are the most fun to participate in, because with the right group, the panelists really do feed off of each other. And for me -- always on the lookout for a nugget or tidbit that I can tuck away in my column file -- they are a jackpot of ideas.
Krissa Rossbund of Traditional Home provided one such nugget for me. She said that there is an "epidemic of good taste" happening right now, caused largely by the fashion-driven marketing that companies like Target, Anthropologie and others are creating. The economically powerful younger generations have grown up with these ads, and their tastes are far more discerning than some of their elders.
Young people have always been brand-conscious, but their tastes are at a much higher level than, say, a certain Gen X'er whose parents would have laughed her out of the room if she'd asked them for a high-end designer bag or pair of shoes while in middle school (or high school, or college, or even now for that matter).
And -- right or wrong -- they are getting these things. Whether it's the parents doing the buying (they certainly are doing a lot of it), or whether they are saving up for themselves, they are not afraid of high-dollar items.
I think that long-term, this is a good sign for the home furnishings industry. While these people are still doing most of their home shopping at places like Ikea, once they are a little older, more established in careers and have some money, I am looking for them to drive good taste back into this business in a powerful way.
It's no secret that product development has lagged over the last few years, and there's been a depressing sameness to the home furnishings industry, driven by the ongoing race-to-the-bottom pricing strategy that so many companies have employed. I see that changing already on an incremental level, but am expecting great things over the next several years once we finally climb out of this economic fiasco.
Because we've seen time and again that this strategy does not work long-term. For example, I just read that Liz Claiborne is selling its namesake brand to refocus its business on its higher-end lines, Juicy Couture, Lucky and Kate Spade. Seems a bit counter-intuitive in a down economy, but it provides some evidence that producing lower quality, non-distinctive products is not necessarily a strategy for success, even when consumers are watching their spending so carefully.