Retailing a focus at textile congress

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Bob GarnantCountryman

Cyber store-fronts may be the big change taking place in the retail sector but consumers still want to see, touch and feel, according to Cotton Inc past-president Nick Hahn.

Mr Hahn was speaking at the 81st International Wool Textile Organisation Congress in New York last week.

In the Market Intelligence forum, Mr Hahn highlighted the vital role that social media played in the US retail industry.

He said after the trend from Bricks to Clicks, there had been a maturing to Bricks to Clicks to Bricks, which was a better way to define the whole retail experience.

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Mr Hahn said if your business did not have bright 18 to 20 year-olds on the team developing the media interface, then it would be left behind.

Australian Wool Innovation head of marketing Rob Langtry gave an example of how his company built a following on Facebook through tweets and the use of the We Love Wool competition.

He presented statistics that showed Facebook had 850 million active users world-wide and they spent an average of 6.5 hours each week on the site.

The National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia executive director Chris Wilcox gave a presentation to the congress on the global supply and demand situation and outlook for wool.

He said global wool production was expected to fall in 2011-12 by 1.6 per cent and then lift by 1.2 per cent in 2012-13.

"This means global wool supply will remain very tight and the prospects are for only a slow recovery in production in the medium term," Mr Wilcox said. He said on the demand side, production activity levels and orders had weakened from the very good conditions of a year ago.

"However, activity levels now and for the next six months are remarkably solid, given the tough economic and retail environment," Mr Wilcox said.

He said while early stage processing, spinning and weaving sectors were expected to weaken in the next six months; they should remain at higher levels than what was experienced before the strong demand period of 2010-11.

Mr Wilcox said there was limited knowledge of wool among some US retailers. A senior executive of Bergdorf Goodman had commented that their clients didn't want bulky heavy fabric and that wool was a little warm for some clients.

In contrast, Mr Wilcox said a New York retailer, With & Wessell, which specialised in wool garments had tremendous knowledge and enthusiasm for wool.

Mr Wilcox said the congress was well attended with just under 300 registrants.

"Over 40 Australian delegates attended, including Schute-Bell, Primaries of WA, Roberts, Rodwells, Elders and a number of brokers, buyers and growers," he said.

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