Brisbane fair fights local woes
By Lorna Goodyer
As things improve overseas, Queensland has been wrestling with its own problems. Lorna Goodyer talks to the locals.
Driving into Brisbane from the airport, you’d never know the city had been swamped by extreme floods only two months earlier. There were no scenes of devastation, no washed out houses or mothballed business premises. Perhaps this area hadn’t been affected by floods, we wondered? But no, our taxi driver pointed out streets as we drove past that had been knee-deep in polluted river water back in January.
This revelation may not be news for local retailers, but for many exhibitors at this year’s JAA Jewellery Fair in Brisbane it was a pleasant surprise. There was plenty of trepidation in the run-up to the fair that the event could be a metaphorical washout because of recent events that have plagued the state of Queensland. Consequently, the mood at the fair was one of cautious optimism.
Many suppliers complained that visitor numbers appeared to be down this year, but most maintained that business had still been good. Gary Fitz-Roy, managing director of Expertise Events which organises the show, said that if numbers were down “you’re talking a couple of per cent” only, rather than anything significant.
He added, “In our straw poll three out of four [exhibitors] said they wrote better business than the previous year and were very happy. I think the reality is that Queensland was a lot better than anticipated after the floods.”
That feeling was reflected in conversations Jeweller had with exhibitors – who had lowered their expectations for the fair because of recent events. Darren Roberts of Cudworth Enterprises said, “You wouldn’t really know it had happened. The worst thing that affected [stockists] in the city is that no one came in to Brisbane city for a week, so they lost a week’s trade. That’s a lot to lose. You’ve still got to pay your rent and everything else,” he said. However, he added, “No one’s really lost their store.”
House of Jewellery
Although many exhibitors said retailers seemed surprisingly upbeat, John Papaioannou from Time Essentials, which distributes watch brands including Bulova, Police and Jag, suggested retailers who are not optimistic right now were less likely to attend the event in the first place. “The people who come are usually the ones who are looking for opportunities and want to work with you.”
Exhibitor Michael Cotton of Cotton & Co, a local whose jewellery studio is just around the corner from the exhibition centre where the fair was held, helped out with the clean-up after the floods. “[Media coverage] made it seem a lot worse than it was,” he said. “Things got back on their feet pretty quickly.” According to Cotton, the biggest problem since the floods had been the consumer mood. “A lot of retailers we deal with locally have said that it certainly hasn’t been as busy as the same time period last year. I wouldn’t say it was catastrophic, but it certainly isn’t good and not necessarily a good time [for retailers].”
Samantha Anderson, who runs a contemporary jewellery store in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, backed up this perception. “The mood [of consumers] is quite sombre; I think people almost feel bad to spend, like it’s a bit frivolous when some people have lost everything and are starting from scratch.” Anderson donated 10 per cent of her sales from January and February to the Queensland government flood fund. “I was fortunate not to be affected – it could so easily be me,” she said.
Missie von Lubbe
Carol Schefe, who runs Coomber Bros Jewellers in Roma, a regional Queensland town, said consumer spending had been subdued because of recent events. “If people are in drought they’re not going to spend – or if they do spend it’s on their animals. In floods, they’ve now got to spend all their money on replacing fences, cattle, and so on.” However, Schefe was reasonably upbeat. “Our Christmas wasn’t as good as the year before, but it wasn’t bad – just disjointed.”
Perhaps the best news was that retailers are remaining stoically optimistic, despite the obstacles thrown at them this year. As Jo Tory, founder of sterling silver brand Najo, said: “It’s tough, it’s slow, but there’s still a positive feeling here. Everybody has said we’ve been through tough times before – this is just one of them”.
Posted April 29, 2011