Reading the Tea Leaves

The search for the next big thing never ceases but, often, clues are in plain sight.

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The search for the next big thing never ceases but, often, clues are in plain sight.

In hindsight, it’s clear why Mitt Romney fell short in his attempts to become the 45th president of the United States. It’s demographics, stupid! A party that appeared hell bent on appealing to a shrinking minority of white male voters while alienating the nation’s fastest growing demographic (Latinos) had a huge impact on the Republican challenger. This was particularly evident in his loss of every must-win state. Not helping matters was the Grand Old Party’s uncanny ability to enrage millions of female voters, thanks, in a big way, to some election eve Cro-Magnon-like statements from two party senators with regards to rape victims and the possibility of conception as a result of rape. [Both lost their races, by the way.] Throw in Romney’s “whole binders full of women” debate gaffe and it’s obvious why the candidate didn’t endear himself to many members of the fairer sex. To say the Republican party is falling out of touch with the sentiments of mainstream America might be the understatement of 2012. Let’s face it, if there was ever a candidate who was vulnerable when it comes to the economy—the biggest issue in this election by a landslide—it was Barack Obama, and he still won handily.

In our industry such miscalculations about how consumers are feeling and what they will want to buy have similar win-or-lose repercussions. Winning lies largely in the ability to read the tea leaves accurately. While it entails knowing what consumers have wanted and what they are currently buying, the real challenge is predicting what they will want before they even know it or see it. It takes plenty of research coupled with a good dose of intuition and talent, and the confidence to go with those beliefs. It all has to tie together to be successful. Sometimes, it requires the courage to shift courses—even if that goes against what has worked successfully in the past. Just because it worked before doesn’t mean it always will. Just ask Mitt Romney about that one.

This leads me to the recent passing of Arnold Greenberg, one of the founders of the Snapple Beverage Corporation. If there ever was an example of an entrepreneur who was willing to look at the demographics facing his business and make the necessary adaptations successfully, it was Greenberg. As legend has it, Greenberg was running his family’s food store in New York’s East Village, making, among other unique delicacies, their own sour pickles wrapped in newspaper for a loyal and predominantly Jewish clientele. But, during the ’60s, when the hippies became the dominant demographic, Greenberg changed to a health food store format. In the early ’70s he partnered with two school friends to sell fruit juices to a growing number of wellness stores. Later that decade they embarked on selling a carbonated fruit juice that, although an epic failure (the apple juice fermented in the bottles and the caps exploded upon opening), resulted in the company’s future name, Snapple. During the health and fitness boom of the ’80s, Snapple succeeded with its growing line of fruit juices and, in ’87, hit the big time with the introduction of its all natural flavored teas. In 1994, the Quaker Oats Company bought Snapple for $1.7 billion.

Now if only we could all be as clairvoyant as the Snapple founders. It’s no easy task, but reading and reacting correctly to the surrounding demographics is a huge part of the equation. And that’s exactly the philosophy of Martin Berendsen, CEO of Fast Forward Footwear, distributors of the Turkish-made Inuovo brand. The subject of this month’s Q&A (p. 16) has spent decades accurately deciphering what consumers crave from a footwear perspective during managerial stints at Dr. Martens, Camper and Vans, among others. His crystal ball now says women, in particular, are seeking a broader color palette, not to mention affordable shoes that are simply fun to wear. Berendsen’s track record of pinpointing the wants of his target demographic bodes well for Inuovo.

Reading the industry tea leaves is a major part of our mission at Footwear Plus. We do that in every article and pictorial story we publish. This month’s Special Report (p. 12) tackles the topic head on as we ask leading industry execs and style experts just what the next big thing might be. It’s always a timely question. Many are saying eclectic has become the new black. Perhaps. But is the next billion-dollar, Snapple-like idea awaiting for those who read the signs correctly?

This brings me to congratulating the latest inductees (p. 27) to the Footwear Plus Style Hall of Fame: the “Gommino” driving moc by Tod’s and Keds’ “Champion” tennis sneaker. They are two perfect examples where the designs line up beautifully with not only the original demographic but with ensuing generations as well. Further proof that the search for the next big thing will never cease—nor should it.

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