A U.S. housewares supplier asked during the recent Ambiente show, as coronavirus worries were escalating, if was too early, and as such, too insensitive, to let a big U.S. retailer know he offered an alternative source for goods now sourced by the retailer from China.
We all share an urgent responsibility to place the highest priority on understanding the impact on human life of the lethal coronavirus outbreak.
But sometimes crisis and opportunity collide.
And business leaders also share an urgent responsibility to assess the business impact of the massive quarantine that stopped Chinese factory output with no certainty at presstime about if and when production and shipping would resume to normal levels.
The home and housewares business needs to know its options as China and the rest of the world wrestle with how to contain an unprecedented modern-era health crisis.
Retailers, many already vulnerable from e-commerce disruption and tariffs, can’t risk empty shelves in case of a prolonged shortage of Chinese-produced goods.
At Ambiente, with China reeling from the coronavirus outbreak, was it unseemly for manufacturers to point out, as some did, that they have already diversified their supply chains for less dependence on China?
Was it inappropriate for European companies to spotlight, as some did, their reestablishment of competitively priced domestic production?
Was it insensitive for vendors to wonder, as some did, if there would be an immediate market for overstock among retailers beyond the off-price and closeout sectors?
Credit exhibitors, retailers and others that attended Ambiente for participating in a show that bloomed with its usual new product and trend inspiration. It is through no fault of Messe Frankfurt management that Ambiente opened with little time to assess a fast-escalating, uncertain and alarming health crisis that caused much of its travel-restricted Chinese contingent and a number of retailers from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere to cancel visits to Germany.
The International Housewares Association was fortunate it still had some time on its side when it announced on the eve of Ambiente the cancellation of the International Sourcing Pavilion at next month’s Inspired Home Show in Chicago. The IHA announcement coincided with news of the suspension until further notice of events at China’s Canton exhibition center, a move expected by many to lead to the cancellation of the Canton Spring Fair in April.
Some U.S. vendors in Frankfurt speculated the Inspired Home Show in Chicago could emerge as a more vital planning platform for American, Canadian, South American and other global retailers that didn’t attend Ambiente and can’t visit China.
There is nothing insensitive about preparing for such a scenario.
The collision of crisis and opportunity doesn’t have to compromise the highest priority as we all hope, first and foremost, for a quick end to the human suffering caused by the coronavirus outbreak.