So said Rory Holmes, INDA’s president. Speaking to attendees at the RISE (Research, Innovation, Science for Engineered Fabrics) Conference, held recently in Baltimore, MD, Mr. Holmes said the industry should brace for the following mega trends in the nonwoven fabrics industry: networking; a “buy” environment; retailers’ leverage; globalization; global recession; collaborative development; social networking and sustainability.
When it comes to networking, the buzzword is “micronet- working” or targeted, small group networking.
“Workloads are heavier, staff time is critically short and these trends will lead to ‘micro-networking’ events. The industry is calling for more but shorter networking-type events, as face-to-face networking becomes critical in a tough economy,” said Mr. Holmes.
According to Mr. Holmes, specific end-use events will permit targeted networking and micro-networking will lead to shorter, segmented, application-specific events.
“Small, industry-specific events will become important tools for business executives who are looking for ideas, to exchange information and build relationships,” he said.
Consumers are shopping for value and they are shopping differently than before, according to experts. Mr. Holmes provided the following statistics: 81% of consumers are buying products on sale, 63% are buying cheaper products, 58% are limiting their shopping and 57% are using coupons. Consumers are looking for value and shopping at discount stores/warehouses, flea markets and used merchandise stores.
“Caution will outlast the recession. Ninety-two percent of consumers have changed their consumer product goods related shopping habits. Consumers are shopping ‘tactically’ with coupons, loyalty cards, lists, lowered standards, brand switching, store switching, rethinking convenience items and bulk packaging,” said Mr. Holmes.
Pointing out that restraint is the new normal, Mr. Holmes said 55% of consumers who have cut back on purchases have had no change in income. Consumers are finding fun in bargain shopping. Furthermore, brand loyalty is declining as store brands are growing.
“As consumers are spending more time researching products and hunting for value, even small everyday items like diapers are being rethought.”
Consumers are also becoming more informed. Ninety-two percent of shoppers surveyed said that they read product reviews, 46% were influenced by the reviews to purchase and 43% were discouraged from purchasing by product reviews. Free shipping, product reviews and sales influence shoppers to “pull the trigger,” according to Mr. Holmes.
Big Gains in Asia
Emphasizing that nonwovens is a global industry, Mr. Holmes said that Asia is growing 12% annually. He advised, “Industry is more than just North America. More customers are from outside the U.S. Be present, learn the language, customs and business methods. Innovation is the key to prosperity. It keeps the product development pipeline flowing. Innovation must be supported to sustain industry. The nonwoven industry can compete globally with access to global raw materials. A decline in manufacturing reduces our ability to innovate. Enforce trade laws—we need a level playing field.”
While emphasizing that the GDP growth rate must reach 4% before there is improvement all the way through the economy, Mr. Holmes noted that “business cycles will be unpredictable. Consumers and companies are doing more with less. Productivity is up and profits are up.”
Finally, Mr. Holmes predicted that eventually data from online chatter will be reliably mined from these sites and used to predict consumer behavior, resulting in decisions about production and product adjustments.
“This will become standard business intelligence and impact the entire nonwoven chain,” said Mr. Holmes.