Avia Collinder, Business Writer
Jamaican colours, pride drive Olympic-sized demand for merchandise
The evidence was everywhere. Patriotism and sports turned out to be a killer combination — that is, for merchandise sales.
Jamaican colours were the hottest retail items at mid-summer, pushed not only by Jamaica 50 celebrations but also the euphoria of the Olympic games thousands of miles away in London — a golden Independence jubilee sweetened by golden performances on the track.
Still, some retailers say that while Jamaica-branded merchandise flew off the shelves at unprecedented levels within the past two weeks — coinciding with the start of the Olympics and the launch of Independence events — sales overall were flat.
Their take is that consumers are prudently holding back in order to meet back-to-school expenses.
At the Jamaica Business Development Corporation-operated retail novelty chain called Things Jamaican, sales were robust locally and internationally among the diaspora.
JBDC chief executive officer Valerie Veira said Thursday, that there was high demand for artwork under the Things Jamaican umbrella and other products reflective of Independence 50 were big.
Some of those items are being showcased in the United Kingdom by JBDC, leading up to a main fair today on the final day of the Olympics.
"We took over suppliers and goods valued over J$60 million. We got those goods on consignment," said Veira.
"We had our main shops in Birmingham and we joined with Japan for the shop in the Bubble. We did a day in Brixton. We are preparing on the 12th to do an 'I Love Jamaica' trade fair," she said. The fair will be in London.
Veira notes that locally, Things Jamaican shops — which showcase, the work of some 100 producers —promote authentic Jamaican products, but that the standard was somewhat relaxed for Independence.
"Under the Jamaica 50 umbrella we had other retailers who might not have been authentic Jamaican but were also licensed by the Jamaica 50 Secretariat," she told Sunday Business.
Unlike the JBDC, which was apparently prepared for the demand, some local retailers were caught off-guard by the surge in colour-coded consumerism, especially in the apparel trade.
"We had the Jamaican colours since July. Sales were great but in the last week - seven days before Independence - demand quadrupled. We did not plan for that," said a buyer for Lee's Fifth Avenue chain of apparel stores, who spoke with Sunday Business on condition of anonymity.
"Although we were well stocked, we sold out. We did not have ladies items and the suppliers did not have any available. It was better than over-stocking however."
The buyer said that the combination of Olympic expectations and Independence 50 appeared to be equal drivers of demand among those who wanted items in national colours.
"I think both the Olympics and Independence affected the demand. I would say 50:50. Overall, sales for July were just a little better than last year because we are still going through hard times when people are saving up for back to school. It was just a little better than flat."
Verona Scott, supervisor at Lees Fifth Avenue in Sovereign Plaza, Kingston says the demand was highest for shirts in the Jamaican colours - green, black and yellow/gold combinations.
But: "If we do not have shirts in their size, they would take anything in the colours. We tried to order to meet the demand but the demand was greater than we could meet," said Scott.
Attempts to speak to managers at Sun Island, seller of T-shirts and souvenir items, were unsuccessful, though anecdotal evidence from shoppers say their outlet at Molyne's Road had stepped up traffic.
Otherwise, the demand for novelties or memorabilia also appeared robust.
Debbie Clarke, manager, Azan's Supercentre in Kingston said that a first-time decision to stock Jamaican memorabilia turned out to be a money spinner.
"We sold flags, cups, key rings and plaques. Normally we don't sell Jamaican souvenirs," she said. But this time, Azan stocked up for the season.
"It went well for the season. Not everything sold, but it was good. Overall, there was no difference in traffic. But we can say they were sold because of the season. Nothing else reflected a change," Clarke said.
The JBDC, as the official retail arm of Jamaica 50, sponsored the exhibition of craft in the UK for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) represented under the Things Jamaica brand.
"A lot of the small operators, especially those we took overseas, would not have been able to participate on their own in terms of cost," said Veira.
Still, those MSMEs had to invest beforehand in ramped up production to have products ready for display. Some were assisted with loans from JBDC to acquire raw materials.
"They also some took on additional staff to help put out volume. What they are learning in the process is how to prepare for bigger guys. They also learnt more about networking," said Veira.
"On their return on August 19th , what we will do is assess impact and look at what category of products have the greatest possibility based on patterns of buying."
Things Jamaican ran out of some items while in London, which Veira said was not an issue of unpreparedness but successful sales.
"Many are out of stock not because we were not ready but because items went so fast," she told Sunday Business.
The demand came from two sets of consumers: "people who wanted the Jamaica feel, and bought confectionery like drops and busta, which they gobbled up"; and fans caught up in the moment of the games who "wanted a piece of Jamaica even to put on their wall and in their office," said the JBDC head.
"A large percentage wanted sustainable products, art work in particular, as souvenirs."