Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Consumer Trends & Street Fairs

At the Encinitas Stret Fair this weekend I noticed a few things different than last year's fair. There were fewer vendors selling handmade soaps and organic soy candles. Down from four soap booths to one, and down from three candle booths to two. There were even more unique food choices than in previous years, including a true wood-fired pizza oven complete with tall chimney, hauled out to the fair on a flatbed truck and set up with attention to retail design that rivals some of the most incredible branded store experiences, complete with chalkboard menu.

There were the health-testing booths, seemed like more of them as well. And what appeared a corresponding decrease in the "custom-designed jewelry" options and stone art on a string. But the most obvious difference to me was the huge increase in the number of vendors selling handmade totally unique dog collars and leashes. Full disclaimer: dogs are a huge part of my reason for existing, but still, my friends attending the fair with me pointed this out before I had done the math, after the fourth such booth. By the end of covering the entire street, we'd seen five total, plus the vendor who had so obviously knocked off the idea from Bert and John Jacobs of Life is good T-shirt fame with their "Life is Dog" booth. My favorite thing they were selling? The T-shirt that read, "It's all fun and games until somebody ends up in a cone".

Follow the logic for a moment that street fair vendors and the artists/entrepreneurs are on the front edge of consumer trends - their livelihood depends on it. Arguably the things one finds at these fairs are for the most part discretionary and emotional treasures. So this year's increase in dog gear means something.

Interesting that just a few days earlier in the week we reviewed a consumer research report for a new community we are creating, and despite having asked the question on similar surveys all over the country for many years, "dog park" actually came up as a top preferred amenity for the first time. Comfort in these crazy times? If I take to heart the wares of the fair ... hug your furry friends, lose yourself in the affordable tasty pleasures of some funky foods, and pay attention to your blood sugar!

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