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Do you ever wonder if some Asian economies (and savvier companies elsewhere) are on to something with their year-end fixed at the end of March rather than the end of the calendar year? Given that the back end of November and all of December is a blur of social events, bouts of illness and then a two-week shutdown across much of the northern hemisphere, it’s hard to see how rushing to crunch numbers, conduct staff reviews and plan the year ahead is truly effective.
I’m quite envious of friends who work for Japanese companies, as they manage to take off a decent amount of time for the holidays, have the luxury of making the mental transition into the new year but still have three months to plan effectively to get their companies into shape. For many others, the end of the year means a hurried scramble to prepare forecasts and presentations while trying to put on the appearance of relaxing while juggling kids in ski school or hosting a group of friends.
Evidence of such stress is found in this columnist’s inbox, as readers have been asking what the big trends and brands to watch will be in 2014: “Anything you might be able to share in terms of interesting brands would be most useful, as I need to prepare a vision piece for our board for the week of the 6th January,” has been the tone of select correspondence during the past few weeks.
As this is still the season of giving, here are a few thoughts on general shifts that might be on the horizon, a couple of companies to watch and talent you might consider commissioning. All the best for 2014.
1. Seventy is the new 30 – really.
Despite all the talk about the spending power of youth, I’d venture that there’s more mileage in talking to an ageing population that boasts proper savings and also has the time to spend and invest wisely. While this message has been largely missed by many companies and their marketing departments, it’s time to address a very lucrative market with proper initiatives that don’t portray people over 65 as frail, conservatively dressed and only interested in package tours and golf. The Korean and Japanese markets are good places to sample how retirement age can look: sharply dressed, entrepreneurial and adventurous.
If you’re not fortunate enough to have an Austrian, German or Japanese grocery store around the corner, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on the fine cleaning products from this Mainz-based brand. Long at the forefront of eco-based household soaps and sprays, Frosch’s froggy mascot is worthy of more shelf space at supermarkets around the world.
Staying close to the clean theme, brushes from Switzerland’s Ebnat could make a strong contribution to spotless floors in houses and businesses beyond the borders of the Confederation Helvetica. With the bulk of its production still in Switzerland, Ebnat makes bristles for mouths, car interiors, shop floors and crumb-filled tabletops. The company does a fine range in wood as well as one in plastic. While we’re in Switzerland, another trend that major retailers might want to consider (Loblaw, Target, Sainsbury’s, Woolworths Australia take note) is the commitment that Swiss grocery stores have to buying locally – and we’re not just talking apples. Recent spins through Migros and Coop shows a commitment to buying locally produced napkins, notebooks, soap, disposable glassware, pens, kitchen knives and glassware.
4. The Shenzhen shuffle.
While “ onshoring” (bringing manufacturing back to home markets) is nothing new, watch the flight from China pick up pace this year. A client in the clothing business recently declared that it costs roughly the same to make a garment in Portugal as it does to produce something identical in China. With many businesses complaining about falling quality and longer production times (not to mention ever-increasing wages) in China, “Made in the EU” (or USA or Australia) will start to appear on more hang-tags. Consumers can also feel good that “Made in the EU” comes with a few more social and workplace safeguards than “Made in the PRC”.
5. A bit of Harry Thaler in your life.
Should you have a renovation on the horizon, you might want to add designer Harry Thaler to your shortlist. Splitting his time between London and Merano in Italy, Thaler is responsible for one of the best retail interior concepts in Europe (the Pur Südtirol shops in Merano and Bruneck) and also a recent exhibition in Bolzano on leaner living. Whether the lobby of your law firm needs a rethink or you’re overhauling the family-run hotel chain, you should give Harry a call.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
More columns at ft.com/brule