And slowdowns, in this age of the internet, have manifold new gears to play with: instant messaging has taken over from quick response and just in time is just not quick enough. Generations Y & Z have everything at their fingertips.
Speed is certainly a critical success factor in food and fashion. Fast-food operators are outperforming the mid-market restaurateurs, just as fast fashion chains are taking share from more traditional multiples.
One of the drivers of the fast track is, of course, value. Eating out, for many confidence-battered consumers, means trading down to faster food or taking it away. On the high street, it is the faster, more affordable young-fashion retail brands that are bucking the general sector gloom.
Another key attribute shared by successful food and fashion operators is focus: narrow-casting the offer by product category or customer segment. Aldi and Lidl’s “meteoric rise” (Retail Week, September 12) owes much to them being both focused and fast, with strictly limited assortments in quick-to-shop, proximity stores.
In New York, one of the latest, most focused eateries is the Pinkberry frozen yoghurt chain. Its chic, pebble-floored stores offer “swirly goodness” and “a love affair with chilly bliss” on Philippe Starck chairs, under Le Klint lamps.
With just three sizes and three flavours of non-fat, low-cal, fro-yo, Pinkberry has captured celebrity attention, as well as funding from the founder of Starbucks. A large tub of green tea frozen yoghurt with three toppings costs a cool US$8.85 (£4.92).
Wellness is also the focus for another burgeoning business in New York – Kidfresh, which distributes “fun, healthy, freshly prepared meals-to-go just for kids for every meal of the day – without the junk”, through supermarkets, toy shops and even airport kiosks.
In marked contrast, but equally focused, Rice to Riches, “the world’s first rice pudding snackateria”, is now in its fifth year, operating from a single outlet in New York, but shipping overnight anywhere in the US. It is an unabashed opponent of low-calorie diets proclaiming “eat all you want... you’re already fat” and offering 20 flavours of rice pudding in four different sizes – the largest being the 80oz Moby at US$35 (£19.46).
The latest retail headlines from New York highlight the fast-growing Aéropostale. Targeting 14- to 17-year-olds with “a focused selection of high-quality, active-oriented, fashion at compelling values”, the company has announced record monthly results; same store sales in August were up 13 per cent.
Fast and focused should be the new mantra – lest the slowdown blur our wits.