Cultivating Buyers the Old-Fashioned Way

December 2010
Cultivating Buyers the Old-Fashioned Way

By Holly Haber


The next L.A. Fashion Market is Jan. 17-20.

Photo By Courtesy Photo



AmericasMart in Atlanta.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Regional apparel markets saw improvement in 2010, but no one is sure how the first half of 2011 will play out, so the marts are going back to basics: product, service, marketing and an upbeat attitude.

They are expanding merchandise selection, especially in contemporary and children’s, adjusting market dates, offering additional seminars on retail strategies and fashion trends, and working social networks to connect with buyers. Most of the venues offer a banquet of free or discounted airfare, hotel rooms and meals to retailers who shop frequently.

Joanne Lee, senior vice president of California Market Center in Los Angeles, said this year wasn’t easy.

“Our biggest challenge is getting the traffic here, and it’s the quality, not the quantity — the stores that are writing orders and keeping our tenants afloat,” Lee said.

Susan McCullough, a senior vice president of MMPI Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., which operates StyleMax shows in Chicago, said: “Certainly the biggest challenge is that retail hasn’t returned to pre-2009 levels, and that’s the hardest part for stores, marketplaces, vendors, for everybody.”

But StyleMax had increases in attendance at every show in 2010 and McCullough “feels good” about next year. Her tactics for 2011 are to expand on the new children’s area, beef up the hot category of contemporary and do “a ton” of e-marketing and social media.

Based on the success of the New York International Bridal Week that MMPI launched in October on Pier 94, she also is lining up New York bridal shows in April and October.

To meet buyer demand, the California Market Center is shifting its market schedule to a Monday-to-Thursday format in 2011 after a successful test in August. It’s also building up Area4, a 40,000-square-foot floor of permanent contemporary showrooms that opened in October to supplement the fifth-floor contemporary rooms. The center is tapping buyers daily with updates on Facebook and Twitter that cite celebrity sightings in the building, introduce new lines and offer free shipping and various discounts. It plans to begin presenting retail seminars at each show following a good turnout in October to a session about basic store operations and management.

AmericasMart in Atlanta is also going back to school, with three to five seminars on trends in accessories and fashion at each of its five shows.

“They are hungry for information,” said Lori Kisner, senior vice president of apparel at AmericasMart.

She also plans to present two or three keynote speakers from different industries to stimulate thought about business trends.

“The biggest thing that keeps me up at night is determining what the landscape will be in five years because it’s changing so fast,” Kisner said. “A lot has to do with the economy, but also the Internet and open communication. The good news is that in apparel, there is a need to touch and feel product, so live events will always prevail.”

AmericasMart is cultivating social media by broadcasting news and posting links to retail features.

“For 2011, we are working on a trend newsletter that really talks to our customers between markets,” Kisner added.

AmericasMart has inked 25 new leases spanning 50,000 square feet in the last couple of months, plus five showroom expansions. Among the new tenants are Desigual, Rebecca Minkoff, Tibi, Coletta and Chan Luu. The venue continues to target contemporary and accessories resources and is starting to tackle bridge.

“There is a shift and retailers are staring to raise price points a little bit, and we’ve got to respond to that,” Kisner said.

The Dallas Market Center also foresees brighter days.

“New buyers are arriving in record numbers to Dallas market, responding to outreach efforts,” said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer. “Now more than ever, retailers are asking for practical information to keep them ahead. We are answering that request for 2011 by offering a market experience to buyers through visual displays and runway shows focusing on trends and practical business seminars. Also, we will continue to mail buyers our award-winning educational publication, InStore, each quarter.”

Buyer attendance in 2010 exceeded the previous two years, she noted. The contemporary area is 98 percent full and has a new tenant opening in January, Pam Martin & Co. showroom, which represents Beth Bowley, Bordeaux and other lines. The price-conscious young contemporary category has been rising swiftly and added 30 percent more labels in 2010, Morris said. Retail loyalty is key, she pointed out.

“Because of our customers’ close relationships with the reps and because of our loyalty programs, more than half of our buyers shop only Dallas,” she said. “We recognize them with our Star Buyer program, offering discounts and perks.”

Designers & Agents, which shows in the New Mart in Los Angeles, is narrowing its focus on advanced young designer fashion and accessories that appeal to designer stores facing reduced budgets. Though its exhibitors tumbled 50 percent to 200 since 2008 because of the recession and a tighter selection process, D&A co-owner Barbara Kramer saw significant momentum at the October show and expects it will continue in 2011.

“It was a very up market,” Kramer said. “The stores that carry Marni and Rick Owens and Alberta Ferretti and Gaultier have turned over some of their dollars to our category. The customer can’t afford $3,000 bags anymore, and in our category you can get an amazing bag for $800 to $1,000. There is real growth potential in this area.”

Among the labels that show at D&A are Kristensen du Nord, Beryll, Calleen Cordero and JBNY.

Fashion Industry Gallery in Dallas is offering package discounts to vendors that commit to show at multiple consecutive markets in the Shop temporary show. FIG is a juried venue that highlights about 400 contemporary and accessories resources in permanent and temporary spaces.

“We feel consistency is the strongest tool for new exhibitors to use in regional markets like ours,” said Megan Bullard, marketing coordinator. “By committing to multiple shows, exhibitors will develop relationships with buyers to further their business in this region.”

FIG will open a new restaurant in January in its café space. It’s also working on streamlining registration for buyers and exhibitors in 2011.