CHICAGO — Just call Tom Sobolewski, national sales manager of Barbour, the last man standing.
That’s because while most vendors attending the recent Chicago Collective packed up early to avoid the area’s third-largest blizzard on record, which dumped roughly 20 inches of snow on the market’s last day, Sobolewski did not.
“We stayed until the bitter end,” he said, noting that he picked up two new accounts at 3:30 p.m., 30 minutes after the show was supposed to end. “The actual stores at the show were running out of people to talk to.”
With weather reports predicting one of the area’s worst blizzards to hit on the market’s last day, Bruce Schedler, vice president of men’s apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., said vendors had the option of staying or breaking down early, which some 65 to 70 vendors did.
Sobolewski said the lack of competition likely helped business. “Let me say, it didn’t hurt us,” he said, adding that he landed six new accounts during the three-day market running Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, and all but two of his roughly 25 appointments showed. “I was extremely happy with the show,” he said, noting that the line’s waxed cotton jackets, quilted jackets and Fair Isle sweaters were moving well.
Despite the severe weather conditions, which resulted in the closure of Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, many business and Chicago public schools on Feb. 2, the show was far from a bust. Attendance was up by 10 percent at the market, which featured about 257 vendors housed on the Merchandise Mart’s eighth floor.
Meanwhile, some retailers who attended the market before the blizzard hit reported positive sales figures for 2010 and expressed optimism about the year ahead. “Traffic is better than it has been,” said Elliott Logan, an owner of the 46-year-old specialty store Logan’s of Lexington, in Lexington, Ky. “We haven’t cut our inventory back,” he said, noting that suits from Hart Schaffner Marx are among his store’s strongest sellers.
Chris Lambert, manager of Andrew Davis Menswear, a men’s specialty store with locations in Bloomington and Fort Wayne, Ind., said both business and margins are up in the early weeks of 2011.
“It’s the result of buying smarter,” he said, noting the retailer has tried not to overbuy, ordering with value in mind and working with vendors that would take items back that weren’t moving.
At the same time, customer confidence seems to be improving. “The consumer is tired of feeling bad about spending money,” he said. “Now they’re embracing the idea of spending money on themselves or others but they are still seeking value.”
“Most people feel the worst is behind us,” said Lambert, who noted the retailer increased inventory levels in 2010.
Lambert said the stores are embracing apparel cut closer to the body, flat-front pants and, in general, more fashion pieces that are attractive to some of its young shoppers especially in the college town of Bloomington.
At the Chicago Collective, the retailer ordered cashmere sweaters from Hickey Freeman; custom tweed, windowpane and duffle top coats from Coppley, and sport shirts and merino wool sweaters from Robert Graham.
The retailer did, however, attempt to pack as many appointments in during the first half of the market, leaving a day earlier than planned to avoid the blizzard. “Fear is a great motivator,” he said.