By  on December 3, 2008

DALLAS — After the stock market crashed in 1987, a curious thing happened at Dallas Market Center.

“We had a lot of new stores come in,” recalled Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the wholesale merchandise complex. “They were professional, educated managers who, as part of the recession of the late Eighties, were laid off, and they started their own businesses.”

Bill Winsor, president and chief executive officer at DMC, is curious to see if the same thing will happen now. Early signs are encouraging: An average of 200 start-up retailers attended each of the five annual fashion markets at the DMC in 2008, according to the company.

The DMC plans to help these newcomers stay in business by hosting seminars on retailing basics organized in association with regional business development groups.

“The specialty stores are our lifeblood, and that’s why we are putting such a focus on helping them stay in business,” Winsor said. “The whole financial piece is critical. We find so many people who start stores don’t have a background in that.”

The company will introduce them to FashionCenterDallas at the WTC, which hosts 14,000 resources, including 300 contemporary lines as well as home furnishings, fine jewelry, gifts and other specialty goods on the sprawling DMC campus.

The market center is optimistic that it will get through the economic crunch reasonably well because the economy in its primary territory is stronger than the nation at large, particularly in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas.

“It’s tough out there, but we are lucky that we are in one of the strongest geographical areas and we have such a loyal base of stores,” Morris said. “We are better positioned to weather this.”

DMC has also been casting farther afield for buyers, giving incentives to bring in dozens of international retailers, especially those from Latin America. “One of the real opportunities for us is international attendance, which was up 57 percent in October,” Morris said.

Winsor added that DMC “will continue to give them incentives. We bring in stores that have been around a while and are better capitalized. We think it’s important to get them exposed to the market. When you think about it, they are part of our territory.”

Winsor said he thinks that business will improve, and that consumers will be drawn to the unique goods and personal service of specialty stores versus shopping in a mass environment.

“Consumer spending is down, but I don’t think that is an everlasting situation,” Winsor said. “People are trying to understand Wall Street and the [presidential] election. A lot of issues are related to credit and capital, and once that begins to free up we will see business come back. Small businesses need access to capital.”

Strengthening the offerings of young contemporary, bridal and contemporary is also on the 2009 agenda.

The temporary exhibits on the 12th floor of the World Trade Center are adding inexpensive “fast fashion” labels to address the demand for style at a price. The show now has 90 exhibitors, including Wish Collection, YA, Unyx and Luluvia.

A new neighborhood for prom, bridal and special occasion opened in October on the 14th floor with five permanent showrooms: Alyce Designs; House of Wu; Casablanca Bridal; PC Mary’s, and Sonny Gentzel, who represents eight labels including Terani. They occupy space formerly held by Liz Claiborne and other misses’ companies.

Prom lines formerly showed in the temporary area on 12, but it wasn’t an ideal venue because vendors typically have hundreds of samples and like to show on a runway, said Rene Hamm, owner of Alyce Designs. As a result, some resources stopped exhibiting in Dallas, and buyers drifted to other markets.

“Now we’re in an environment, a home, and it’s nice and comfortable, well lit, and it’s got a good vibe,” Hamm said. “We want to get more manufacturers [to join us]. As long as the top heavy-hitter manufacturers are there, the stores will come. I think the whole side of the map — the West Coast, Southwest and Midwest — can go to Dallas.”

Another bright spot at DMC has been Kids World, an entire floor of the World Trade Center devoted to children’s apparel, toys and furnishings, totaling nearly 250,000 square feet.

“It defies what is going on in the economy because people tend to buy for their kids no matter what,” Winsor said.

In March, the DMC will introduce a new version of its “You can’t miss red” advertising campaign, named in reference to the market center’s red logo, said Cole Daugherty, vice president of marketing.

“We have built a lot of equity in that,” Daugherty said. “We are sticking with the same message, which is you can’t miss markets in Dallas — you can’t miss red….It stretches across all of our categories.”

An estimated $8 billion in wholesale transactions are conducted annually at the complex, which hosts 50 markets a year attended by 200,000 buyers representing all 50 states and 84 countries, according to the DMC.

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