LOS ANGELES — JoAnn Langer thought she’d heard it all.

As president and chief executive officer of GM Design Group, the New York-based makers of bridge line Garfield & Marks, Langer has listened to the enthusiastic response from customers during her annual in-store tours, from their trunk show purchases to demands that she bring back a long-discontinued favorite style.

But one revelation of loyalty had her marveling. “This one lady…told me she has 26 suits from us — 26 suits. These are just strong supporters,” she said during the first stop of an eight-city nationwide tour that began Sept. 4 at the Nordstrom in Main Place, a Santa Ana mall about an hour south of Los Angeles.

The “Meet the Design Team” touring program is in its third year hitting some 45 cities and has been a boon not only in sales but to expanding the Garfield & Marks name, along with that of its sister brand, Womyn. “Annually, the in-store appearances add another $4 million to $5 million to the brand’s $70 million in business,” said Langer. “We find it extremely successful.”

This year, the firm is expecting a sales gain of about 20 percent.

“The first half of the year was right on plan, but the last two months have exceeded plan,” she said. “We are just feeling more enthusiasm from consumers out there. We haven’t really changed other than to do more trunk shows, more brand awareness.”

Since the “road show” can hit so many retailers through the year, Langer and the team disperse — some stores get designer Dianne Beaudry, some get members of the merchandising or sales teams. But the emphasis is still the same.

“People want attention,” Langer said. “They want to hear about what we do and how we do it. I spend half the night with answering questions like ‘What should I wear? How should I wear it?’ We can do as much as $80,000 in two days in a small specialty store, which is amazing.”

E-commerce has had similarly surprising results. A year after it launched, Web site sales jumped from $90,000 to expected 2003 sales of about $250,000. That’s without advertising the site, noted Langer. To keep the “marriage” happy between the company and its retailers, consumers are first directed to a local store. “The goal is not to cut off the retailer, but to get the sales,” she said.The same is true with two other retailing options under consideration. In the conceptual stages is the first Garfield & Marks door, likely on the East Coast.

This past spring, the company began testing Tupperware-style parties in private homes in Belmont, Mass., and Chadham, N.Y. The private trunk shows will stop at another two or three cities in coming months, purely on a test basis.

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