NEW YORK — The Channel, a new invitation-only buying event linking select specialty store retailers with designers and manufacturers, will debut Feb. 5-8, 2004, at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix.

The event is being organized by Channel Events LLC, based in Stratford, Conn., which is headed by Skip Farber, chairman and chief executive officer, and Diane Stone, executive vice president.

The event’s co-chairs are Robin Lewis, president of Robin Reports, and Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Fashionworld, and its partners are NPD Group, Robin Reports and Kurt Salmon Associates.

“The Channel will be a hybrid between trade shows and buying services,” said Lewis. A merchandising team will select about 200 specialty store retailers and 100 vendors and designers to participate. The Channel will pay all expenses for the retailers, excluding transportation, and the vendors and designers will pay varying fees depending on custom packages, said Stone. The first show will focus on women’s bridge and contemporary lines, as well as accessories.

The merchandising team that will select the retailers and vendors is headed by Ann Caruso-Marsh, fashion director, and consists of trend forecasters, fashion and style journalists, trendspotters and retailers on The Channel’s advisory board. Once the retailers are identified, the final list will be edited and juried by the entire advisory board.

Retailers on the advisory board include Anna Garner, fashion director, Henri Bendel; Tracy Margolis, divisional merchandise manager, contemporary sportswear, Bergdorf Goodman; Bill Lynch, senior vice president, general merchandise, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Mickey Rosmarin, owner, Tootsie’s, Houston.

The criteria for choosing stores aretheir sales volume, square footage, credit ratings, fashion point of view, and number of locations, said Stone. Key criteria for vendors are business viability, that they have a product that’s high quality and original, or that they are an established company with a new story to tell. “As retailers come on board, we’ll be getting information on their top resources and people they’re looking to do business with,” said Stone. There will also be an incubator program for new designers and manufacturers, with a potential sponsorship program.“We’re picking who the appropriate retailers are first,” said Caruso-Martin. “It’s based on our knowledge of their stores and what resources they’re currently selling. Our job is to find complementary resources. We will decide the stores based on geographical locations. There’s never been an event that’s invitation-only. We’re canvassing resources from all over the world.”

The two-and-a-half day event includes prescheduled presentations by one vendor to small groups of retailers and then an opportunity for face-to-face meetings between a vendor and a retailer. At the group meetings, the vendor will present its collection, company vision, capabilities and business strategies.

“There’s a huge difference between this and trade shows,” said Lewis. “Here, vendors will be guaranteed to make formal presentations to these retailers. Afterwards, if the store wants to do business one-on-one, they can schedule a meeting [at the event].”

Lewis said the event will include a strategic view of the industry by NPD’s Cohen and fashion forecasts, and may feature a fashion show. Lewis said they plan to host the women’s event biannually, and eventually stage one for the men’s and children’s markets.

Farber and Stone previously worked at Advancestar Communications Inc. Stone was general manager of the Global Licensing Group, where she managed teams producing events and publications. Farber had been executive vice president of Advancestar, and previously served as vice president of business development for Reed Publishing USA, which included Cahners Publishing and Reed Exhibition Cos.

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