Florida’s premier mart is shaking things up, as it reconfigures immediate delivery and permanent wholesale showrooms.

Miami International Merchandise Mart embarked on an elaborate construction project this year, a renovation designed to separate immediate delivery and permanent wholesale businesses — a sticking point in the future growth of the trade show business.

Immediate delivery showrooms, located prominently on the first floor, did increase everyday traffic, especially buyers from South America and the Caribbean. But the showrooms, which grew during the Nineties, also drew criticism from wholesale sales representatives who also did business at the mart.

Immediate delivery business was a primary reason the Southeast Apparel Exhibitors left the mart in 1998, after 20 years. SAE, a member of the National Bureau of Wholesale Sales Representatives, took its Florida Fashion Focus, a women’s apparel show, to nearby Fort Lauderdale, as well as other locations.

But this year, SAE returned for a trial run, with the stipulation that immediate delivery be separated so as not to interfere with their wholesale trade show. The mart hosted two SAE events, and then negotiated a new five-year contract.

The first phase of renovation, which is nearly complete, divides the first floor into a wholesale-only gift area and a mixed-category immediate-delivery area. The third floor, which houses men’s, women’s and children’s shoes and apparel, will undergo a facelift next year, to allocate more space to the convention area. The renovation may include the addition of a third-floor restaurant and consolidation of permanent showrooms. The adjoining Radisson Hotel and the 148,000-square-foot Radisson Convention Center are also undergoing renovation.

As the dust settles, Maria Prado, the MIMM’s general manager, said wholesale and immediate-delivery sales must continue to coexist in Miami. More than half of mart tenants do some type of immediate delivery business and international buyers expect it, she said. In addition to seasonal sample sales, showrooms can allow retail guests passes. MIMM security does not keep track of guests’ destinations once inside the mart, so "shopping around" is not uncommon.

Nancy Concepcion, owner of G&B Sales, a wholesale showroom featuring designer and fashion jewelry and novelty and leather handbags, said, "When we have time and space in the showroom, we allow guests in, but sometimes we get too busy and I just have to close the doors. You also have to watch for shoplifting when you allow retail business, so we don’t invite it."While Prado acknowledged that some showrooms need the retail business, she added that the mart also has begun making concessions to wholesale tenants and trade show groups by closing all permanent showrooms during trade shows — an answer to concerns previously expressed by exhibitors and buyers.

This concession helped entice the SAE Florida Fashion Focus show back to MIMM. "We were very pleased with the response from both buyers and exhibitors during our two shows here in 2002," SAE show director Donna Skinner said. "The business transacted exceeded everyone’s expectations."

In addition to the SAE’s four shows next year slated for March, June, August and October, MIMM will host the Miami International Gift and Decorative Accessories Show in January and August, the Big & Tall Show in February, Shoe Market of the Americas in March, June and September and the Swimwear Association of Florida show in February and July.

New shows planned for 2003 include seasonal Men’s & Boy’s Shows in the third-floor Fashion East glass showrooms, possibly coinciding with SAE’s Florida Fashion Focus staging, and a biannual Children’s Show to launch next fall. Exact dates have yet to be released.

"[Men’s and children’s wear] are two primary categories that we need to develop," Prado said. The mart intends to produce and market these events in house, rather than hosting outside productions.

Prado, formerly a marketing director with Simon Property Groups, took over as MIMM marketing director last year. She and George ZacZac, president of theSouth Florida Hotel Group, which owns the mart, convention center and hotel, have worked closely to identify industry needs and mesh those needs with Miami’s unique market and the convention center’s trade show clients.

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