By  on June 22, 2005

ATLANTA — From pricey jeans to quinceaNera gowns, AmericasMart is one hot item.

To lure buyers, AmericasMart has identified strong product categories and untapped niche markets within the industry and has developed formats to showcase them. Temporary shows are growing in size and frequency, and the DIVA awards have added a new multicultural category. Entertainment, ambience and amenities — from big-name celebrity events to free margaritas — are all designed to bring a sense of fun to buyers' shopping experiences.

Over the past six months, buyer attendance has been somewhat flat, but mart officials said they were encouraged by the fact that 22 percent of attendees were first-time buyers at AmericasMart.

"Reps report more new specialty stores opening, which is good in light of all the retail consolidation in department stores," said Lawton Hall, senior vice president of AmericasMart, Building 3. "Today's specialty stores are sharp retailers that know their customers. They're nimble and able to do quick turns."

The mart has also seen an encouraging 5 percent increase in attendance from outside the Southeast territory, especially from the Southwest and Northeast regions.

With more than 500 booths per market, the temporary area on the second floor is overflowing. Accessories account for half of all product, and shoes — especially fashion lines that specialty stores can carry as accessories items — have been especially strong. By October market, to be held Oct. 20-24, shoes will move to a dedicated third floor area that will feature 80 to 100 lines.

Young contemporary, or junior, has also been a growth area for temporaries, with lines such as Los Angeles-based Wish Collection signing on. After closing a permanent showroom five years ago, the line now shows five times a year on the second floor, having recently doubled its space to a 400-square-foot booth.

Daniel Reeder, ceo of Wish Collection, said the five-times-yearly show is good for the junior category, although it brings less volume than bigger national shows, such as WWDMagic in Las Vegas.

"Atlanta hasn't always been a big junior market, but the industry has been moving in that direction, and it's now our best region," he said. "Junior is a finicky, fashion-forward market that needs similar lines grouped together, and a special ambience that includes color and music. The show here is building."The August market, Aug. 25-29, focuses on special occasion and bridal areas throughout the building and includes the DIVA awards, which honor designers and retailers in nine categories. The black-tie awards gala will be held Aug. 25 at The Capital City Club in downtown Atlanta. In addition to the usual prom, pageant, social occasion and bridal areas, this year's DIVAs will include a new category for quinceanera, a 15th birthday celebration for Catholic Hispanic girls that involves formal gowns and accessories.

In addition to the DIVA recognition, a segment of the Aug. 27 fashion show will spotlight quinceanera gowns; signage will indicate showrooms with product, and Spanish-speaking personnel will be on hand as AmericasMart targets buyers who cater to the Hispanic customer.

"Lots of manufacturers are adding gowns in the category, and many major department stores are realizing there's money to be made in it," said Kaye Davis, executive director, Premiere and fashion, AmericasMart.

AmericasMart's other temporary show, Premiere, a juried collective featuring upscale, contemporary product, has been so successful that it will expand from a twice-yearly event to four shows a year. Starting with the January 2006 show, Premiere will run consecutively with January, April, August and October markets.

Since its inception in 2002, Premiere has grown to a projected 125 booths, with up to 300 lines expected for the biggest shows in October and April. Launched as a temporary showcase of new product and hot trends, Premiere also serves as an incubator for lines looking to take permanent space, Davis said.

As Premiere has grown, emerging hot categories have been grouped together. Premium denim lines had 30 dedicated booths at the April show.

Randi Klein, New York account executive for James Jeans, a Los Angeles-based premium denim line, works about 30 accounts at the April and October Premiere shows.

"The temporary format is right for us, because it's less of a commitment," she said. "We don't need a full-time showroom, especially with e-mail and easy access to our accounts between markets."

The denim push goes beyond Premiere, as AmericasMart has also highlighted lines such as Seven For All Mankind, AG, Big Star and Chip & Pepper in its marketing materials and fashion shows throughout the building.With hard-wall booths, contemporary design elements and a live DJ added in April, Premiere's aesthetic continues to evolve. Perks include complimentary Starbucks coffee, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

Such niceties are becoming a bigger part of the AmericasMart budget, as is entertainment.

Tom Jones and Tony Bennett performed at recent apparel shows, and Rick Springfield will perform on Sunday, July 17, during the gift show. AmericasMart also hosts casino nights and after-hours showroom parties to keep buyers in the building. At some shows, informal models and entertainers roam common areas, which have been spruced up with new paint, lighting and fixtures.

"Just like retailers, we're in the entertainment business," said Lawton Hall, who added that showroom owners are encouraged to update decor to entice buyers, much as retailers do for consumers. "Price has become secondary; it's the right environment that creates an impulse to buy."

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