By  on December 8, 2004

DALLAS — Having invested $24 million to build and open FashionCenterDallas in March, the Dallas Market Center sees nothing but opportunity for its gleaming new marketplace.

The center, which sits on the top floors of the massive 15-story World Trade Center of gift and home showrooms, is building on its successful launch with a three-pronged marketing strategy. The plan calls for maximizing contemporary business by increasing the number of lines shown and drawing more contemporary store buyers; cultivating crossover business among fashion, gift and home showrooms, and reaching out to Hispanic buyers in the Southwest and Mexico.

“We do see contemporary as a huge opportunity for growth,” said Bill Winsor, president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Market Center. “With the mart being for sale in California, it has created a big opportunity for us. The fragmentation of what has happened in California will turn off some buyers. Having one marketplace under one roof with crossover opportunities with fashion and accessories plus gift and home gives us an advantage.”

FCD’s permanent showrooms are 98 percent leased and its 15th-floor neighborhood of contemporary rooms is full, but the facility can accommodate more contemporary resources at its juried Scene booth show on the 13th floor and at its Temporaries on 12 show a floor below. Scene will be staged during the three largest markets: fall, set for March 23-April 1; holiday and resort, from Aug. 18-21, and spring, which runs Oct. 27-30. A similar show, called Spotlight, will be held during the smaller summer and fall II markets, which are set for Jan. 20-23 and June 2-5, respectively, to accommodate exhibitors who wish to show more frequently.

“The other growth opportunity is within the buyer base,” noted Cindy Morris, chief operating officer. “More men’s stores are branching into contemporary, so we see more men’s buyers shopping for lines like Seven and James Perse.”

Given its extensive “See and Be Seen” advertising campaign and opening buzz, FCD has achieved substantial increases in retailer traffic from outside its immediate territory of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, Winsor noted. Though he declined to reveal specific numbers, Winsor said buyer attendance this year jumped nearly 50 percent from the Midwest, 45 percent from the West, about 30 percent from the Southeast and 150 percent from the Northeast.“In the past, some people felt the traffic was more regionally based, and what we’ve created now is a more national marketplace,” Morris asserted. “Our biggest objective in FCD is an opportunity for out-of-territory buyers to come in and experience a whole new world of fashion buying.”

One of the DMC’s most effective marketing tools is its retail development team, which travels nationwide and personally visits top stores to encourage them to visit the marketplace.

“If you take major trading areas and you pull three to four of the best bridge and contemporary stores out of that market, then you pretty much have 80 percent of the business,” Winsor said. “It is about pulling the best stores that fit our profile out of each region.”

The staff just returned from Kentucky, and next year they will focus on the Midwest market, including Illinois, Missouri and Michigan, followed by Mississippi.

“We are going state by state,” said Morris. “We have trips planned throughout the whole year because they have been so successful.”

Another avenue for growth is to encourage gift-store buyers to also patronize fashion and accessories showrooms. To that end, the DMC will overlap the gift and fashion shows during the fall market March 31-April 3.

“Almost 50 percent of our buyers at apparel shows are buying gift and home products at our center,” Morris noted. “We’ve had a lot of requests to combine markets, and March makes sense because it is a smaller gift show and the timing works.”

DMC executives don’t plan to coincide fashion markets with the huge gift shows in January and June because it would strain facilities, such as loading docks and parking.

The DMC also hopes to capitalize on its proximity to big Hispanic markets by promoting its offerings of dresses and accessories for quinceañera, a lavish 15th birthday party for girls that has many trappings of a wedding, including a gown in white or pastel colors and a banquet reception.

Peg Canter, vice president of trade shows, began examining how to cater to this market in June after reading news stories that Hispanics were underserved by the fashion industry, that seven of the top 10 Hispanic markets are in Texas and that the average quinceañera party costs $8,000 to $10,000.“I thought, ‘Here we are in the middle of it all, and what are we doing about it?’” Canter recalled. “This is a golden opportunity.”

So the DMC has launched an outreach to Hispanic retailers as well as to bridal vendors who make quinceañera-style dresses, which typically have full skirts and no train. It posted a promotional mailer to 4,000 Hispanic stores nationwide and has dispatched three Spanish-speaking marketing staffers to visit Hispanic retailers to invite them to shop at the World Trade Center.

“Our team has been in San Antonio and other towns and they are getting a phenomenal reaction from these stores, which would not otherwise show up on the radar,” Morris noted. “You have to go into the neighborhoods, so we think this is prime for Dallas and our region.”

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