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The Learning Curve

There's plenty of competition out there, but during market week, it sometimes turns friendly. The Atlanta Mart's "Secret of My Success" seminars give retailers and other industry insiders a chance to share what works and what doesn't. Here, some tips...

There’s plenty of competition out there, but during market week, it sometimes turns friendly. The Atlanta Mart’s “Secret of My Success” seminars give retailers and other industry insiders a chance to share what works and what doesn’t. Here, some tips from the two most recent sessions.

Shopping Sense

Sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. According to Jan Bilthouse, owner of Atlanta-based The Bilthouse, and independent display artist Ernesto Perez, the five senses are critical when it comes to making a sale.

At the Retailer to Retailer seminar during February market, the two pros told an audience of over 60 how feeding the customer’s senses can stimulate the urge to buy. Bilthouse does it by filling her store with music and the scents appropriate to the season (citrus in summer, evergreen in winter). Her sales associates offer tea as soon as someone steps into the store. Not so coincidentally the tapes, room sprays and teas are also available for sale.

“It’s all to create a homey atmosphere,” said Bilthouse. Another suggestion is to keep bright clothes separate from colored ones, but to mix colors that work together. “You don’t want all your white sweaters folded on top of one another, you want to create a rainbow of color.”

The audience also approved of Bilthouse’s use of dowel rods to display sweaters. “There are a lot of other ways than using a hanger. You want the garment to come to life for a customer,” she explained.

Ernesto Perez’s 20 years in the business have made him an expert at making clothes come to life. Some of his suggestions included doing unexpected displays, like using summer props with fur coats or putting swimwear in a nightclub atmosphere. He demonstrated the art of making easy, inexpensive displays using crepe paper, gold spray paint and less-expected items such as gutter guard and dryer vent hose.

He also extolled the merits of floor tiles and things like sand, mulch and colored feathers for accessories displays. Explained Perez, “It doesn’t have to be expensive; I find a lot of stuff right in my backyard.”

In The Swim

Wadene Johnston, a sales rep with Robbie Len Swimwear, knows a thing or two about swimwear. And she proved it with a seminar at the February market co-sponsored by the Atlanta Swimwear Association and the Mart. Widely acclaimed as one of the Mart’s best ever, her presentation will be offered again in October.

The February session started with Johnston’s sketch of the average swimwear customer: “She’s 35 years old, she’s had two babies in the last three years and gained 10 pounds. She comes in out of the rain, holding a dripping umbrella. She’s standing in the fitting room under fluorescent lights that make her look green, in knee-high stockings, trying on a swimsuit over panties and a bra, and she can’t find a salesperson.” Then, barely pausing for breath, Johnston went on to ask the critical question: “Is there any wonder why we lose her?”

In her advice to retailers, Johnston emphasized one thing above all: “Be positive. A swimsuit is the most anxiety-ridden purchase women make.” She went on to make a number of other more specific suggestions, too. Here, a summary.

  • Keep a cover-up in the dressing room.
  • Organize stock so that you can find everything quickly. Pattern and color will get a swimsuit into the fitting room, but fit will sell it.
  • Work with the customer in the fitting room by looking in the mirror, not directly at her body.
  • Play up the best features, play down the worst, and never put a horizontal line at the widest part of the body. For small busts, use a padded cup or ruffles or sheer fabric. For large busts, recommend a substantial bra with a wide strap, rather than a bandeau or a halter.
  • Have the customer sit down and raise her arms. A swimsuit is an active garment.
  • To camouflage a round stomach, recommend a suit with control, sheer fabric or diagonal lines.
  • To camouflage large hips and thighs, use a dark bottom or a print, which tricks the eye.