By and  on May 30, 2007

There's a battle brewing down South. AmericasMart officials have moved its trade show dates in August so the Atlanta show conflicts with Dallas — and again in January and August 2008 — and vendors are crying foul.

AmericasMart has changed Atlanta's August 2007 dates three times in the past six months. The new dates, Aug. 18 to 21, overlap with FashionCenterDallas market, Aug. 19 to 22. Offering many of the same lines and targeting some of the same Sun Belt buyers, the two markets have a long rivalry. Feelings are running high, and many observers call Atlanta's move a bullying tactic.

"This was an outrageous move by AmericasMart that shows disregard for the negotiation process that we usually hold," said Alan Sealove, president of New York Fashion Council, a wholesale manufacturers' group that hosts the date committee meetings where the major regional markets — Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles — set dates in advance to avoid overlapping and other conflicts.

But after the meeting this year, AmericasMart officials pushed their exhibition dates back a week to allow exhibitors in specific categories, such as children's wear and special occasion, to get samples ready. They added that a date at the end of August would be too late because there would be hotel room shortages — though they would not elaborate on why hotel rooms would be tight — and those dates would conflict with the MAGIC Show in Las Vegas, Aug. 27 to 30.

"We're not going to sacrifice our August market by adopting dates that are incompatible with the changing requirements of our exhibitor and buyer customers," said Jeffrey L. Portman, president and chief operating officer of AmericasMart.

Dallas has said it won't budge because its buyers and exhibitors have been planning for the set dates for months.

"Atlanta is showing a lack of respect for the manufacturers, retailers and other markets that have tried to work cooperatively to avoid conflicts," said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the Dallas Market Center Co. "A market date change three months out is reckless and irresponsible in our opinion."

Morris said Atlanta and Dallas have many of the same lines, and that overlapping dates cause bigger problems than other market date conflicts, though neither side would comment on the percentage of exhibitors that show at both. Atlanta has 600 permanent showrooms and 1,000 temporary booths, while Dallas has 550 permanent showrooms and 500 temporary booths. While both shows offer a full array of merchandise, they are known in particular for their prom and special occasion offerings.Buyers seem less affected than exhibitors.

"I know very few buyers that go to both Dallas and Atlanta," said Jan Bilthouse, owner of two Atlanta specialty stores, who also had an AmericasMart showroom for more than 10 years before closing it in February 2006 and who still shops AmericasMart. "It's far more common that they go to both Atlanta and New York or Dallas and New York."

Sealove said he learned of the change from an e-mail sent from AmericasMart, and he has received numerous phone calls complaining about the last-minute change. "It's a no-win situation," said Sealove, who is also chief executive officer of Mary Bays and Victoria Royal, New York-based social occasion lines that show in both the Dallas and Atlanta markets. "Manufacturers have to split samples, or choose between Dallas and Atlanta, and retailers are confused."

Many exhibitors and conflicting trade show officials aren't buying Atlanta's explanation. Exhibitor Steve Lang, ceo of Mon Cheri, dubs the situation "the fiasco."

"This is a capricious move. It's sheerly a power play," Lang contended. "All Atlanta is saying is, 'How can we put Dallas out of business?' We're just a pawn, but without us, Atlanta is just a lot of empty showrooms."

Based in Trenton, N.J., Mon Cheri began in 1991 and is now a $60 million company with five bridal divisions and 19 companies, growing at 20 percent a year. Though Mon Cheri makes 13 sets of samples, they are not ready by August, so Lang is deciding how to split the line. Lang said his size makes him one of "the whales that pay the big rent" at the trade shows, and he has been leading the charge among exhibitors to protest the move.

A large group of manufacturers is going to Atlanta early in August to discuss how they will proceed, according to Lang, who won AmericasMart's DIVA Award for the Flower Girl category. He contended that unless Atlanta changes back the dates, he and other manufacturers will leave the mart. Abandoning Atlanta for Dallas is one option, but he said leaving both to make Chicago their primary August market is also "a very good possibility.""They've declared war on us, and they are going to get punished for it," Lang said. "If I have to, I will get manufacturers together to boycott and to go to a smaller market. We could say, 'Screw you, Dallas and Atlanta, we are going to build Chicago up.' But we would prefer to say to the children, 'Play nice and pick different dates.'"

The move costs buyers on three fronts, according to one-named Sako, president of his eponymous $5 million Los Angeles-based firm. First, duplicating the samples of his handmade prom dresses, which are produced domestically and wholesale from $179 to $245, doubles his costs. Second, he has to rebook hotel space. And third, though he is sending his line to both shows, he personally can only be in one place (he is choosing Atlanta, because of its strong prom market). "We have to be chameleons and try to be at both places," Sako said. "But I have relationships with my buyers, and if they don't see my face and don't talk to me, sometimes they don't make the order."

Exhibitors have started a blog to complain about Atlanta's decision (atlantadatechange.blogspot.com). The blogger is anonymous, though clearly someone who shows in both Atlanta and Dallas.

There are exhibitors who embrace Atlanta's decision, like Carlen Hultgren, principle of CarlenR, a multiline contemporary sportswear showroom at AmericasMart.

"I am much happier that August was moved a week later," she said. "The early date was too close to Intermezzo [in New York], which many of us go to, and even those of us that get product early specifically for the August show would have had a hard time meeting those deadlines. The extra week really makes a difference."

Hultgren said the Dallas conflict would have little effect on her commissioned lines, because she owns the samples and most of her loyal customers attend AmericasMart. The overlap will affect lines that rent her showroom space, especially manufacturers that show in both Dallas and Atlanta.

"Their business will be hurt regardless of which show they choose," she said. "Traffic could be down a bit overall, as some customers have to choose one market over another, but people do that each season anyway, rarely coming to both Dallas and Atlanta."Some sales representatives, especially large sportswear firms with duplicate samples, said they are relatively unaffected by the date conflict.

David Byrne, principle of an eponymous multiline contemporary sportswear showroom at AmericasMart, has his own set of sample lines and is confident he will make his August market goals. "We do more volume in our territory than Dallas, and the few retailers we might lose to Dallas, we can see on the road," he said. "My only concern is that a sales manager for one of the lines that usually comes to the show might have to choose between the two."

But Dallas stalwart Brad Hughes, who represents 40 manufacturers, including Nicole Miller, Lafayette 148, Kay Unger and Tadashi, places blame on Atlanta.

"They are drawing lines and saying pick sides, but it doesn't have to be this way," he said. "[Dallas] has had our dates set for over a year. To change the date for the third time this close to August to be on top of each other makes me really question the management mentality out there [in Atlanta]."

Hughes always shows in Dallas and is "playing hardball" to make sure he doesn't lose out on either product or buyers. Although he never shows in Atlanta, the lines he reps do.

"If there's only one sample line for our manufacturers, we will have it in Dallas — if a company decides not to give us a full collection in August so it can send part to Atlanta, it will not be with us in October," Hughes said. "We are going to tell buyers we have the complete collection for resort and pre-spring, and they will decide to go where they can get the best selection of the product."

Bud Konheim, ceo of Nicole Miller, said making a second sample line is costing his New York-based company $150,000, plus man-hours, because samples are all handmade rather than manufactured. But as a company with a specialty store following with "a serious presence in both markets," Nicole Miller had no choice, said Konheim, who also bemoaned splitting his sales staff.

"If [overlapping] is accidental, then it's stupidity. If it's purposeful, it's stupidity with an evil cast," Konheim said. "It's so counterproductive, and it's the kind of thing that gives rise to exhibitors leaving to start new shows."Nicole Miller shows during New York Fashion Week, and Konheim recommended that the New York Fashion Council follow the lead of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which he said does a better job coordinating and enforcing show dates in different cities to prevent overlap.

"The fashion calendar is not a joke," Konheim said. "Whatever other reasons Atlanta might have had for moving the dates should have all become secondary when they saw it overlapped with Dallas."

AmericasMart declined to respond to requests for comments on tenants' and manufacturers' concerns.

Some manufacturers are still hanging onto hope that a date change will happen.

"Atlanta and Dallas are trying to take the business away from each other, but at the end of the day we lose the money," Sako said. "If Atlanta and Dallas regions get together and talk, instead of trying to outdo each other, hopefully one of the regions will come to its senses and switch the dates."

The hubbub began when, at the recent April market, AmericasMart changed its Sunday to Wednesday run to Saturday to Tuesday. While the June and October markets only shift back a day in the same week, the August date moves a week later, running on top of FashionCenterDallas, hence the controversy for manufacturers and reps at both marts.

Ed Mandelbaum, who represents Los Angeles at the New York Fashion Council meetings, works with both cities to coordinate dates, and he said Dallas "works beautifully" with Los Angeles.

"L.A. is always concerned about Dallas' date, and Dallas is always concerned about L.A.'s date, because we have a lot of agents with showrooms in both places," he continued. "Our interaction with Dallas is very civilized and win-win."

"We all go to the New York Fashion Council, and we try to not step on each other's toes because it's to everyone's advantage," Mandelbaum continued. "Sometimes it's unavoidable, but figuring that out is the whole purpose of us meeting."

Unless dates change before next year, Atlanta and Dallas will again overlap in both January and August. The Atlanta shows are Jan. 26 to 29 and Aug. 16 to 19, while Dallas is Jan. 27 to 30 and Aug. 17 to 20. — With contributions from Rusty Williamson, Dallas

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