By  on January 8, 2009

NEW YORK — There’s still business to be had, but getting it requires being smarter and more efficient.

That was the consensus of retailers and vendors at the Designers & Agents summer show, which ended its three-day run at the Starrett-Lehigh Center here on Wednesday.

“I think everybody is trying to go forward in a thoughtful way, but not in a way that diminishes their store presence,” said Joanna Seitz, owner of the J. Seitz & Co. boutique in New Preston, Conn.

Others echoed the sentiments, and many exhibitors noted that stores are looking for special pieces, particularly those not carried by major department stores, many of which have drastically reduced prices so early in the fall season that specialty stores found themselves challenged to keep up.

“Who wants basics?” Seitz said. “People come to specialty stores for specialty. During these times, you need to focus on what’s different, special and unique.”

The summer show is smaller than its fall and spring counterparts, and given the economy, this edition was particularly small, attracting 31 exhibitors, down 22 percent from the previous summer show.

Bahar Shahpar, co-owner of The Four Hundred showroom, said many stores are delaying their buys until February, and she anticipates much business, particularly for immediates, at the fall edition of the show, scheduled for Feb. 21-23.

“It’s really about being more focused,” she said. “We have looked at everything very carefully, from our roster of designers to our focus on independents and majors, and we are working closely with designers on editing their collections. It is very important now to show a more highly edited selection of key and timely pieces because that’s what you need in stores right now for people to buy.”

At this D&A, Shahpar presented the C.L.A.S.S. concept, a platform for sustainable textiles. “Right now, many [designers] are holding back and focusing much more on development,” she said. “At this show, there is a lot of window shopping. It’s a great time for designers to soak up what is going on.”

Several vendors have increased their range of price points to give retailers more options, and they are working closely with them to ensure a strong, mutually beneficial partnership.

“They are conservative buyers, but they are still shopping,” said Natalie Miller, national sales manager of Australia Love Co., a first-time exhibitor at D&A showcasing sheepskin boots. “You have to be flexible about partnerships and relationships with retailers.”

At Los Angeles T-shirt line Daftbird, bestsellers included a fringe scarf at $32 wholesale, a vest for $41, and a romper suit for $59.

“I feel that stores are a little more careful,” said Joshua Christopher, founder and designer of Daftbird. “They are being more selective, which is not a bad thing. If people go after the things they need, it works out for everybody, including the designer.”

Ed Mandelbaum, who produces the show with Barbara Kramer, agreed. “Everybody knows they have to be smarter and more cautious with their expenses,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that there aren’t some people that will be doing more business than ever. Stores have to buy or they will be out of business. They are just more careful, and more selective.”

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