U.S. Regional Marts March On

Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago hope to maintain momentum in the hot contemporary market while adding exhibitors for new areas.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Domestic Trade Shows issue 12/11/2013

Buyer traffic and leasing rose at regional marts this year and executives have a positive outlook for 2014.

This story first appeared in the December 11, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

They hope to maintain momentum in the hot contemporary market while adding exhibitors for areas including fast fashion, plus sizes and activewear.

“We noticed very steady growth in 2013 in the exhibitor base, as well as our buyers attending markets, and the feedback is that it is expected to continue into 2014,” said Lou Ann Thomas, director of marketing at AmericasMart in Atlanta. “Exhibitors tell us they are meeting and exceeding their goals weeks ahead of what they had done previously. They say retailers are buying deeper, coming earlier and staying longer. The trends seem positive.”

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AmericasMart is developing its offerings of plus sizes, swimwear, shapewear, sleepwear, activewear and children’s wear, as well as a juried show of fashion and accessories called Premiere Luxe, Thomas said.

“We feel plus sizes are integral to the market and we want to make sure our buyers know what’s available and how to sell to them,” she said.

A recent focus on emerging designers is also growing.

“It started out at 10 to 12 designers last August and this January we’ll have 25 to 26,” Thomas noted.

The wholesale trade center, which presents about 8,000 apparel and accessories resources, is also promoting a new “game day” category at the April and June shows featuring clothes in signature university colors.

“We want to make sure buyers understand we have every category and every price point at every market,” she added.

Similarly, the Dallas Market Center offers a wide range of merchandise and prices. It too has enjoyed steady growth in attendance this year from its core territory of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas, New Mexico and Missouri, according to Robbin Wells, executive vice president of leasing at the DMC.

“When you consider that consumer spending in the South continues to outperform the nation, it’s natural that retailers in our eight-state region feel the business and, in turn, increase open-to-buy,” Wells said.

She noted that consumer confidence in Texas grew 20 percent in the past year to a 90.2 percent rating, according to the state comptroller. In addition, consumer confidence in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas stood at 86.6 in October, up 2.9 percent over 12 months.

The DMC is also seeing action from farther afield: retailers visiting from the West grew 8 percent in 2013, she added.

Wells plans to continue developing footwear, accessories and young contemporary exhibits, which have grown rapidly in recent years, to complement core women’s offerings. The DMC presents thousands of women’s dress, sportswear and denim labels in contemporary, moderate, better and bridge categories, plus bridal, prom, children’s and men’s wear.

In March, the DMC will begin running its apparel markets from Wednesday to Saturday, with Sunday by appointment only. For many years, the shows have been scheduled Thursday to Sunday, though many of the multiline showrooms also welcomed buyers on Wednesday.

“We’ve tracked buyer registration by day over the last five years and it’s time to acknowledge Wednesday as a full market day but still accommodate the showrooms and retailers that need Sunday,” Wells said.

Fashion Industry Gallery in Dallas in May began running its show Wednesday to Friday, and it’s been well received, said Matt Roth, chief executive officer.

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“At our most recent market, our Wednesday traffic was greater than last October’s Thursday, so I thought that was a good sign,” he said. “It’s been an incredibly good year. We will be 100 percent leased on Jan. 1, and we’ve not been there in forever.”

The juried venue exhibits about 520 lines of contemporary fashion, denim, accessories and shoes. In October, it added 5,000 square feet to its temporary Shop show, which swelled to 20,000 square feet.

Susan McCullough, senior vice president of apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. in Chicago, said retail attendance ticked up a few points in 2013, and she’s hopeful holiday business picks up after a slow start to fall due to unseasonably warm weather.

“We feel pretty good about next year, but we’re so dependent on our retail partners having a good year, too,” she said.

MMPI’s Stylemax women’s show features 400 booths representing more than 2,000 resources. The company is streamlining registration so buyers can print badges from home or scan iPhones to enter. Stylemax is also creating new displays to illustrate trends and will present informal modeling during complimentary lunches instead of shows.

“People are bored with runway shows,” McCullough asserted. “We need to do a better job of reflecting trends in the displays and the visual portion of the show. That’s information the stores need.”

McCullough and Thomas are anticipating a healthy January market but for different reasons.