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The major regional trade marts — Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago — are stepping up their focus on key areas such as contemporary and social occasion, and strengthening social media and buyer outreach in the second half.
In Los Angeles, trade show organizers said with the economy steadying, they are spreading into additional categories, introducing new show concepts and experimenting with efforts to engage retailers and brands.
“I definitely am feeling an optimistic vibe from the retail community,” said Aaron Levant, founder and president of the trade show Agenda. “I see people investing, taking more chances, opening more stores. I don’t think everyone is out of the woods yet, but the people who are differentiating themselves have done well, and there is an opportunity to do even better.”
He predicted Agenda’s Long Beach show on July 25 and 26 will register an increase of 25 percent in the number of attendees checking out its 600-plus brands. To broaden its reach, Agenda is adding a dedicated women’s component at its Long Beach edition.
Under Vanessa Chiu, brought in this year as director of women’s sales and marketing, Agenda is adding about 50 women’s brands and 75 to 100 that have dual-gender collections. The women’s, along with men’s contemporary and lifestyle brands, will be housed in a section at Agenda called The Woods, which features raw wood booths and brands with loftier price points. The show is also introducing Agenda Emerge, a conference with creative directors, industry leaders and entrepreneurs on July 26.
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The California Market Center is doing its share of expanding, as well. The downtown Los Angeles complex, which contains apparel, accessories and gift showrooms, and puts on five fashion markets a year, is extending its fashion markets by one day by starting them officially on Sunday. They will go from Sunday, a day that previously had limited preview sessions, to Thursday.
“Since we have been doing the Sunday preview, which has been going on a couple of years now, a lot of our showrooms have seen great traffic, and some retailers would rather shop on Sundays than during the week, and we are being more accommodating,” said Alyson Bender, who handles public relations, social media and marketing for the CMC.
The CMC is also launching a men’s show later this year or early next. The CMC has an existing strong collection of men’s brands found on its fourth floor.
AmericasMart in Atlanta is developing bridal, prom and young contemporary, while the Chicago Merchandise Mart focuses on men’s contemporary and misses’ modern wear and the Dallas Market Center cultivates young contemporary.
All of the venues, including Fashion Industry Gallery in Dallas, are ramping up social media to promote themselves.
“We’re feeling great about the second half of the year,” said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer at the Dallas Market Center. “From an attendance perspective it’s been very strong — 20 percent are new customers — and in leasing we’re seeing some real strength.”
The DMC attracts stores primarily from Texas and neighboring states, but has seen increased buyer traffic from places such as Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean, Morris noted. The contemporary area of FashionCenterDallas is almost full with about 400 lines. Young contemporary is another fast-growing category, swelling to about 100 companies exhibiting in booths on the 12th floor. This year, the DMC also added a new temporary area of contemporary resources to its twice yearly men’s show.
The DMC counts nearly 19,000 followers between Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, noted Meredith Hite, vice president of corporate communications. “We’ll be spending more time on Pinterest,” Hite said. “It’s important to be able to show the lines within our building.”
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AmericasMart this year wired its complex for mobile phone service, added marketing staff for social media and is redesigning its Web site, said Lori Kisner, senior vice president of apparel leasing.
“This past April was the largest show we’ve ever had in the history of selling temporary exhibit space, so we are definitely seeing a return of vendors,” Kisner said. “We’re also getting inquiries from new buyers, who are setting up stores.”
So many new boutiques have popped up in Florida that the mart is dispatching a team in late June to court them, she said.
Growth has come this year from new booth show Luxe featuring brands like Jordan Louis, while corporate leases including Mavi Jeans and Sorelli jewelry have been signed, and new showrooms and lines have been added such as Seven Threads, Lori Veith Sales and Milk + Honey. Business is also thriving in social occasion dressing, especially prom, which extended onto a second floor last August, Kisner noted. AmericasMart plans to spotlight a juried group of emerging designers in August and introduce a niche booth show for bridal accessories and jewelry at its second annual bridal show in September.
In Chicago, the number of contemporary exhibitors has jumped by about 20 percent this year, filling half of the Stylemax women’s show and half of Chicago Collective men’s wear, said Susan McCullough, senior vice president of apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc.
“That’s where we are looking to have growth and that’s where we see movement,” McCullough said.
About 250 women’s contemporary labels are expected to show in August and 300 in October, according to Monique Lyle, marketing director.