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Stylemax Buyers Get Social

Retailers take to Facebook marketing and buy social occasion dresses.

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CHICAGO — Hoping they’ll “Like” fall sales, many Midwest retailers looked to fill in the gaps at Chicago’s Stylemax market this month, noting that recent social media efforts have helped drive business.

Kim Dixon, owner of The Wardrobe, a specialty store in Springfield, Ill., said six customers came into the store after seeing a “buy-one, get-one-free sale” Dixon posted on Facebook only two hours earlier.

“We’re getting a better response on Facebook than with e-mail,” said Dixon, who usually sends a weekly e-mail blast to about 1,000 customers.

Melissa Sprecher, an owner of Dreams Bridal Boutique in Richland Center, Wisc., also found Facebook to be an effective marketing tool to spread the word about her store that opened in July.

“It’s been awesome,” Sprecher said. “It really got our name out there.”

She noted that some clients who learned of the store online came from cities two to three hours away. In turn, business in the store’s first month exceeded expectations.

Both retailers came to shop Stylemax, the area’s largest women’s apparel market, held Aug. 6 to 8 on the 7th floor of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. The trade show, which featured holiday, resort and early spring merchandise, also housed a children’s market called Kidz at Stylemax and the National Prom Market Chicago.

Sprecher came to scout prom dresses for the store, which sells bridal gowns, tuxedoes, mother-of-the-bride and special occasion dresses. The 5,000-square-foot shop, located between Madison and La Crosse, caters to a variety of shoppers from those looking to spend $200 on a wedding dress to those spending $2,000.

 

The store also carries plus-size merchandise, with dresses ranging from size 2 to size 28.

Although Sprecher said the economy did weigh on the owners’ minds before opening the shop, which stocks bridal lines including Justin Alexander, Casablanca and Mon Cheri, they wanted to enter the market first.

“In five years, will it be any better?” asked owner Stephanie Perkins about the economy. “It’s only a matter of time before someone would do it.”

Overall, the mood at the August Stylemax seemed positive among retailers who continued to exercise caution with their orders. At the same time, Susan McCullough, senior vice president for apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., reported a double-digit increase in market attendance, although she would not release exact figures.

“Everyone’s really hopeful that we’ll have a good fall,” she said.

That sentiment, however, did not equate to stronger sales for Mindy Kobusch, owner of Koastal Konnection., who said, “It is a disappointing market. Normally, I’m jammed.”

Kobusch, who sells the lines Mystree and XCVI among others, said she was busier last year.

Dixon of The Wardrobe, said she shopped Stylemax mostly for basics and established lines.

“We wish we could see more newness here,” said Dixon and buyer Lisa Hills.

The 40-year-old specialty store caters to three to four generations of shoppers carrying Eileen Fisher, Desiqual and Babette, along with Prana and Patagonia sportswear, Liquid Metal jewelry and Cole Haan shoes.

“(Customers) are willing to pay the money if it’s unique and they see the value,” she said. “If it’s trendy, they’re looking for price point.”

Dixon predicts the more tailored Kate Middleton-influenced look will boost business at the store, where 80 percent of merchandise is more traditional and 20 percent is trendy.

“We’re very optimistic about fall,” she said, noting that the spring’s larger asymmetric tops and leggings didn’t play well in Springfield.

Holly McGory, owner of Sawmill Creek Shops in Huron, Ohio, said she shopped Stylemax for fill-in products such as Spanx, jewelry and Not Your Daughter’s Jeans.

Although 2010 represented the 10,000-square-foot store’s best year in 18 years, McGory is concerned about 2011. Sales in 2010 were spurred by a charm bracelet trend in which customers sometimes spent $1,000 on $50 to $60 charms from Brighton Collectibles and other lines.

“They’re everywhere now,” McGory said of the bracelets. “Nothing lasts forever.”

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