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Midwest Retailers Buoyed by Holiday Sales

At the Stylemax market, which ran Jan. 28 to 30 in Chicago, retailers generally shopped with less restraint.

CHICAGO — Buoyed by improved holiday sales, Midwest retailers generally shopped Chicago’s Stylemax market with less restraint.

Cindy Fields, owner of Cindy Fields Designs, a specialty store and art gallery in suburban Naperville, Ill., said her holiday sales were up 10 to 15 percent and January business was ahead 75 percent from last year.

Fields attributed some of the boost to her marketing of the store’s popular jewelry line Trollbeads. Fields said she alerted customers that some beads would be discontinued and others would be increasing in price. “It was incredible,” she said of customer response.

At the Stylemax market, which ran Jan. 28 to 30 at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, Fields delved heavier into Firefly, buying colorful crystal jewelry for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. The retailer said the price point works well for her customers, who are mostly 30 to 50 years old. The earrings she ordered average $40 to $50 and necklaces run $180.

“Customers are still being cautious,” she said, adding that she test marketed higher-end pieces last summer that didn’t fare well.

To add some color to her space, which is half artwork and half clothing and accessories, Fields ordered tunics, sweaters and crocheted vests in cobalt blue, orange and lime from Fantazia and canvas and fabric handbags from Maruca Design.

Color also played a key role in Carol Keller’s buy for her 1,800-square-foot women’s specialty store called Sassy Sisters in Princeton, Ill., which opened last August.

The retailer picked up tanks and gauzy tops in aqua, coral and beige from M. Rena and loose knit sweaters from LA Blend. She also punched up her order with lots of tangerine, coral, teal and grays, specifically poncho-style and light sweaters from Kerisma.

“We’re still trying to find our clientele,” said Keller, who searched the market for classy, chic, casual and modest clothing for her customers, who are mostly 30 years old and above.

To reach new audiences, Keller has done scarf seminars and plans to conduct style shows at nearby schools and churches. Holiday sales were “excellent,” she said, noting that the store regularly sold out of some jewelry and scarves.

Sales for Valerie Chittick, owner of Domby, a specialty store in Iowa City, have been up, as well.

“It’s been a really good year,” she said, although she did not want to reveal the percentage of increase.

Chittick said hosting a Chan Lu trunk show helped spur holiday business. At Stylemax, she picked up more from the line, ordering leather wrap bracelets from Chan Lu, as well as novelty and tissue T-shirts from Three Dots and flowing print tops from Waverly Grey.

Because of the warmer-than-usual winter, sales of heavier sweaters are down, she said. But Chittick expects color to be a key driver for spring, noting that the colored denim trend seems to have taken hold.

Ellen Braude, a sales executive for Velvet, found traffic “steady” at Stylemax, adding she had about 10 to 12 appointments each on Saturday and Sunday, the first two days of the market. Buyers were attracted to a cotton eyelet blouse and a white lace blouse with a dip-dyed tan bottom. Brightly colored solid tops in yellow, green and red also were popular with specialty stores from Wisconsin and Michigan resort towns.

Market organizers said that January’s Stylemax enjoyed double-digit increases in attendance.

“January is usually not the most important market,” said Susan McCullough, senior vice president for apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties, which produces the show. But she called response to the show “phenomenal,” adding, “It’s dependent on how holiday (sales) went. You never know what’s going to happen.”