NEW YORK — Unless SA wants to lose more ground in its fight to compete with regional marts, it needs to make it cheaper, safer and easier for out-of-town retailers to continue making buying trips here.

That’s the conclusion of a national survey of 150 apparel buyers from everywhere in the U.S. but the Northeast. The purpose of the survey was to better understand the changing pattern of their trips into the New York market. In the last couple of years, many retailers — including such large chains as Dillard Department Stores, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney Co. and Mercantile Stores — have curtailed or eliminated buying trips here.

SA manufacturers say this has forced them to make more trips to visit retailers at their headquarters and has generally hurt business for firms without regional representation. Manufacturers and some retailers also say that lack of contact between senior retail and manufacturing executives has hurt business relationships, with profitability and product selection ultimately suffering.

The report, “A Study of Women’s Apparel Buyers: Attitudes Toward Buying Trips to New York vs. Regional Markets,” was financed by the New York State Urban Development Corp., the Council for American Fashion, the City of New York and WWD.

Its two main objectives were to uncover reasons buyers do not attend New York market weeks more often and to determine why some of them attend fewer New York market weeks than before.

In addition, an effort was made to learn what can be done in general to increase buyer attendance at New York market weeks.

The study suggests the need for a marketing campaign focusing on three areas of particular concern to women’s apparel buyers: security, convenience and perceived complexity. The report’s key conclusions are:

  • Real and perceived security risks pose a disincentive for buyers to travel to New York. Building, personal and street security all ranked very high in the range of elements important to buyers, with 83 percent of buyers who shop exclusively in regional marts considering personal safety and security as a “very important” reason for deciding to shop outside of New York. However, since only 13 percent of those surveyed mentioned security as a main reason for not coming to New York, improving safety alone will not be effective in increasing buyer attendance, the report states.

  • Factors relating to the convenience of buying in New York relative to other locations were also significant, with 49 percent of those surveyed and 77 percent of those who buy only in regional marts reporting that, if offered, they would regard shuttle services to and from hotels and showrooms as “very important” features in choosing to buy in New York.
  • Centrally located buyers’ lounges were also cited as “potentially important,” but only by 20 percent of the total sample and 32 percent of regional-mart-only buyers.
  • Efforts to change buyers’ perceptions of New York as unwieldy and overly complex are important for drawing buyers. This means that when new services are offered, they must be easy to find out about and easily attained.

Other important factors uncovered by the study:

  • Buyers reported that the greater selection of merchandise and a wide range of top manufacturers are the greatest advantages to making buying trips to New York, and these advantages must be incorporated into the industry’s marketing strategies.
  • Access to key decision-makers is an important business-related factor affecting the choice of where to take buying trips. For large-volume buyers — those who work for stores that annually buy at least $6 million in apparel — 36 percent said they are particularly concerned with having access to the industry leaders responsible for important decision-making. These large volume buyers make up the great majority of those respondents who buy exclusively in New York.
  • For small volume retailers — those with stores buying less than $1 million a year — 66 percent said the cost of travel to a market is an especially significant factor in the decision of where to buy and by far the most cited disadvantage of New York compared to regional markets. Travel arrangements and discounts are a key factor in affecting a buyer’s choice to buy in regional markets.

Based on the results of the survey, several possible courses of action were identified. These include a garment district security network, an information hotline and on-line computerized directory, and services such as shuttle buses, buyers’ lounges, discount travel and hotel packages and a hospitality group to host buyers when they arrive and communicate with them when they are planning their trips. This could include the creation of fashion industry information kiosks at the airports.

The report suggests that efforts should be concentrated on attracting small-volume buyers, since they are most likely to go to regional markets and the most likely to be in a position to make their own decisions on where to buy.

The study also recommends that efforts be made to improve access to key decision-makers and that a high-profile outreach campaign be developed by industry and government leaders and aimed at large volume buyers. Personal appeals by industry and government leaders are also suggested. The report also noted that some of these areas, such as a district security network and information hotline, are in the plans of the new Fashion Center Business Improvement District. (See related story on this page.)

The survey also concluded that 49 percent of buyers said their trips to New York and to regional markets have remained the same for five years. However, 25 percent said they had decreased their buying trips to New York, while 13 percent have increased their trips. Conversely, 26 percent said they made more trips to regional markets, while 17 percent made fewer trips.

The survey was designed by Sportsguide Inc., a Princeton, N.J., market research firm, with field work conducted by Issues & Answers, Norfolk, Va., and was prepared for the Garment Industry Development Corp. and WWD.