Whether the recent slowdown in specialty store business is weather-related or pre-election apprehension remains a topic of debate, but attendees at this week’s FAME and Moda trade shows were trying to accommodate stores as best they could.
Assuring retailers that they would be the only store in their areas for exclusive items was one of the tools vendors used. Others ramped up immediate orders, as best they could. But the empty aisles Wednesday morning left many show resources chatting among themselves. The convenience of online access and the $300 price tag that comes with a night in a New York City hotel kept some buyers away. Freeloaders, Dressori, Jenn, THML, Gretchen Scott and Tulip were among the booths welcoming retailers.
Cupcake International’s rep Adrienne Anderson said that many retailers are the show said they were waiting to place orders. “I”m not sure what they’re waiting for. Things are getting to the point where we will have to carry inventory again.” she said.
In fact, the upswing in buy-now retailers has been so strong that Anderson said she sold more immediate delivery goods at the show than fall items. Buyers are also placing smaller orders, so much so that she refers to them as “orderettes.” Stores are so oversorted that they aren’t taking a stand about trends, Anderson added. Her coworker Holly Trapani said, “They agonize about every single order, wondering, ‘Well, the doctor’s wife will buy this one and…’”
Further complicating the challenges at retail is the fact that many working women no longer need career wardrobes. “The workforce is so scattered now. A lot of people freelance or they may work two part-time jobs. They don’t have the time to shop like they used to put together a career wardrobe.” Anderson said. “We’re also becoming more European in the way that we dress in that we wear the same things year-round with a different weight scarf depending on the time of year. Our business is changing. If we don’t get it together and get ahead of things, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Shopping at Cupcake, Gloria Perry, buyer for Liberty House on the Upper West Side, said business has been “up and down,” due partially to the weather. “As soon as the sun comes out everyone wants to shop for new clothes,” she said. “We encourage people to try things on and really pay attention to them. A lot of our older women like to come in just to talk. Unfortunately, stores like ours don’t really exist anymore.”
With ties to the Civil Rights movement, Liberty House has been in business for more than 40 years and is known to be an environmentally and socially conscious company. “My goal is always casual and comfortable,” said Perry, noting that Citron is another label she orders from.
In search of spring, summer and fall items for her Frippery boutique in Long Beach, N.Y., Judy Storm said winters sales were “abysmal.” With summer, which is typically the store’s busiest season, about to start, she is hopeful to make up for the slower months. Mother’s Day also tends to help drive traffic, she said. But Long Beach is still recovering economically from Hurricane Sandy, Storm said. At Moda and Fame, she was looking for accessories from Jan Michaels and Top Shelf, and tops and fall sweaters from new resources.
Having created a loyal following of mother-daughter shoppers in the 11 years since she opened Weezie D in Bronxville, N.Y., Louisa McTurner (who was on the hunt with her own mother at Moda) was focused on trendier items. Ark & Co. and Gracia were two of the vendors she checked out for buy-now dresses and tops. Social events are near-constant for many local shoppers, and this graduation season should be no different in helping sales, McTurner said. Offering affordable options also has made for healthy sales in this affluent town where young mothers especially appreciate when they can find apparel at Weezie D, which saves them a trip to Manhattan to shop.
Sweaters were also high on the list for Natalie Caricato, owner of the traveling store 12th Floor Clothing. Based in Surf City, N.J. She often hosts shopping events near Main Line, Penn.; Long Island, N.Y., and northern New Jersey in private homes and other venues for 15 to 35 people. An avid cook, Caricato also brings three appetizers, such as roasted cauliflower and curried hummus to encourage shoppers to linger. On average, she sells 100 units and items retailing from $30 to $70 — the right range with younger shoppers, who are more being more careful about spending at the moment.
Planning to open a store called Urban Entourage in Caracas, Venezuela in September, Patricia Malla was buying handbags, accessories and one-size-fits-all type items like kimonos that would reduce the need for returns at the Javits Center. She plans to open a store in September.
Hand-embroidered dresses and layered necklaces were the most sought-after items at Mata Traders, a nearly 10-year-old label. Designed in Chicago, the collection is made by women cooperatives in India and Nepal. With dresses wholesaling from $28 to $42, and skirts in the $25 to $30 range, the price is also a selling point with stores. Jonit Bookheim said, “The idea of finding a story behind the clothes makes people feel good about their purchases. It’s also fair trade and made of organic cotton. Shoppers like knowing the money they are spending has a positive impact on women’s lives and it’s not going to some profit-driven corporation. Obviously, we are a profit-driven company but we have a social mission. This is not about driving labor costs down. We’re making sure that people are paid fair wages.”
Unlike some of his retailers who blame the downturn in sales on voters’ apprehension about the presidential election, Samuel Dong, who was showing his signature collection, said climate change was more of a factor. Aside from show traffic being slower than last May, a complaint that other resources spoke of as well, Dong said stores were placing smaller orders too for fall coats and dresses. With wholesale prices ranging mostly from $59 to $199, the designer’s most innovative item is a belted coat imprinted with a design of the New York skyline in a thunderstorm.