CHICAGO – The Chicago Apparel Center’s new retail development program is running full steam ahead, with major stores including Sears, Roebuck & Co.; J.C. Penney Corp.; Dayton’s, Hudson’s & Marshall Field’s, and Carson Pirie Scott all taking advantage of the opportunity to shop locally.

The center’s various programs are designed to save buyers’ time and money and help them find new resources, said Dorothy Fuller, vice president of fhe apparel center.

In many cases, Fuller scours the showrooms looking for lines that fit the stores’ price points and style parameters. “Dorothy did a really good job of pre-editing so we didn’t waste a lot of time,” said John Freudenthal, Carson’s executive vice president, merchandise.

So successful is the program that Fuller’s responsibilities have been restructured to enable her to devote more time to it.

Some stores said shopping the Chicago market enables them to reduce the number of trips they make to New York. As reported in WWD, Seventh Avenue has recently come under fire for a perception that it is more costly and not as safe or easy to shop as the regional marts.

According to Fuller, initiatives developed recently by the Apparel Center include:

  • For J.C. Penney’s Midwest buyers, the center canvassed its resources for career dress lines and set up appointments with 13 showrooms. A similar day was scheduled in March to introduce Penney’s to resources targeting black and Hispanic customers.
  • For Sears, Roebuck & Co., the center is setting up appointments for Sears’ special sizes buyers to view appropriate resources.
  • For Mark Shale, the center arranged a “Show and Tell” day during which 12 different lines meeting certain style and price requirements were each given 15 minutes to show their line to the buyer.
  • For Carson Pirie Scott, the center set up a special day for its buyers to view the lines of Chicago-based and African-Americans designers.
  • For HSSI, the center set up two “vendor weeks” during which 11 vendors showed buyers their fall ’94 lines at the center.
  • For Nordstrom’s, the center set up an immediate goods day where it canvassed the center for lines available for immediate delivery, coming up with 208 resources.

  • For DH/Field’s, the center canvassed resources for key trends at given price poionts.
  • For buyers’ general use, the apparel center is producing a monthly Hot Items Ticker that lists the most reordered items in the building, a new line listing and a new building directory that lists resources by floor.

Arlene Tourville, senior buyer for bridge sportswear at Minneapolis-based DH/Field’s, said using the apparel center would enable her to cut back on trips to New York by about one-third. “We’ll always go to New York, but I hope to use Chicago for secondary trips,” she said, adding that about 85 percent of her secondary resources in New York are also available in Chicago.

Tourville, who visited the center for the first time at the spring market in November, said the compactness of the apparel center made it very easy to get an overview of key trends.

Furthermore, Chicago’s proximity to DH/Field’s stores meant vendors here could run selling seminars at the stores. But she noted that Chicago was too far removed from vendors’ principals for serious negotiations, for example on floor space.

For Chicago-based HSSI, the ability to use the apparel center to see vendors, regardless of whether they are represented here, enabled the specialty retailer to switch its buying focus from New York to Chicago, said Nancy Sauer, vice president/general merchandise manager of women’s wear. “It’s like one-stop shopping,” she said, although a trip to New York would still be needed to “tie up loose ends.”

According to Carson’s Freudenthal, shopping the Chicago apparel center doesn’t just save time, and therefore money, but gives buyers an opportunity to meet with lesser-known vendors and be closer to the pulse of their business. “Half of our business is done here and we need to pay close attention to what goes on in Chicago,” Freudenthal said.

His views were echoed by Scott Baskin, president of Mark Shale. “[The apparel center] took out a lot of the legwork for us,” he said.

Reps, while recognizing that Chicago will always be an adjunct to New York, also welcome Fuller’s drive to attract more department and specialty-store buyers. Marshall Stewart, who runs the SME showoroom, said he thought the programs had a very positive impact, bringing in more better and bridge buyers into his showroom, which focuses on those price points.

Beverly Simon, a partner in the Karin Berger showroom, said that while her showroom has always had a buying relationship with DH/Field’s, under the apparel center’s programs she has met more key buyers form MInneapolis as well as the local stores. “In the future they will think of Chicago rather than New York and California,” she said.

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