Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — More than a facelift, the new Atlanta Fashion Accessories & Fine Jewelry Center is attracting corporate showrooms and new product, including gift-oriented lines and estate jewelry.
The center, which opens this market, includes a complete renovation for floors 6, 7 and 8 of the mart, with design input from architect/developer John Portman, majority owner of mart’s parent company, AMC Inc.
Besides new carpeting, paint and redesigned showrooms, a new bridge will link the 7th floor with the adjacent Atlanta Gift Mart, also owned by AMC. The bridge is slated to open in January.
The move is an effort to expand product and cross-market with the booming gift industry.
Unlike apparel shows, which have suffered from attrition of specialty stores in recent years, gift markets have been healthy, drawing 40,000-plus buyers to major shows, with 3 to 5 percent increases per show. Thirty percent of gift market attendees are from areas outside the Southeast, and 20 percent of gift buyers also buy women’s apparel or accessories, according to AMC officials.
Accessories sales reps hope the new center will help them capitalize on increasing crossover buying between apparel and gift retailers.
“We’ve always carried ‘giftables,”‘ said Wendy Babchin, principal of Wendy Babchin & Associates, a multiline accessories rep. “Twenty percent of our business is with gift stores, and apparel people want to capture dual business as well. Everyone wants little, impulsive items that express their individuality or remind them of someone.”
After years in the temporary plaza, Babchin opened a new atrium showroom last year. Since then, business has doubled, she said. All of her seven lines carry gift items, such as frames, watches, clocks and perfumes.
Babchin said educating gift customers about fashion retail is a key part of her business. “Gift people often don’t understand fashion seasons, trends, or turnover,” she said. Babchin encourages gift and apparel retailers to focus on themes — such as animal, nautical or floral — that can tie gifts and accessories together.
Gifts are growing for accessories rep Tim Philbin, principal of Tim Philbin Accessories, which moved to a new showroom at the August market. In quadrupling his space to 1,609 square feet, Philbin added six lines, for a total of 16.
“Everyone is crossing over with gifts and accessories,” he said. “For 10 years, there’s been no strong clothing direction for accessories people to tie into, so apparel people have looked to gifts for multiple sales. Gift people buy more to fit the concept of their store, rather than following fashion trends.”
In addition to natural extensions of accessories, such as clocks and frames, Philbin has added glassware by Hobba Hobba Jobba, and Fanoos Art Glass, a hand-blown colored crystal collection.
Ellie Wolf, multiline accessories sales rep, believes marketing to apparel and gift retailers has made her gift lines top performers. In the past 10 years, her accounts have expanded to include hotel, airport, zoo and drugstore gift shops, as well as traditional specialty retailers.
“We have to teach gift people about cycles and how to merchandise scarves, etc., into gifts through unique packaging and displays,” she said. “And we have to teach apparel people how to keep replenishing gifts.”
The new accessories plaza has attracted a relatively untapped area — estate jewelry — to the mart. Atlanta-based 3 Graces Estate Jewelers Inc., with New York and Palm Beach locations, opened a 1,800-square-foot sixth floor showroom in August. The company, which carries 1,000 pieces of estate jewelry valued at around $2.5 million, coordinates antique and estate jewelry trunk shows for retailers, often tied in with charity benefits.
David Rieger, president, said his firm would be “the only estate jewelry company open daily in the mart.”
He expects business generated during apparel shows to be 50 percent of total sales.
“We came in because of the excitement about the accessories center,” said Rieger. “We think the renovation will bring new life to the mart.”
The Sak, a San Francisco-based handbag manufacturer, will open its first regional corporate showroom in Atlanta. Southeast business for the three-year-old firm increased 50 percent last year, according to Teri Rawson, marketing director.
“The [1,100-square-foot] showroom is a big investment for us,” she said. “But with the changes happening at the mart, combined with our growing sales in the region, we see tremendous potential there.”

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