CHICAGO — Buyers can now order gifts and accessories for their stores at the same time they order clothes here.
In a move designed to encourage creative retailing, the Chicago Apparel Center has timed the Chicago gifts and accessories market to coincide with the women’s and children’s market.
The change took effect in January 1996, with the completion of the Pavilion Suites, a 600-booth hall on the 11th floor of the Apparel Center. Representatives of women’s and children’s clothing lines will be able to occupy the new space at the same time representatives of gift and accessories lines do business in the Merchandise Mart next door. Previously, the women’s and children’s market took place within a few weeks of the gifts and accessories market.
The change was engineered by Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., managers of the Chicago Apparel Center.
“Retailers are looking for ways to distinguish themselves and outmerchandise the discounters,” said Christopher G. Kennedy, executive vice president, Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. “Thirty thousand buyers attend our gift market. Ten percent represent stores which carry apparel; 20 percent carry fashion accessories. These retailers don’t want to have to come to Chicago twice to merchandise their stores.”
Apparel retailers new to gift merchandising should think of it as an extension of store displays, said Jack Risley, owner of Risley Commercial Design Services, a Colorado Springs-based design consultancy. “Years ago, we called them display props,” said Risley. “I say put a price tag on it. No longer can we afford to buy props and have them sit there taking up space.”
The trend has caught on among the chains. The Gap, Risley noted, now carries soaps, candles and scents, and The Limited sells small picture frames along with its accessories.
At Art Effect, a Chicago specialty store in Lincoln Park, owner Esther Fishman has been cross-merchandising for nine years. The 12-year-old store sold strictly apparel when it opened, but when Fishman expanded into a neighboring storefront, she brought in gifts and home accessories. The merchandise mix in her store includes everything from pewter bowls to opera glasses, with roughly 40 percent apparel, 20 percent jewelry and accessories and 40 percent gifts and home accessories.
“What’s nice about cross-merchandising is you don’t have a downtime,” said Fishman. “When clothing is slow, like around Christmas, we do a big gift business. In summer there are a lot of weddings, so we sell a lot of gifts then, too.”
“You see how it works in a large department store,” said Susan Glick, fashion director for the Apparel Center who, with Risley, hosted a seminar on cross-merchandising in January about matching gift ideas with apparel trends. “There’s no reason it can’t work in a specialty store…It’s a way to expand your volume.” “Some [gift] trends parallel fashion exactly,” said Risley, who advocates unifying the feel of both apparel and gifts. For example, he suggests selling romantic dresses at the same time as scented candles.
Here, their suggestions for other viable gifts and the clothing that would best accompany them:
* Natural, organic gifts such as dried foliage and twig furniture, sold alongside clothing in natural colors and textural fabrics, such as Maria Rodriguez knitwear and Crystal Handwovens jackets.
* Indonesian-look items such as animal-shaped tables and ethnic print frames, sold beside batik sarong skirts and crop tops from Platinum by Dorothy Schoelen.
* Gardening related gifts — such as topiaries, ceramic bowls, watering cans and decoratively printed rakes, sold at the same time as floral print clothing. Glick suggested chosing a consistent theme, such as the sophisticated English garden, the wild French garden or folksy country garden, for both gifts and clothing. For the sophisticated English garden theme, for example, she suggested selling Tina Hagen’s lime-green chemise and jacket sets, but recommended Lilly Pulitzer’s floral shifts for the wild French garden motif, and Esse Escapes’ vegetable-print jackets for a country feel.
How to introduce gifts into a store? “The hardest part is [determining] what is right for your store,” said Risley. “Take extra time to evaluate trends and styles. [Ask], ‘Does it look good in my store? Is it right for my customer? Would she buy it elsewhere?’ Then it’s a wonderful impulse item.”
“Identify the major trends you are putting into your buy and with those in mind walk into the gift market,” advised Glick.
Risley advised allotting $500 to the initial gift buy. It’s important, he said, to look for a line with variety — a candle/frame/ soap bundle for example — and stylish packaging. He suggests choosing items that retail for $5 to $15. Pricing goods at $20 and under “keeps it in that impulse area.”
To display gifts, he recommends placing an armoire or two armoires back-to-back in the center of a store, with shelves to accommodate gifts and break up the clothing racks. A covered table with an arrangement of gifts or a mannequin holding them was another option.

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