LAS VEGAS — Big store networking and specialty store buying energized the first WWD/MAGIC International women’s market here last week.
The four-day event, which ended Friday at the Las Vegas Hilton Convention Center, paid off for many who came to solidify existing accounts as well as sign up new business.
Manufacturers and retail executives said the show — positioned next to the powerful MAGIC men’s wear market at the Las Vegas Convention Center — has solid growth potential.
While large vendors used the show to strengthen relationships with key retailers, executives at some larger department stores, often criticized for homogeneous offerings, said they’re on the prowl for newness.
Young designers used the show to increase their exposure to the heavy hitters as well as specialty stores. In fact, at last week’s show, the specialty store was a much sought-after customer in the wake of retail mega-mergers.
Big stores that sent women’s buyers included J.C. Penney, Target, Caldor, Kmart, Wal-Mart, Dayton Hudson, Mercantile and Barneys New York. A few top executives in town for men’s MAGIC checked out the new women’s show as well.
Macy’s West/Bullock’s chairman Michael Steinberg said he planned to send his women’s buyers to the next WWD/MAGIC edition in August because of the action he saw at last week’s premiere.
Steinberg got his first glance at the women’s show while attending the men’s MAGIC and a coinciding Western Shoe Associates event. Combining the three categories has made the trade shows here important for retailers, Steinberg said. He suggested staggering the dates by a few days to give general merchandise managers ample time to see all categories.
“There’s so much jammed together, it’s becoming harder and harder to cover this,” Steinberg said. “It’s virtually impossible for the gmm to get around to everything.”
Aurelie Cavallaro, divisional merchandise manager for Mercantile Stores, kept her eyes peeled for new vendors of knit tops at up to $30 wholesale. She also took time to meet with longtime resources, including Jantzen, Lucia and Cricket Lane.
“The women’s show is a good idea because you get to see everything,” she said. “It might help some out if the women’s show dates were staggered, but I don’t think that would pull in as many people.”
David Dyer, chief operating officer of Home Shopping Network Inc., and Brian Kaminer, the network’s senior vice president of product integrity, shopped the show for knitwear with surface interest and tailoring details, including contrast stitching. The two said they were impressed by the selection on hand.
“The collection of vendors is great,” Dyer said. “The show is well edited. There is not a lot of duplication.”
Kaminer said that while the addition of the women’s show makes the MAGIC experience longer for those carrying both categories, he enjoyed the convenience of one-stop shopping.
“My only suggestion is: Let’s move the shoe show (WSA) here,” Kaminer said. “It would help retailers coordinate their looks.”
Al Zindel, executive vice president of Woolrich, said he was surprised at the market’s activity because he had low expectations for a debut show. Woolrich met with some majors as well as specialty store prospects. Zindel noted that attendance jumped the second day as retailers came over to the show after shopping men’s MAGIC.
Although much of the market talk centered around large retailers, some said the show marked a renewed interest in specialty stores.
Abbey Doneger, president of The Doneger Group, said specialty stores are bouncing back as they give up the fight of merchandising to price, which Doneger refers to as”the lowest common denominator.”
“Specialty stores can be successful if they are aggressive, if they understand their customer and if they market their product and develop a niche,” Doneger said.
In fact, executives at Cotton Incorporated cashed in on this heightened interest in specialty stores by launching 12 booths featuring more forward designers who appealed to smaller specialty stores. Ira Livingston, vice president of Cotton Inc., said that powerful specialty stores visited his firm’s “designer alley,” which included Byron Lars, Robin Piccone and Todd Oldham.
“Having been to many, many shows, this has started out of the gate running,” Livingston said about the market. “It’s a networking thing for everybody, the first show, but it has a lot of potential.”
Young designers were pleased with their exposure to smaller specialty stores as well as the majors. Richard Battaglia, vice president of sales of Piccone Apparel, which produces the Robin Piccone label, said where the specialty stores go, the majors will soon follow.
“Specialty stores move the customers, and the majors watch specialty stores for fashion direction,” Battaglia said. “I got paper from 12 new stores.”
The bullish outlook for specialty stores tempered what many at the market considered the majors’ growing reliance on price. In fact, key executives at Sears, J.C. Penney, Belk Stores and Macy’s West said during a roundtable discussion that intense competition in 1995 would fuel an even greater emphasis on price.
“There will be a squeeze on merchandise margins as people try to get more market share,” said Robert Wildrick, executive vice president of merchandising and sales promotion at Belk Stores. “We have lowered expenses, and we have to lower them some more.”
Macy’s Steinberg said average prices of clothing is going down because the store is selling less at regular price. He added that private label merchandise is a real challenge to branded manufacturers because retailers now know how to properly manufacture apparel.
“We offer the customer better value,” Steinberg said. “It starts out 30 to 40 percent less than branded merchandise. The customer likes to buy a good quality flannel shirt at $30.”
Jack Guze, group vice president at Sears, said intense competition has made the department stores trade down while the discounters trade up. “The inertia is driving everyone to a certain point,” he said.
Michael Gae, sales representative for Kenar, said, “This show has been excellent from an international aspect. I met with multiple store operations from Lebanon, Israel, Italy, Japan and Mexico. And 95 percent of those I saw here left paper.”
Jeff Belluck, sales representative for Joseph Ribkoff, saw specialty chain traffic at his booth, including buyers from Marshall Rousso here, Houston-based Accente and Dallas-based Colberts. Roughly 85 percent of his appointments inked orders, he said.
Norton and Gloria Aronson, co-owners of Posh, a three-unit specialty store in the Boston area, were one example of what kept the show buzzing. Because their boutiques feature very diverse merchandise, they ended up writing business with approximately 50 resources.
At the GIII Apparel Group Ltd. booth, featuring women’s outerwear and leather wear labels, traffic was so hectic the sales representatives enlisted the help of models to show the line to some accounts. “None of us can feel our feet anymore,” said Jeanette Nostra, executive vice president of GIII. “When you have to change your shoes every hour, and you can’t feel your feet, you know it’s a good show.”
Rampage Clothing ceo Larry Hansel and retail president Rosanne Lewis came in search of contemporary merchandise at up to $200 wholesale for the 46-store chain based in Los Angeles.
“This is a great idea because so much unisex business is going on,” Hansel said, adding that although his operation caters exclusively to women, he was also shopping MAGIC for young men’s merchandise that would appeal to young women.
With same-store sales up 20 percent from a year ago and plans for five new stores to open in the next four months, Lewis said she planned to leave paper for early fall goods.
Todd Marshall, president and ceo of Marshall Rousso, a 14-store apparel chain here, was bullish on the show.
“I have two women’s buyers here, and I give them a tremendous amount of freedom to place the dollars where they feel is important,” he said. “The show is a great idea because so many stores shopping MAGIC sell to both men and women. We do. Buyers might have to stay longer, but this setup allows them the economy of seeing more.”
Another 14-store operation, Bebe Sport, based in Honolulu, sent four buyers to cover the show. They were excited by patent leather offerings from several young companies.
“We’re finding it here instead of Europe, so there are no customs problems,” said buyer Gayle Onaga.
“There’s too much here,” said owner Darcy Cook. “We are overwhelmed. We need walkie-talkies to communicate with each other.”
Some large vendors were disappointed that not all major retailers were represented at the first-time show. This lessened the networking that the bigger vendors had hoped for and led to some suggestions for improving future shows.
Ideas included a more aggressive marketing campaign to attract heavy hitters. And luring additional major vendors would also provide a more balanced mix of big and small, some observed.
Still, at the close of business Friday afternoon, many show participants were already making plans for the next show in August. Some predicted the women’s show will follow the evolution of men’s MAGIC, which at 5,000 booths is the definitive marketplace for men’s.
Officials at WWD/MAGIC plan to expand last week’s 881-booth show to about 1,400 this summer.
Lawrence Pugh, chairman and ceo of VF Corp., summed it up: “Considering all that is involved in the development of a successful show, I’d have to say this first-time effort indicates, long term, that showing women’s wear as a part of MAGIC will be important for the industry.”