Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — As in a Broadway casting call, about 170 apparel vendors auditioned for orders at Federated Merchandising on Wednesday and Thursday, wheeling their racks of merchandise into the retailer’s offices at 1440 Broadway and leaving in a cloud of hope.
The Federated fair — which began Monday and concludes today — is geared to finding new vendors with different styles, and while it had the same air of expectancy as a mass audition, it was far more organized, with scheduled appointments.
After presenting their lines, vendors answered lots of questions about margins, style alterations, prices and deliveries. Then they left to await the word on orders or second appointments, which should come within four weeks, according to Federated.
The fair was welcomed by manufacturers, some of whom said they have found Federated’s bureaucracy daunting. “It’s like a blind date,” said Joel Kessler, sales manager of Turning Point, a two-year-old sportswear manufacturer. “I came to show my line, hoping it would speak for itself. I’m very happy with the interview.”
After the fair on Wednesday, Janice Kaplan, senior vice president of Federated Merchandising, said she was happy about what she and her staff saw.
“Some of the smaller people try to be more innovative than some of the traditional vendors,” Kaplan said. “We saw quite a few exciting things. There’s no question in my mind that orders will be written. I wouldn’t be surprised if as many as 10 or 12 vendors end up doing business with us just from today. “We saw vendors who were covering trends,” Kaplan added. “For example, shine. There were people who had satin shirts. We also saw a lot of people who were responding to shape. This element of the market was really right-on with things we were hoping to see, not to say that our traditional retail structure isn’t covering these trends.”
According to Kessler, Turning Point tried selling to Federated before, but the clothing was not in the casual separates category then. Turning Point specializes in sueded rayon tops and bottoms in junior, misses’ and large sizes, priced from $8 to $15 at wholesale. The firm expects to do about $15 million in sales this year. “There’s a lot of texture and interest in the line,” said Ann O’Rear, Federated’s merchandise manager for casual separates. “The price points are competitive.”
In another conference room, Jeff Sherman, a partner in Herman Geist-Sage, a moderately priced sportswear company, gave buyers a presentation and explained the company’s willingness to be flexible on margins.
“We understand about gross margin expectations,” Sherman said. “What I prefer to do is get into a rhythm of working with the stores on where the business should be. We know we have to be successful.”
“That is key,” one Federated merchant told Sherman. She added that with new suppliers, Federated seeks margin flexibility. “We have to give a fair value to the consumer. We have an intelligent consumer.”
“In today’s climate we have to work on a monthly basis,” she added, referring to sales. “We can’t wait until the end of the season to find out if the line works for us.”
Sherman said Herman Geist-Sage sold to almost every Federated store until four years ago.
“It was a different product then,” he said. “It was more traditional and priced in the better price area. We moved to the upper-moderate zone. We are a touch more contemporary.”
Herman Geist-Sage does about $50 million annually. The collection shown to Federated included loden wool jackets and jumpers, long velvet skirts and blouses in a delicate metallic print fabric, priced between $14 and $50 at wholesale.
Todd Schroeder, vice president of Adamo, a $4 million moderate sportswear firm, said, “The bottom line was they didn’t know who I was. This gave me an opportunity to show them what I am capable of. I walked away very optimistic. The next step is to wait for them, to see what happens. They took a page and a half of notes. At least they know who I am now. It was an opportunity to at least get in the door.”