Byline: David Moin, with contributions from Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — For about 500 vendors, particularly smaller ones struggling to grow but overlooked by department stores, it’s show time.
It’s not happening in the tents at Bryant Park, but in the offices of Federated Merchandising, 1440 Broadway, where the retailer’s first vendor fair begins today and runs through Friday.
For those suppliers lucky enough to get an appointment, it’s a foot in the door — a rare opportunity to pitch new products and establish contacts in Federated’s management tiers. Vendors participating said they are hopeful that Federated’s corporate buyers and merchandisers pick at least a few items from their fall lines and test them in a handful of doors. If the test goes well, then they are really in business.
“It’s a fabulous idea. A company my size may never have a chance, otherwise,” said Todd Schroeder, vice president for Adamo, a $4 million moderate-priced firm specializing in domestically made blouses, knits and related separates.
“You can bang away all day on the phones, but buyers and divisional merchandise managers are extremely busy,” Schroeder said. “Sometimes the connections just aren’t made.” He sells Nordstrom, Mercantile and U.S. Shoe.
“It’s about time they really open their eyes and look at new people,” said Annie Neeley, account executive for Sands Studio, a moderate, updated line which bowed this spring and is a division of the $40 million Lasting Impressions. “Stores get focused on their main players, but this is great. I think it’s a real effort on their part,” Neeley said.
“An order from Federated would definitely mean significant business for us,” said Michele Sherry-Mosca, a sales executive at Wayne Rogers, a better sportswear firm known for silk and spandex ribbed sweaters, priced at $100 to $130.
“We sell to Bloomingdale’s, and we have sold to Macy’s,” she added. “When we approached Federated in the past, they didn’t really understand the product, but now that it’s selling in [Bloomingdale’s], they’re willing to give it more of a look-see.” “We tried selling to Federated before,” said Roberta Winley, sales manager at Nancy Crystal, a misses’ career line that specializes in silk and moss crepe fabrics. “The doors were locked.”
She added, “In terms of pricing, they need to look for vendors that will give them higher margins. They can use our line as a margin builder.”
For Federated, the fair is an opportunity to prove what it’s been telling Seventh Avenue for months: that although its merchandising is becoming more centralized and some suppliers have been weeded out, it’s not tied to a rigid matrix system and there’s room for new resources.
It’s also an opportunity to fill some merchandising voids.
“Here is the Catch 22,” said Howard Sheer, owner and president of New Frontier, who will be at the fair. “To get floor space in a department store, you need to be a collection, but what sells best are items. Department stores don’t know how to merchandise items. We have evolved into a collection of items.”
Federated announced the fair Feb. 21 and said it was strictly for vendors that were not currently selling its divisions, with the exception of Bloomingdale’s. Federated’s instructions were to fill out and fax coupons, which were published in WWD, to Federated’s offices for an appointment.
“I was by the fax machine for a good three hours trying to get it through to Federated. Their machines were so busy,” said Schroeder, who finally got a fax through and is scheduled to meet with Federated merchants Thursday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. His was one of over 2,900 faxes inundating Federated. Some firms faxed over and over again, adding to the pileup, thinking their chances of getting an appointment would increase.
Some even made phones calls, although Federated said not to. Federated officials said appointments were granted only if they received a fax, and on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The 2,400 firms who were turned away from the fair may have another chance. The information on their faxes has been stored in Federated’s database. They will likely be considered for Federated’s second vendor fair, being planned for the fall, or booked for regular market appointments. At this week’s fair, Federated will meet with each supplier for one hour, in rooms with wall grids for hanging merchandise, a table and three chairs. “One hour is a nice time spread. You can go over there with a lot of product,” Schroeder said. “I can show all four product lines — at least 120 items.” Ready-to-wear and sportswear firms will wheel the racks on Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday is for shoes, accessories, cosmetics and intimate apparel. Men’s wear and children’s kick off the fair today; home furnishings, gifts, tabletop and electronics are Tuesday.
“There’s definitely a future [at Federated],” said Neeley. “I am targeting moderate, updated related departments. There is a void for structured kinds of fabrications, along with outfit dressing and rayon acetates. Federated seems to be looking for outfit dressing for the career customer at a moderate, affordable price.” Among the items Neeley will show are belted jackets with a Forties feeling, retailing at $39 to $58, shown with a bias cut skirt, $36. She already sells Dayton Hudson and Belk Stores, and sees no reason why her products can’t hang on the second floor of Macy’s Herald Square with other moderate lines.
“Rich’s is open to testing things,” in a handful of stores, Neeley said, particularly for June 30 deliver. She said that Federated buyers previously viewed her line, but “the items were a little too moderate. They needed a little more fashion. That was where I was headed, but I wasn’t quite ready with the garments.
“This is the time for us to shine.” New Frontier, a 4 1/2-year-old collection of better and casual items, offers denim shirts retailing for $36; wool skirts, $49 to $78; and jackets, $120 to $200. “It’s mainstream, pretty classic, but with a little twist, and it’s item-driven, not a lot of basics,” said Sheer who expects to do $10 million in volume this year.
“There’s always a novelty touch, whether it’s a closure or a suede trim.”
Sheer said his label sells at Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, and two years ago A&S and Macy’s bought about $250,000 worth, but that business ceased.
He says he’s ready for a comeback. “I’ve think we’ve captured a lot of what’s happening, and there’s enough diversity. Jackets are our strength, especially those that go from weekend to work.” “May Co. is not really for us,” he added. “We are a little more advanced, although Lord & Taylor might be a possibility. But you can’t be all things to everybody.”
“With May Co., you talk to as many different buyers as you can in order to get in there,” Sherry-Mosca said. “Often they say there’s no dollars available. They have their own [private label] programs.”