LAS VEGAS — The quest for fresh faces set the tone for opening day Tuesday at the inaugural WWD/Magic International show here.
Big and small alike, retailers and exhibitors came to town with reasonable if somewhat modest expectations: Make new contacts. And ironically, in a period of consolidation, when the major stores are wielding increasingly powerful clout, exhibitors said they were placing a premium on building up their small specialty store business.
The first day saw its fair share of big guns — J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Belk’s, The Broadway, Sears, The Merry-Go-Round and Wal-Mart — but it was the little guy who carried the day for many exhibitors.
While the big stores and the big vendors may not be looking to write business, they did come to the show in search of new ideas and to strengthen top level relationships while maximizing cost and time efficiencies.
In contrast, the small stores and their vendor counterparts were keyed up to do business. Vendors were out to open new accounts as well as increase their exposure to major retailers.
“Specialty stores are the backbone of my business,” said Monica Belag Forman, president of Kenar Studio, a major contemporary resource. Forman noted that she saw several new specialty accounts throughout the morning. Some wrote, some didn’t, but Forman pointed out: “I’mdoing business. There are lots of people to follow up with.”
The day began quietly, but traffic grew steadily, and by day’s end, exhibitors were generally pleased with the turnout. They had high hopes that the second and third days of the show would pull buyers from the giant MAGIC men’s market in the adjacent Las Vegas Convention Center. The WWD/MAGIC show, consisting of 881 exhibitors at the Las Vegas Hilton Convention Center, ends Friday.
Many see potential for growth in the women’s format.
Barry Schwartz, chairman of Calvin Klein Inc., toured the women’s show and noted that Klein’s men’s licensee, GFT, expects to do $500,000 to $1 million at men’s MAGIC “in just a couple of days. That’s pretty good. I don’t see why that can’t happen in women’s. There are a lot of specialty stores we don’t ordinarily see.”
Opening day action at WWD/MAGIC centered around transitional spring-summer for the smaller stores, while the larger department stores were actively previewing early fall items.
Jim Hailey and Cindy Sapienza, president and vice president respectively of women’s wear at Penney’s, walked the show in search of emerging companies.
“It’s important for us to be here to meet with our major vendors including Z. Cavaricci, Union Bay and BUM Equipment,” Hailey said. “But we always keep our eyes open for new lines. This is a great opportunity to get an overview of the market. Our open-to-buy is healthy, and we plan to place fall orders on anything that catches our eyes.”
An executive of Macy’s West/Bullock’s said she liked the fact that all women’s apparel and accessories were under one roof, which enabled her to scan the market for new resources. “We could make this trip every day,” said the executive, who was particularly interested in accessories.
A buyer from Gottschalks, a Fresno, Calif.-based 30-unit department store, came to WWD/MAGIC after shopping the Southern California market.
“I’m looking for newness in fabrics, color and silhouettes,” said Pam Thompson, junior and dress buyer for Gottschalks. “Right away I found two new lines with great prints — N.C. Love and Love Tent.”
A licensing executive with Walt Disney Co. said she was using the show to meet with licensees, potential new licensees and to get a pulse on the market. “I have come to MAGIC in the past, but this year you have one-stop shopping with both men’s and women’s,” said Kathleen Hickey Wallis, category licensing manager for Disney.
One specialty store buyer said she was surprised at the number of new lines at the market. Cathy Shell, a buyer for Wallace’s, a better specialty store in Fairmont, Minn., said she does not see many new lines in New York, where she used to do most of her buying, because she would travel straight to appointments without the chance to explore other resources. She said the variety of the market was good because it included more salable lines as well as the fashion-forward.
“I have seen great things here that are more mainstream,” Shell said. “No one’s going to wear six-inch stilettos to the supermarket on Saturday morning in Minnesota.”
Manufacturers, big and small, saw the show as a place for executives to come together and strategically plan their long-range business.
Hal Upbin, Kellwood Co. president, said that, like the men’s show, WWD/MAGIC was a chance for top brass in the retail and wholesale arena to build relationships.
“They are here in force but not to write [orders],” he said. “They are here to meet. They save time and money meeting here.”
Lawrence R. Pugh, chairman and chief executive officer of VF Corp., while observing the women’s show, noted that traffic seemed good during the first few hours. But Pugh was expecting traffic to build on Wednesday and Thursday after major retailers wrapped up their business at the MAGIC men’s show. He added that combining men’s and women’s apparel was a sensible move in the long run for the industry.
Krizia chairman Aldo Pinto introduced his diffusion line, Krizia Poi, for U.S. distribution at WWD/MAGIC. “It’s a 15-year-old line, but we have not carried it in the U.S. except in our own stores,” he said. “We thought it was a good idea to be a presence here. We want to attract new clients, especially specialty stores.”
Many other exhibitors underscored the importance of doing specialty store business at the show.
“Specialty stores are my showcase,” said Los Angeles contemporary designer Dina Bar-El. “They already have a specific customer in mind when they buy. I can sell them and not end up on the markdown rack. I have specialty stores I’ve been dealing with for 20 years. It’s nice to have some loyalty in this business.”
Felicia Morrison, marketing representative for Ralph Lauren, was encouraged for the first few hours of the show to see some old accounts. “We met with some stores that haven’t bought from us in a while,” she said, adding that it was an opportunity to introduce them to Lauren’s diffusion line, Ralph.
“We are breaking the Ralph fall collection in New York in a week, so we don’t have much business to do here,” Morrison said. “Still, we felt it was important to be here for exposure.”