MART’S KEYS FOR GROWTH
Byline: Rusty Williamson
DALLAS — The International Apparel Mart is celebrating its 30th birthday next month with a focus on the future.
Booming international trade with Latin America, a focus on bridge business and an expansive contemporary area called Studio 2 are the signposts for new business at the 1.8 million-square-foot women’s and children’s apparel mart, located just northwest of downtown here.
Additionally, mart management is out to step up crossover buying among the wholesale marts in the Dallas Market Center, the 10-acre complex that includes the International Apparel Mart as well as three other merchandise marts, including the Men’s Wear Mart, and an exhibition hall.
To entice buyers to shop other categories besides apparel, the mart each market opens up temporary space on the fifth floor for exhibits of gifts and seasonal products.
“It’s a big benefit for specialty stores that are growing outside their traditional merchandise mix,” said Robbin Wells, vice president of marketing for the Dallas Market Center.
Last year, about 27,000 stores shopped the apparel mart and wrote roughly $2.5 billion in orders at the mart’s 1,200 showrooms, home to more than 10,000 apparel and accessories lines, according to the Market Center.
Currently, 78 percent of the mart’s traffic hails from Texas and contiguous states Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas.
About 17 percent comes from other states, 4 percent from Mexico and other Latin American countries and about 1 percent from the rest of the world.
Those figures from out of the area are poised to swell, though, in light of the mart’s aggressive marketing efforts, which include an office in Mexico to promote trade in Dallas. By the year 2000, Mexican and Latin American traffic is projected to hit 10 percent.
“Mexico and [the rest of] Latin America continue to be growth areas in terms of market attendance,” said Wells.
The mart in April opened a showroom dubbed the International Suite. Located at 4B23, it is home to lines from other countries that break only two collections per year and that are just beginning to expand in the U.S. Currently about eight vendors, including Stizzoli, Verona, Italy, and Dino Valiano, Pappenheim, Germany, sell in the International Suite.
“The area definitely will be expanded,” said Wells. “We currently have over 20 firms on the waiting list. The one-year lease gives these companies a chance to test the U.S. The lines can be promoted as a group, and they also give a store a chance to find an exclusive collection.”
A growing number of bridge collections, housed mostly in the Group III area of the mart on the third and fourth floors, is attracting buyers to the mart that formerly would have had to travel to New York, said Wells. The program to build this business began about two years ago. The newest corporate showroom to open will be Gruppo Americano, scheduled to debut in October.
Some of the bridge lines coming into the mart in the past two years include Zang Toi, Citi, Gispa, KL by Karl Lagerfeld, Laurel, Helen Hsu, Blue Key, Aquascutum, Constance Saunders and Julie & Leonard.
In yet another development, the mart has encouraged major chain retailers to shop there by offering them rent-free buying offices within the building. They do pay taxes and utilities and telephone bills for the space.
Some stores use the facilities only during markets; others use the spaces to conduct business on a more frequent basis.
Currently, stores using mart space include Dillard Department Stores, Neiman Marcus, The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Shepler’s and Cavenders in the U.S., as well as Palacio de Hierro, Mexico City.
On the mart’s second floor, the area devoted to contemporary collections called Studio 2 continues to grow.
The popular destination for more forward lines is taking over the other half of G aisle on the east side of the building. The chance to expand Studio 2 came this summer when the wing’s roster of mostly large-size apparel showrooms asked to be integrated into the misses’ apparel areas of the mart. As they vacate, spaces will be offered for three-year leases.
Studio 2 now will include an additional 12,000 square feet, or 25 to 30 showrooms, probably by 1996, said Marsha Timson, director of industry development for the Dallas Market Center.
Studio 2 currently occupies about 62,000 square feet starting at the mart’s back escalators and running to the West Atrium in the Men’s Wear Mart. It is home to over 83 showrooms that house a total of more than 250 moderate-to-better lines, including Leon Max, David Dart, Guess and Esprit’s new E Collection.
The area, which opened in March 1989, has had a waiting list of up to 30 companies for some time, according to Timson. That number includes vendors and sales representatives new to the mart, along with current Studio 2 tenants wanting larger spaces.
The first anchor in the new phase of Studio 2 will be a 1,500-square-foot showroom at 2G63 occupied by David Dart, who formerly showed in a 450-square-foot space. Dart is slated to be in the new locale by the October market.
Dart’s showroom, like others in the expansion area, is expected to mimic Studio 2’s original concept and be decorated in a minimalist, streamlined style.
Two smaller showrooms, each about 300 square feet, already opened last summer in the new wing. They are leased to Cheryl McMurphy, who shows mostly vintage-inspired California dress lines, and Edward Allen and Larry Lott, local contemporary designers who share a room.
McMurphy previously sold mostly accessories on the fourth floor with only a smattering of apparel. She maintains that accessories room, along with the new Studio 2 room devoted to apparel. Allen and Lott previously showed in temporary space elsewhere within Studio 2.
Terry Sahagen, a multiple-line sales representative who shows contemporary goods at the CaliforniaMart, has shown in temporary space in Studio 2 here for about a year. In October or January, Sahagen plans to move into her own showroom, taking over the space previously occupied by David Dart.
“In the year I’ve shown in Dallas, the response has been pretty positive,” explained Sahagen. “Out of five markets, all weren’t real strong. But the good ones made the whole experience positive.”
Sahagen, in business in Los Angeles since 1985, said Studio 2 is trafficked by the types of buyers to whom she caters.
“My competition is here, too,” she said.