Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — After a four-year separation, the Miami International Merchandise Mart and sales organization Southern Apparel Exhibitors are reuniting for two upcoming women’s apparel shows.
The new Florida Fashion Focus show, to be held this Friday to Sunday and June 8-10, is the first general women’s apparel trade show, with the exception of swimwear and shoes, at the Miami mart in four years. Permanent tenant showrooms still offer women’s product throughout the year.
The new show will feature lines from most of SAE’s 350 members and selected Miami mart tenants, offering women’s apparel and accessories. SAE held regular shows in the Miami mart for 20 years, before moving to new venues, primarily the Broward Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1998. If the upcoming shows are successful, SAE may return to the mart on a permanent basis. SAE is a chapter of the National Bureau of Wholesale Sales Representatives based in Washington, D.C.
“We wanted them back and we’ve heard that buyers wanted them back,” said Maria Prado, who became general manager of the Miami mart last June.
A former marketing director for mall chain Simon Properties, Prado has aggressively pursued SAE and targeted new lines, such as BCBG and Vertigo, to attract buyers. She also is planning new product offerings, including children’s wear, for future shows. The 325,000-square-foot mart has more than 300 showrooms and is 94 percent leased, according to Prado.
SAE left Miami primarily because of a growing presence of immediate delivery, or cash-and-carry goods, at the mart. Today, immediate delivery comprises over half of the mart’s product offerings, according to Prado, who added that immediate delivery is common practice at regional markets.
Still, SAE officials said buyers are alienated by it.
“Legitimate wholesale buyers don’t like to see their own customers buying goods at the same time they are or people carting big shopping bags full of goods,” said Ed Arrendondo, president of SAE.
To reconcile the issue, the mart has agreed to close the main mart building during the two-day SAE shows, which will be held in an adjacent exhibition hall, and include only wholesale exhibitors.
“The key to the show’s success is to separate it from the immediate delivery goods,” said Paulette Giese, treasurer of SAE and owner of Artistic Expressions, a multiline accessories firm.
Giese has participated in SAE’s shows outside Miami, but maintained a permanent showroom in Miami. With no in-stock merchandise, her business is wholesale only.
“The Miami mart is one of the most viable places and a cohesive organization,” she said. “SAE gained domestic buyers, but lost business from the Caribbean when they left the Miami mart.”
SAE hopes domestic buyers will come back to Miami. In addition to the immediate delivery issue, Giese said Miami’s reputation for crime in the late Nineties following incidents of tourist murders had scared some Florida buyers away, although the perception of the city has improved.
Targeting mostly Florida stores, the show offers a driving destination for buyers who have cut down on air travel, in the months following Sept. 11 attacks. The mart, located near the Miami International Airport, is also a natural gateway and popular destination for South American and Caribbean buyers.
“We limit ourselves if we focus only on the U.S.,” said Prado. “Right now, the Caribbean and Central America are strong, while parts of South America are weak economically. We have product here that can’t be found elsewhere.”
Florida retailer The Hide Out, a women’s and men’s apparel and accessories store in St. Petersberg, and a new location opening this month in Madeira Beach, Fla., shops both the Miami mart and SAE shows in Fort Lauderdale. Owner Merle Snook is glad the SAE show is returning to the Miami mart.
“We want unusual product, and smaller, startup companies with new ideas,” she said. “The mart is easy to shop, and, although we’d like to see more leather jackets and outerwear, it has everything we need.”
Since 1997, the Miami International Merchandise Mart and the adjacent Radisson Miami Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, have been owned by the Orlando-based South Florida Hotel group. George Zaczac, president, said the mart will continue its roster of trade shows, which includes shoes, swimwear, and men’s and boy’s events.

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