CONCERNS ASIDE, BUYING STEADY IN ATLANTA
Byline: Georgia Lee
ATLANTA — For a typically slow January market, activity at AmericasMart, held over Super Bowl weekend, was fairly brisk, despite retailers’ concern over consumer caution that began in the fourth quarter.
Consumers did speculate about further economic slowdown, and bought close to need, focusing on proven brands. But they also sought unique looks to distinguish stores from a wide range of competitors.
Officials were delighted at a 22 percent total traffic increase over last year’s showing of summer. However, last year’s Sunday no-shows, due to an Atlanta ice storm, distorted this year’s increases. Until Sunday, traffic still increased 12 percent. The Super Bowl distraction may have diminished the Sunday attendance somewhat, officials said.
“We had a solid increase any way you look at it,” said Peg Canter, general manager of AmericasMart Apparel of the women’s, children’s and accessories show that ran Jan. 25-29.
Summer trends continued a focus on Eighties looks, Pucci-inspired pop-art motifs, geometric and camouflage prints and rhinestone or stud embellishment. While edgy stores embraced the trend, others sought subtle interpretations.
Buyers loved color, often accenting new neutrals, as well as new wrap-front dresses and blouse silhouettes. Cropped pants were popular again, along with new shorts looks. The fall leather boom continued with lightweight, colorful spring styling.
Many retailers, having completed spring buys, focused on accessories such as bold, statement pieces like chunky jewelry in colored stones, as well as new hip-hugging chain belts and fun summer handbags.
Crowds were steady, as many showrooms reported strong sales, especially early in the show.
Brad Johnson, principle at Ambrosia & Co., a multiline better/bridge sales rep, saw 25 percent more ordering in the first three days, while Sunday’s figures were flat. He attributed gains to a mixed package of summer and fall deliveries, as well as a few new lines that offered good margin potential.
Lauren Sheats, principal at Lauren Pink, a better multiline sportswear sales firm, said bookings increased 10 percent over last year, which she attributed to reorders on salable product. She also increased direct mail and telemarketing prior to market.
Bonnie White, owner of two eponymous bridge specialty stores in Atlanta, shopped with a bigger budget to increase accessories and gift purchases, along with fashion.
After record sales in 2000, White continued a strategy of “buying things people don’t have in their closets.” She bought spring and summer goods, for quick turnaround.
Color and novelty, along with cropped pants, drove sales last spring and should again this year, she said. She found newness in wrapped blouses and shirts and prints, especially gingham, floral, abstract or plaid, but passed on Eighties looks as not right for her customer.
She bought Votre Nom, which “hits all the targets,” she said, along with & Trousers and Elliott Lauren pants and knits by Magashoni. Growing accessories from a single-digit sales percentage to 15 percent, she bought new belts from Suzi Roher and a variety of chunky jewelry and gift items.
Dianne Gates, manager of Four Seasons, a Gainesville, Fla.-based store that carries apparel, gifts and accessories, sought safety in strong brands, which she described as “recession-proof.”
Shopping for transitional looks for a Florida climate, she bought tried-and-true resources such as Garfield & Marks’s new micropoly fabrics, in wide-legged, cuffed trousers, muted pastels from Kenar and flowing, feminine sportswear from Lafayette 148. Contemporary looks appeal to baby boomer customers, given a good fit, she noted.
In accessories, she bought designer and fine jewelry, gifts by Brighton and accessories and travel bags by Vera Bradley.
Julie Rutenberg, owner of Potpourri, an Atlanta bridge boutique with two locations, bought spring/summer goods focusing on fun, experimental items as well as collection sportswear, such as Lafayette 148.
“I believe in collections. Customers want polished, finished looks,” she said. “We’ve gone to the extreme with items.”
Rutenberg bought color, contrasting with neutrals, pants by & Trousers and hip-hugging belts. Strong leather sales will continue into spring, she said, in lightweight, colorful pieces such as shirt jackets. She also ordered spaced and geometric prints.
“Clothing retailers are competing with every other retailer for cautionary dollars,” she said.
Dianne Lapkin, co-owner of Freda’s, a Richmond, Va., 3,000-square-foot specialty store, also had flat sales for 2000. As a result, she bought more proven resources. She ordered summer fill-ins and fall groups from a few, such as Olsen and Cullen.
In knits, her strongest growth area, she chose looks from Anne Pederson, Berek sweaters and Joseph Ribkoff. Noting a new demand for relaxed career suiting, she bought Tamotsu’s matching separates. For a young, sophisticated customer, she tapped Forwear’s pink and green group and shirts and blouses from Richard & Co. and Joan Vaas.
In jewelry, she liked cubic zirconium with gold and sterling from Reflections. She also favored fashion accessories from GeoArt and novelty handbags from Timmy Woods.