Byline: Holly Haber

Niche marketing has come to the cavernous maze of the International Apparel Mart, as Dallas Market Center executives figure they can make the building more attractive to buyers by grouping showrooms that display similar merchandise.
About eight urban streetwear lines of young men’s and unisex styles, including Sean (Puffy) Combs’s highly publicized Sean John line, are setting up shop on the 2A hallway. Special occasion, prom, pageant and bridal are being concentrated on the 3C and 3400 aisles, where such labels as Stephen Yearick and Mike Benet can be seen. In addition, about nine lines of ladies’ church suits have been grouped on the 1A hallway, including Eva Pollini, Loryn Hunter and Givaldi.
“We are trying to develop niche markets by clustering the collections together as much has we can for the buyers so it makes a statement,” said Pam Kramer, vice president of leasing. “For urban streetwear, we are developing more of a look for the 2A hallway to give it a unique flair — like painting graffiti down the hallway.”
To get the message out to target buyers, the Mart has started dispatching focused mailers that highlight certain segments of its offerings, like denim or bridge sportswear.

Trend Forecasting
The Mart is responding to retailers’ demand for information by offering more fashion forecasts, including two scheduled for March market.
“We are trying to put more of an emphasis on trends in seminars because those are the best attended,” said Laura Mengwasser, senior director of marketing. “That is where the buyers don’t mind spending time out of the showrooms.”
Leon Hall, the effusive commentator on E! channel’s Fashion Emergency and a longtime organizer of fashion shows for the Dallas Mart, will hold forth on fall trends Friday at 8:30 a.m. in the fourth floor’s front lobby. Hall also pulls styles for the trend show Friday at 6:15 p.m. in the Great Hall.
In addition, Gregor Simmon’s buying office will present a contemporary fall forecast at noon Friday on the fourth floor’s front lobby. A “Cutting Edge” fashion show featuring the chic line Poleci and other contemporary labels is scheduled for Saturday at 6:15 p.m. in the Great Hall.
In addition, advice on how to sell a total look will be presented 10 a.m. Saturday in the fourth-floor front lobby by Rawlins Gilliland, a retail consultant who pioneered personal shopping at Neiman Marcus.
“Every market, we will explore the trends and give that information to our retailers because that is something that they want,” said Carrie Carter, vice president of marketing. “We also do the Little White Book of trends, which is distributed at the registration desk, in the buyers lounge, the press room and mailed to regional newspapers. We print 15,000 to 20,000 of them and send them out with retail development packets.”

Ladies Who Lunch
Is the way to a buyer’s heart through her stomach? That theory seems to be working for Navia-Plott & Associates, which draws hundreds of buyers, as well as sales reps, to its showroom every day during market for a buffet of home-cooked comfort food. Every market Saturday, for instance, the menu is turkey and baked ham with all the trimmings — cornbread dressing, green beans almondine, glazed carrots and cranberry sauce — followed by peach cobbler and six-layer chocolate cake.
“It’s an excellent tool, and it’s great advertising,” says Butch Plott. “It’s one of the best returns on investment that we do.”
Plott is the first to admit that none of this largesse would be possible without his mother, Mary Hancock, toiling away in her kitchen all night long during market week. Hancock makes everything except the layer cakes, which come from a bakery.
“Three hours is a long sleep for me during market,” said Hancock. “There’s no other way to do it if you want to have fresh food. This is a labor of love.”
Hancock fries 400 to 500 pieces of chicken for an average market and up to 750 for a big market, which gives an idea of how many people are heading to Navia-Plott for chow time. The lunch is so popular that buyers spill over to sit at benches in the hallway. But that drew some complaints late last year from a neighboring sales rep.
Plott and his wife, Hope Navia, were a bit worried that their clientele was going to be evicted from dining in the hallway and their well-nourished atmosphere would be crushed. But the problem was solved when Kramer of the DMC stepped in and hauled out all the tables and benches in the hall that weren’t “in keeping with our standard furniture” and replaced it with Mart-sanctioned furnishings.
“We needed to keep everything consistent with what we do in terms of furniture,” Kramer said. “We don’t need odd tables and big trash cans in the hall.”
Navia-Plott’s blend of Southern hospitality with marketing has spread to neighbors on their 4400 aisle, where Ambrosia/Leib and Brad Hughes also woo buyers with culinary treats. Ambrosia/Leib lays on a gourmet spread catered by Eatzi’s, while Hughes hires a kitchen staff that prepares and serves salads. The buffets also please manufacturers who can’t leave the showrooms during the busy lunch period.
Some buyers schedule their appointments around what is being served for lunch on a particular day, Hughes noted. While he is known for offering frozen bellinis, he’s already pondering the drinks menu for March market.
“I think we’ll do frozen Cosmopolitans,” he mused. “I haven’t gotten the recipe down yet. But they won’t be as strong as a martini — that would put you on your rear.”