Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS — It’s been a long, steady trip into the cyber age for the Dallas Market Center.
After doing lots of research and surveys of exhibitors and buyers, the wholesale complex is preparing a Web catalog that will enable orders and reorders, display photos of merchandise and facilitate auctions and closeouts of goods.
The site, dallasmarketcenter.com, currently has a directory of 2,000 showrooms and the lines they represent in the DMC buildings, which include the International Apparel Mart, Menswear Mart and the World Trade Center, housing gifts, furniture, lighting, toys and floral design. But plans call for a catalog of merchandise to be rolled out between now and 2002.
“We don’t view this as a foot race,” said Bill Winsor, president and chief executive officer of the DMC, when asked about the timetable for B2B transactions. “This is a journey that is strategically linked back to our core business.”
Winsor sees electronic commerce as an adjunct rather than a threat to face-to-face transactions.
“We’re a nexus for buying and selling now, and we don’t see the Internet as being any different except that it’s open days, nights and weekends,” Winsor asserted in an interview in which he was joined by Cindy Morris, executive vice president of marketing for the DMC.
“But it’s a very tactile business,” Winsor said. “People are much more likely to reorder online than to place an initial order. They want to touch and feel merchandise and understand dating terms. These are not trivial purchases for retailers — it’s not like a consumer ordering one thing that they can return if they don’t like it.”
While there are plenty of entrepreneurs developing similar sites for wholesale apparel transactions, Winsor thinks the DMC has several advantages: an established brand name, an existing database of 60,000 stores and 117,000 buyers, and the potential to consolidate thousands of labels under a single Web site.
“It’s harder to get the customers than to get the platform,” Winsor replied when asked about competitive sites.
“Manufacturers can have their own Web sites,” Morris pointed out, “but then the buyer can view only their collections.”
“It’s all about navigation and making it easy,” Winsor added.
The market center has hired Mercer Management Consulting of New York and Washington, D.C., to design the wholesale marketplace. In addition to transactions, it’s slated to post information on trends and co-op service offerings, such as insurance, to independent retailers. The cost of the online market for exhibitors hasn’t been determined yet, but the tools for developing electronic catalogs are accessible in the Internet Technology Center that opened last month in the World Trade Center and is managed by IBM.
The DMC plans to develop Web commerce by focusing first on four merchandise groups: women’s apparel and accessories, lighting, floral, and gifts and home furnishings. Eventually, the goal is to add men’s, children’s and western apparel and toys.
Meanwhile, the bricks-and-mortar mart continues to consolidate. Next month will conclude the relocation of about 100 men’s showrooms from the adjacent Menswear Mart onto the second floor of the women’s building, the International Apparel Mart. The move is intended to create more traffic and energy during men’s and women’s markets, which will henceforth overlap. Officials also hope to encourage crossover traffic between young men’s and juniors showrooms, which will be situated close together.
“We’re building junior areas to bridge urban with contemporary,” said Robbin Wells, senior vice president of leasing. “I believe there is opportunity for us in the junior area and young men’s.”
Men’s showrooms will cover about 85,000 square feet, mostly on the east side of the building, an area that has been largely vacant for years. Bridal showrooms that had been in this vicinity have been moved to the third floor.
Four floors of the women’s building will be 86 percent leased with the men’s wear relocation. The fifth and sixth floors continue to be used for a variety of temporary exhibits and conferences, as well as the annual trade show of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.
Showrooms of men’s and women’s western apparel, known as The Territory, will remain in the Menswear Mart on the fifth floor. But the fate of 120,000 vacant square feet in the six-story building is undecided. Ideas have been floated for leasing it to juvenile products exhibitors or medical offices from nearby hospitals, but nothing is definite. The DMC’s owner, Crow Holdings, is a real estate conglomerate that is exploring a variety of options.
“We’d like to find a mart use if we can,” noted Morris.
Another change in the women’s building is the conversion of a cluster of mini-showrooms of contemporary lines into larger permanent showrooms. The 3,000-square-foot space, located between the F and G aisles on the second floor and known as Studio 2 Gallery, served successfully as an incubator for developing a contemporary area since 1988. With the mushrooming of contemporary showrooms throughout the F and G aisles, that real estate became more valuable for permanent showrooms.
Several contemporary lines have doubled the size of their showrooms at the mart in the last six months, including Laundry, Max Studio, Poleci and BCBG. Polo Jeans and sales representative Linde Honeycutt also have expanded.
Morris is considering developing a cluster of showrooms for aromatherapy and bath products.
“It would tie into accessories, with skin care, cosmetics, bath and spa,” she noted.

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