PERSONAL ATTENTION GETS PAM MARTIN NOTICED. HER JUDGMENT IN LINES GETS HER REORDERS.
Byline: Cami Alexander
Things can get noisy in the showroom of Pam Martin, owner of Martin & Co. and occupant of two suites at the International Apparel Mart.
There’s a lot of talking, with the office phone and Martin’s cell phone in constant use.
Sometimes, it’s Martin’s husband with a status report on her “dead” Suburban; sometimes it’s a teacher calling to see if Martin, a room mother at her four- and six-year-olds’ school, has everything lined up for the next special event.
But most of the time, it’s one of Martin & Co.’s approximately 300 accounts, getting a dose of the personal attention they know they can count on at Pam’s place.
“We’re here every day to take customer calls,” explained Katie Fares, Martin & Co.’s showroom manager. “Our customers like to know that they’re going to hear the same voices when they call us: mine or Pam’s.
“And before market, either Pam or I call every single account personally to book appointments. It’s time-consuming and tedious, but it provides a personal touch. They get hundreds of appointment calls from people they don’t know, and we think they like to hear from us personally. While we’re on the phone, we check to see if their last order came in and see how sales are going. We get a lot of work done.”
Sticking close to the phone and tending to those family and community commitments keeps Martin out of airplanes and off the road.
“We don’t travel much,” Martin noted. “We have very big markets. But if a customer can’t come to Dallas, we’ll arrange to get the goods to them somehow, either by sending samples or pictures.”
Personal customer service is only one of the factors that drive a successful showroom at the mart, she said. Most important are the clothes themselves.
“The best advertising is word of mouth — if your lines sell well,” she noted. “If you have the right lines, you can have the worst location in the building.”
The right lines, in Martin’s book, “are on trend, well-priced, fill a void and have an easy fit. We’re offering lines like these that appeal to a wide range of specialty store customers.
“A lot of my customers come from small towns, where theirs is the one good store in town,” she continued. “Our lines will look great on any woman 16 to 65 who wears a size 2 to 14. Our goal is to cover all age groups, all sizes, and not be too expensive. And I want my showroom to be like those small-town stores: a place where everyone can shop.”
Still, the firm’s offering is cohesive, for the most part representing a certain look and appealing to a middle stratum of consumer.
“I think what we do that is so important is that we represent lines at great price points that fit a large customer base,” Martin said. “What sets us apart is that we cover a price point that most people can buy and we cover styles that fit most bodies. So many other lines are mostly missy. We kind of hit that middle ground. I think that’s one thing that makes our showroom different than the others.
“My customers say to me, “All your lines fill a void in the market.”
Most of Martin’s lines have pieces retailing for $100 or less, including Eric Stewart, Grass Roots, Blue Dot, Kiko and Work Order.
Shin Choi is an exception, where a complete look retails for about $500. In its spring collection, colors are bright and fabrications feature geometric patterns and modern prints, as well as texture, embroidered chiffon and lace. Shin Choi line will also show sweatsuits with novelty stitches and yarns, and some leather and suede groupings for spring.
Eric Stewart is working with bright colors in novelty yarns and sleeveless chunky cable-knit sweaters. Stewart will also be featuring silk and Lycra knits with geometric patterns.
Grass Roots T-shirts are shown in bright colors with novelty patterns as well as their traditional basic solids. Most pieces retail for less than $50.
Blue Dot, a fabric-driven collection, for spring has styled casual pants with garment-dyed T-shirts in sanded poplin and soft-look washed twill. A contemporary look, Blue Dot is casual, easy and geared to fit almost everyone. Key colors will be washed brights.
Kiko’s spring look is rendered in natural fibers with a color palette that is bright, vivid and tropical. Prints will have a Hawaiian or resort look. Aside from basic linens, Kiko’s fabrications will include cottons with silk trim, silk shantung and cotton voile. New to the line will be a group of “comfort” clothes: drawstring pants, hooded tops, fitted sweaters and big shirts.
Work Order, a pants line known for its prints, will focus on geometrics, paisleys and florals, all of which will be in bright colors.
Frye, whose price points are higher, will be offering leather and suede in brights and pastels aiming for a sophisticated urban look.
Work Order, Blue Dot and Frye were just added to Martin’s showroom in March.
“We don’t pick up new lines very often,” Martin noted. “We don’t have a lot of turnover. But these lines complement what I already had.”
That conservatism reflects the business approach of many of Martin’s customers. Indeed, she said, her own reputation helps her convince some of her customers to try new lines.
“We look out for our customers and don’t try to sell them things that aren’t right for their business,” Martin reasoned. “And because of our personal relationship, our customers might be willing to try something new.”
Martin’s mixture of lines features separates for women that are comfortable and versatile. “I feel like that’s what women want now; they need clothes they can wear everywhere during the day and then go out at night.”
Women wearing the same type of apparel morning, noon and night is just one development Martin has observed since she joined the apparel industry. Although she’s only 36, she’s been in the business about 20 years.
“I was on the Lester Melnick Teen Board when I was in high school. From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do, so I went to UT and majored in fashion design.”
After college, she worked for a short period in sales for Jon Lasser, and then opened her own showroom 12 years ago. The biggest change she’s seen since is that “there are less stores and showrooms, but the ones that are still around are very strong.”
An important component of Martin’s formula for remaining strong is the right amount of fun. Knowing all too well that being at market can be a tiring and stressful time, she thinks it’s important to her customers to enjoy themselves in her showroom. “We make everyone comfortable here, and we keep it light.”
“We’re serious about our business, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” agreed showroom manager Fares.