Byline: Georgia Lee

Stylemax is attracting manufacturers back to Chicago, all anxious to see if the new show, touted as the wave of the future by mart officials, will launch a much-needed renaissance period for the Midwest trade show business and the resources that exhibit in Chicago.
The event, which debuts Oct. 14 and runs through Oct. 17, has been put together by Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., parent company for the Chicago Apparel Center, the Chicago Merchandise Mart and the Gift Mart. But in a major departure from the typical permanent markets here, Stylemax features a new venue, format and timing.
Held in the temporary exhibition space of the Chicago Merchandise Mart, which is across the street from the apparel building, the show takes cues from the successful specialized New York shows, particularly the Fashion Coterie.
The setting, a hard-wall space with natural light and a European ambience, has been used for other trade shows, including the Menswear Collective, which has grown from 50 to 500 booths in the past six years.
Stylemax will not overlap dates with markets in any other regions, thus allowing manufacturers to show their full spring collections early. The October show kicks off a twice-yearly Stylemax schedule, with the second show set for March 17-20, 2001. The three remaining apparel markets here will continue, in January, June and August, and will be held in the apparel building, as usual.
Given recent attrition in the specialty store market and the proliferation of national and regional trade shows, regional markets have seen traffic decline, resulting in shrinking space. At the same time, shows in temporary formats, such as Coterie and Magic, have grown.
“The trade show format, where buyers get an overview, is booming,” said Susan A. McCullough, vice president, Chicago Apparel Center, a division of MMPI. “We’ve always believed in permanent showrooms, but we think this is where the real future opportunity is.”
Stylemax, with 1,000 booths, 3,000 lines and 100,000 square feet, will vastly expand the mart’s current offerings, in categories including social occasion, bridge, contemporary, juniors and accessories. “We have expanded each category to what we think is the most competitive package anywhere, including the New York shows,” said McCullough.
Bridge resources new to Chicago, such as Zelda, Lafayette 148, Isda and Burns, should attract upscale Midwest stores that might otherwise shop only New York.
On the contemporary front, Poleci, Trina Turk, Essendi, Geisha and Teenflo should be big draws. Special occasion lines, including the Warren Group, Chetta B and Victoria Royal, will all debut here, along with dress lines such as Donna Ricco and David Warren.
To attract a substantial base of attendees, MMPI has targeted a mailing list of 20,000 buyers, including Midwest retailers as well as stores in 13 states contiguous to the region.
With a marketing/advertising budget four times greater than in the past, Stylemax includes a seven-piece direct mail campaign and extensive advertising in trade publications.
Manufacturers, many of whom have never shown in Chicago before this venue became available, are hopeful about the prospects of the new show.
For Victoria Royal, a New York eveningwear line, Stylemax offers the prospect of growing its business with new accounts. The vendor has already been employing a new strategy that includes lowering prices, revamping the line and marketing aggressively to new stores. According to Victoria Royal chairman and ceo Alan Sealove, in the past 18 months, accounts have grown from 400 to 700, and sales have doubled.
“The Stylemax format, like the Coterie, will be a great opportunity to pick up new business,” said Sealove. “Anybody who walks by will see the new direction in the line.” Sealove added that he often sees more than 100 accounts in three days during the New York-based Coterie.
Neil Peskin, vice president, sales, Ildi Marshall, a bridge-priced dresses/suit resource based in New York, said the new format could be the shot in the arm Chicago has needed.
“In the past, market dates have conflicted with other shows, so Chicago might have been the one that got neglected; or exhibitors there didn’t show with full lines,” suggested Peskin. He said he liked the alternative of showing two times a year, in contrast with committing to a permanent showroom.
Stylemax might address another chronic problem for the Chicago market. Many Midwest retailers have been choosing to shop other regional marts, despite Chicago’s relatively close proximity. Alexis Fry, owner, Alexis, a Highland, Ind., women’s specialty store, regularly travels out of the region for buying activity. “The Chicago mart doesn’t have enough lines, and during shows, sometimes a manufacturer will send inventory to the bigger regional show, like Dallas or Atlanta,” she noted.
Fry said she now hopes the advent of Stylemax will cut down on her buying trips.
Barry Stagman, owner, Stagman, a Glenco, Ill. bridge/designer women’s specialty boutique, said he will shop Stylemax for upper-end goods, even though he will continue to regularly attend shows in New York.
A former Chicago multiline sales rep and showroom owner, Stagman remarked that he hopes the new show will bring back some of the old magic of the Eighties to the market.
“In those days, regional markets were real events, with excitement that is missing today,” he recalled.
Along with new lines, the exhibitor base of Stylemax will include approximately 90 percent of the apparel mart’s permanent tenants. Many permanent tenants have wrestled with the Stylemax concept and how it should fit into their marketing strategies.
Three major mart vendors, Dressed 2 Kill, Karin Berger and Bernice Burg, will apparently play it safe by showing in their regular showrooms during Stylemax.
“I support Stylemax and will show there in the future,” said Karin Berger, “but for the time being, I’ll see people in the showroom — a comfortable atmosphere, with 3,100 square feet.”
Mart tenants were offered a flat amount of free space in Stylemax, based on the current space they occupy in the mart. Any space over that allotted amount incurs an extra charge.
Early on, Apparel Center Tenants (ACT), a 200-member organization, voted not to support the show. But the group changed its mind last spring, after negotiating a variety of issues, including sweetened rental rates and space packages at Stylemax.
“There have been a lot of pros and cons for us, but now people are excited,” said Susann Craig, president of ACT. “Hopefully, the new lines will result in more sales.”
The services offered at Stylemax will include shuttle buses to hotels, complimentary breakfasts and lunches, a Saturday night fashion show and a Sunday morning accessories show. Lynette Harrison, publisher, WWD, will conduct a Monday morning trend seminar.

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