ATLANTA — Retailers came to the fall AmericasMart show in a more generous mood after several seasons of cautious buying.
Buyers said they were lifted by an infusion of color that sparked spring buying and has planted a seed for fall. Attendance at the women’s and children’s apparel and accessories show last month was up 19 percent compared with the previous year, AmericasMart executive vice president Lawton Hall said.
Entertainment, including a free concert by Tony Bennett on the second night in the mart’s atrium, helped boost buyer attendance, Hall said. He estimated 2,000 people came to the show, and said the mart will stage big-name entertainment events at least two times a year.
Premiere, the twice-a-year juried show, included Dana Buchman and Perry Ellis, both new lines to the mart that also helped attract buyers, Hall said. The number of out-of-territory retailers increased 33 percent over last year, he said.
Mark Garland, principal of a better-to-bridge sportswear showroom under his name, picked up 35 new accounts, largely responsible for a 30 percent increase in sales compared with last April, he said.
“Retailers have bought cautiously for so long and now that spring-summer goods are retailing, they’re buying more for fall,” Garland said.
Buyers said after a long winter, March and April business had improved. Color was cited as the driving force, along with feminine styling, texture and details, such as buttons, ribbons and hardware. Buyers bought color for fall in deeper, still vibrant, colors.
Tweed and textured suits have performed well and should be strong fall categories, buyers said. Jackets sold well, paired with dressy or casual bottoms or jeans. Skirts, another spring bestseller, were picked up for fall with asymmetrical hems, wraps, pleats and embellishment that included hardware and embroidery.
Retailers reported slightly increased budgets after years of cost-cutting and conservative buying.
Bonnie White, owner of an eponymous better-to-bridge specialty store here, shopped with a budget up 10 percent over 2003. Along with color, novelty tops have lifted sales, White said. She bought at least six tops to every one bottom, light-weight cashmere blends and silk from One Girl Who and Joseph A., and ordered jackets in colorful tweed and suede fabrics from Votre Nom, Elliott Lauren and Emil Rutenberg.
White chose novelty skirts in all lengths for fall, based on strong spring sales, from Forwear and other resources. In pants, she concentrated on styles made in luxury Italian fabrics at Allen Waller and jeans with new washes and treatments by Beau Dawson and Cambio.
While spring business is up, White said shopping is no longer the primary source of entertainment for her customers. She said said she “thinks out of the box,” with parties and events to lure customers.
Retailer Ben Belton, owner of Libba’s, with four stores in North Carolina, said his customer base is changing.
“There’s the customer we grew up with and then there’s her daughter, and we’re trying to appeal to both,” he said.
Belton bought embellished sweaters, hoodies and tweed jackets to pair with skirts or jeans. For his contemporary customers, Belton bought BCBG and jeans that offer an innovative fit or a higher rise by lines such as Seven and James.
In North Carolina, textile, furniture and technology firms have closed, resulting in high unemployment that hurt business, Belton said.
The economy in South Florida has been more buoyant, said Kerri and Andrew Kovler, owners of Teen Angel, with four stores, in Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Pinecrest and Miami.
“Downturns in the stock market may cause people to buy less, but we carry lots of formalwear, and people will spend for special occasions,” Kerri said.
For teens, they chose special occasion, including jewel-tone gowns in off-the-shoulder silhouettes from Nicole Miller and Jessica McClintock.