Attendees at work at D&A in New York.

In search of the unexpected, and in many instances that meant accessories, buyers at this week’s Designers & Agents trade show were upfront about how they are trying to be competitive.

With approximately 20 new resources, D&A saw a 75 percent return rate among attendees from its September show — the highest in its 22-year history, according to point man Ed Mandelbaum. The New York-based independent designer Christine Alcalay, the Los Angeles label It Is Well and an Italian-made cashmere brand MJ Watson were among the newcomers to the West Chelsea edition of the show, which ended a three-day run Tuesday. Next month the Los Angeles fall installment of D&A will be held March 12 to 14.

Fideles Florkoski, owner of the furniture store Island Trader in Westbrook, Conn., was looking for travel-friendly bags and “nice quality” scarves. Such unexpected items could help enhance the shopping experience and encourage more frequent drop-in visits, she said. “In this day and age, you have to think of people’s lifestyle. With so much shopping being done on the Internet, you want to be careful about the tone you want to create,” she said. “Whether you are wealthy or not, everyone is traveling. No matter what business you’re in, you’re always looking at different things and the ways that people are living.”

The scarves and wraps Florkoski was scouting were for travelers or commuters fending off chills or over-air-conditioned planes, trains or in office buildings. Value, longevity and timelessness are key facets of the retailer’s buying strategy. Shoppers also respond to items from brands or designers with stories behind them like Sammy Hand Made in Ethiopia.

Joelle Klein, owner of Share With, a seasonal boutique in Montauk, was also on the lookout for unusual bags, scarves and sweaters, as well as Loopy Mango’s beanie hats. In business for 10 years, she has watched as the summer crowd has changed. Describing last summer as “difficult” business-wise, Klein said aside from how crowded Montauk has become, many younger visitors are more interested in partying and drinking than shopping. To try to sidestep that, she was trying to appeal to a wider range of customers with “pick-me-up” items since most visitors aren’t shopping for fall in her town.

Nearby at D&A, Jill Dowell was shopping for “casual luxe” T-shirts and dresses in the $100 range for her new store Lusso in Roanoke, Va. To be competitive with area higher-end retailers, she strives to keep retail prices at $300 or lower. Nearly three months into being a store owner, she said, “knowing what to buy and buying things you might personally not like” are a few of the challenges. “I know it when I see it,” she said.

Jeannie DeMarco and her daughter Stuart Yochem were shopping for handbags and other accessories for her store Amina Rubinacci in Charlotte, N.C. To try to keep locals shopping, Yochem said Instagram and e-mail marketing are most effective in getting customers to walk in the door.

Escudo, Majo, Paychi Guh and Gi’n’Gi were a few of the resources they planned to check out. Most apparel items sell for between $305 and $805. Catering to a crowd that isn’t put off by a $870 price tags for a coat, DeMarco said her sales have been gaining ground. “That part of the market — people with a lot of disposable income,” has been strong, she said.

Shopping for accessories for the Upper West Side boutique A Tempo, Esther Kim said she was trying to find gift items, jewelry and accessories that would retail for between $100 and $300. But shoppers would feel comfortable spending more than $500 and up to $1,000 if something “is really special” or has diamonds. With a good selection of cocktail dresses and special occasion styles, the store has found that women want to buy entire looks, Kim said.

Hansel from Basel, a Los Angeles vendor, picked up 10 new accounts on Sunday alone at the show, said Ginny Hwang. While the company is known for its socks, many retailers have taken to its apparel, which was introduced five seasons ago. Stores at D&A gravitated toward the $122 long-sleeved dress, a $70 cotton one and $130 chunky sweaters, she said.

Visiting from Munich, Mirjam Dietz was scouting the show for potential resources for 30 stores she works with in Munich and Frankfurt. She was also eyeing potential vendors for Supreme Women & Men, trade fairs that are held in Düsseldorf and Munich. Asked about the pace of business in Germany, Dietz described it as “OK,” adding that seems to be the case all over the world.

At the Maison de Soil booth, Tomoki Fujiwara said he thought the American retail market was stronger than the European one. Having picked up a few new accounts, he said stores at D&A favored the brand’s knitwear, coats and hats. Wholesale prices for the Japanese label range from $93 for a scarf to $516 for an oversized coat. Reaching out to more U.S. and European stores is part of the company’s plans for growth, due partially to the fact that the Japanese economy is tough.

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus