A new spirit of cooperation has been forged among sales representatives at the International Apparel Mart in Dallas, with the goal of drawing more buyers to the building.

Key leaseholders have started working with Mart management to pinpoint retailers that they would like to see shop here. In addition, some reps whose showrooms are clustered together are linking up to throw neighborhood parties for their clients.

“Everybody wants to band together,” said Jo Richardson, partner in the Kathy & Jo showroom of novelty and contemporary fashions located on the busy 4400 aisle of the building. “I think we can change the atmosphere in the hallways. For instance, we can say that as a group we will be open on Wednesdays [before market]. They know they can count on us because we all have long-term reputations. It’s not the Mart telling them.”

Mart management, in fact, is all for this shared responsibility for marketing.

“We want to work together to share information and make partnerships and alliances,” said Carrie Carter, vice president of marketing for the Dallas Market Center. “We tell the reps we are a supplement for what they already do and send out.”

“It’s all about sharing customers,” said Brad Hughes, who is chairman of the Mart’s board of governors and owns one of the largest showrooms in the building, Brad Hughes & Associates, which specializes in bridge and contemporary clothing.

“We want everyone in our area to do well. We are friendly competitors.”

“The exhibitors are working together, which they have not done before,” said Pam Kramer, vice president of leasing for the Mart. “It’s people realizing that they need to collaborate. It’s really healthy, and we can all benefit from it.”

Last September, six principals of key leaseholders in the building got together to brainstorm about stores they wanted to attract to Dallas. The reps included Hughes, Terry Harner of Harner & Associates, Brad Ritz of Ritz Group, Hope Plott of Navia-Plott & Associates, Nat Ekelman and Jamin Whitaker of GeNe Associates and Dana Melton of Lori Veith.

They handed the list to the Mart’s marketing department, which dispatched 65 invitations to the October market week to targeted retailers. They were packaged in hat boxes filled with goodies designed to please the five senses, such as Godiva chocolates and aromatherapeutic bath salts. The idea was to offer treats that were aesthetically charming and to suggest subtly that the Mart appeals to retailers on all levels.

The boxes included an invitation to visit the Mart from Cindy Morris, executive vice president of marketing, along with an open-ended travel voucher for airfare and hotel accommodations.

“Several did come to [October] market, and about 10 said they would come in January,” Carter noted. That show is scheduled for Jan. 17-21.

About 230 stores came to the October market that have not shopped Dallas in more than two years, Carter said. But she declined to divulge attendance figures in accordance with the Mart’s longstanding policy.

New buyers were eagerly anticipated, since some retailers were expected to shop here instead of attending the postponed Coterie in New York. At a big market such as October or April, the building usually attracts 3,000 to 3,500 stores, Mart officials said.

Nat Ekelman, president of the GeNe Sales cluster of showrooms specializing in bridge apparel and accessories, pointed out, though, that he would like to see future meetings encompass other issues than pinpointing retailers to come to Dallas.

“I am beginning to plan some kind of agenda of cooperation amongst everybody here, so we can operate more as a marketing entity, rather than just as independents,” he said. “It’s logical, particularly since in January we’ll probably be seeing less stores and manufacturers.”

To lure new retailers, the Mart has long offered special travel packages that provide airfare and a two nights’ hotel stay. In October, 100 stores took advantage of the deal.

“The most important thing is the Mart encouraging new buyers and new stores from all over the U.S. to come to Dallas to see the mix of products here,” Hughes said. “Dallas is known for having the broadest categories of all the marts in the U.S. This is a safe environment and it is centrally located in the U.S.”

Some reps in the vicinity of Hughes’ showroom are planning to open a day early for future markets to accommodate buyers. Markets typically begin on a Thursday — though the Mart officially opened the 2001 October market a day early to avoid a conflict with New York’s rescheduled Coterie show.

“We will start opening on Wednesday for every market going forward,” Hughes said. “We worked 48 accounts on Wednesday afternoon and for us, that’s good. Buyers are coming and staying a shorter time, so they are trying to work as long as possible at night and get in early and get going. The most important commodity to a buyer these days is time.”

Sales agents are working with manufacturers to ship in lines Tuesday so they can be steamed and ready to show on Wednesday. Markets always end on Monday, but many clothing lines pack up and ship out on Sunday.

Ekelman said he would ask his lines to ship samples a day earlier for the big markets in October, which runs from Wednesday the 23rd to Monday the 28th, and April, scheduled for Wednesday the 3rd to Monday the 8th.

“The buyers we worked with on Wednesday liked the idea, but I don’t know that it would apply to January,” Ekelman said. “January is a poorly attended market and I don’t see why manufacturers would want to come one day early. It would be more applicable to the major markets.” The January market will be held from Thursday the 17th to Monday the 21st.

The Mart is continuing in its bid to attract new lines here as well. Designers & Agents, a group of contemporary apparel and accessories resources that showed here for the first time in October, is planning to return for the fall market in April. The group brought about 55 lines to Dallas in October, exhibiting in about 20,000 square feet.

The exhibitors had varying degrees of success. Some were very pleased to pick up key new accounts but a few wrote no orders, and many complained that buyers had trouble finding their showrooms.

“We probably had about 150 buyers come through,” said Barbara Kramer, a principal in Designers & Agents. “We were happy in the end, and we’re coming back with a little group for January and full force for April. We need to have more preshow publicity and signage in the building so that it’s clear that we are there.”