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DALLAS — The worst is over, and now is the time to focus on resources that are innovative, reliable and priced for solid margins, sales representatives at the Dallas Market Center said.

This story first appeared in the January 14, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean inexpensive.

Many reps stressed quality should not be sacrificed after a year in which consumers pulled back on spending because of turmoil in the economy and retailers cut costs and inventories.

“I hope the trend of manufacturers lowering their price points to make themselves more appealing to the retailer comes to an end,” said Brad Hughes, whose namesake showroom represents 50 bridge, contemporary and accessories lines.

“Everyone is bragging about lowering prices and I’m like, ‘Why?’” he asked. “People coming to specialty stores are coming for a reason….Why are the best-selling pieces at our trunk shows the most expensive? They are saying, ‘Show us something fabulous and something we don’t already own. We may not buy as much, but it needs to be something that is not like last year.’”

To that end, Hughes signed Rolando Santana, a new designer of contemporary dresses and coats with a forgiving fit, such as the best-selling tiered ruffle-back waterproof car coat. Launching this spring, the label wholesales from $89 to $149, which Hughes described as “a magic number — that $200 to $300 retail, which appeals to all age brackets.”

Rosanne Saginaw, who features handbags in her namesake showroom at the Dallas Market Center, will unveil handbags by Lodis, a longtime manufacturer of small leather goods. The line offers fashion and tailored styles, including python-embossed Italian leather bags in colorful prints and soft and structured shapes. With wholesale prices of $79 to $110, the collection is intended to retail for less than $300.

“The most important thing you can do right now is to choose merchandise that will command a good markup and will perform at retail,” Saginaw said. “You need something that grabs the customer because it is so special, or because it has originality and fashion at a good value.”

Sales representatives at the market from Jan. 21 to 24 want to relieve some of the pressure on retailers. “We’re all trying to give discounts and free shipping and dating,” said Krista Ward, a partner in Moxiefashions. “Retailers need to make higher margins of 2.5 [250 percent] or more.”

Moxiefashions’ showroom will introduce four labels from London and Montreal.

Uttam London is a line of young dresses and tops featuring exclusive prints and costing $25 to $40 at wholesale. From Montreal: chic coats and leather jackets wholesaling from $140 to $375 by Rudsak, a 15-year-old company that has 11 stores in Canada; 2xpose novelty outerwear priced from $55 to $100, and Baranda, a fashion sportswear and dress line wholesaling from $25 to $70.

Several reps said they were doing more research on resources to verify their business stability.

“I ask more questions about how much they need for a cutting ticket and credit procedures, and I know more about the logistical back end,” said Pam Kramer, a partner in the Ferrell & Kramer bridge showroom.

She picked up Adriana Fernandez, a Colombian sportswear designer who ships from Miami. The collection features prints, jeans, pants and white cotton blouses with a contemporary fit wholesaling from $39 to $59.

Susanne Taylor & Associates has offered free space to fledgling businesses.

“I know how hard it is for start-ups, so I am going to be endorsing products of woman-owned businesses and letting them have a corner in the showroom to launch their business as an approach to try something new,” said Taylor, who specializes in lifestyle collections and green lines.

She will introduce two new Dallas firms at the show: Dorey Aromatherapy by Mary Ellen Dorey, a certified clinical aromatherapist, offers inexpensive natural oils, creams and bath products formulated to relieve stress and other ills. Seed Sucker is a nonprofit line of organic cotton Ts with environmental messages.

In addition, Taylor signed Alo Sport, a yoga and lifestyle collection in sustainable fibers for men and women that wholesales from $15 to $55, and Kate Mesta, an artist in Laguna Beach, Calif., who makes rock-inspired belt buckles and dog tags. The line wholesales for $15 to $65.

The Dallas show overlaps each day with the market at AmericasMart in Atlanta. Companies with one sample line are forced to choose one venue or to split their line and show photos of the missing pieces.

“It is not ideal for us or for Atlanta,” said Harold Wilson, principal in his namesake Dallas showroom. “We have a number of stores in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas who shop both markets, and we’ll miss those.”

Hughes said, “When you only have five markets a year and two are challenged with slow attendance, there is not a lot of wiggle room in making mistakes. It’s the same with Vegas, whose setup is the last day of our market in August. It means people like us can’t participate [in MAGIC].”

Robbin Wells, DMC executive vice president of leasing, said, “We work hard to avoid overlaps in a very crowded show calendar, and have a track record to prove it. As for the January timing, we are collaborating with Atlanta on a long-term solution that should work for both marketplaces.”

Lori Kisner, senior vice president of apparel at AmericasMart, said, “We try hard never to overlap. Unfortunately, sometimes it happens. We are always working with, and have an open line of communication with, other shows to avoid conflicting dates.”

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