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Winter market generates hope for spike in spring

New York — Optimism is in the atmosphere for this week's winter market at 295 Fifth Avenue. With many holiday placements already locked up, suppliers and retailers are focused on getting a jump on April market.

"Generally we've found out that the results of market are in by the time it arrives. And in table linens, especially the seasonal business, [it] is so large and important relative to the annual business that, via previews and numbers of retailer visits prior to market, you pretty much know where you stand. And the results for the industry will be such that staying even with last year will be considered a success," said Chris Mooney, vp, design and marketing, Braintree, MA-based Avon Home Fashions.

Mooney explained that Avon is not treating this particular mini-market event any differently than it has in previous years. The company is introducing the same amount of product as in the past. "Our development of product is not geared toward the mini-market per se, it's geared toward filling retailers' needs for the season," he said. "But we are definitely introducing out-of-season product, and the reason is that when you a get a good idea nowadays you have to go to market with it, regardless of current selling period. The ability to latch on to good, new ideas needs to be taken advantage of sooner rather than later. There's no waiting anymore — competition is stronger and you have to be the first one at the table with it even if it isn't what they are currently looking for at that particular moment."

New York City-based Ashford Court is another company looking to reap the maximum benefits from mini-market.

"I think we'll get a jump on April market. We're showing extensions of our Northern Exposure collection as a sneak preview for April. We have also a large assortment of Americana for July 4th," said Amy Bell, design director and executive vp. "And last but not least is our Christmas collection, which is more opulent and decorative with velvets, brocades and beading. We're having a nice response and nice amount of appointments made."

Though winter market has historically been holiday-heavy, some retailers also view it as a jump start to April market, an opportunity to lock in new and exclusive products for their assortments.

"We want to be ahead of the curve," said Bruce Morel, divisional vp, dmm, soft home for the Proffitt's/McRae's division of the Saks Department Store Group, Birmingham, AL. "Mini-market allows us to preview collections and gives us a chance of exclusivity or early shipment."

Saks attends the market as a whole company and not as divisions, he added, and the usual four buyers are going. For the major markets, Saks' divisions shop separately. He also thought that some mills have a limited presentation at this market, so his group may cut a day out of it.

As for buying, Saks' plans are conservative, Morel said, though it is still planning increases. "We will fund things that are hot — not things that are not. We're open-to-reason."

For specialty retailer Strouds, previewing fashion bedding is a priority, though mini-market remains critical for holiday merchandise as well, said Rob Valone, president, Strouds, City of Industry, CA.

His priorities are to preview Christmas and finalize assortments by March 1, as well as get a jump on April market by previewing fashion bedding that can be shipped in April or May.

Strouds will be attending without its outlet buyers this year, he said, because the mini-market has never been that productive for them, he said, but it still is an important market for the full-line group to attend.

"We're going to look across all categories for newness and innovation. I'm not sure if there was a lull or not, but it seems like vendors have scaled back. We're thirsty for newness," Valone said. In addition, inventories are a bit light, he said, and the retailer is in a good position for spring.

Paul Fitzpatrick, senior vp, gmm, home, Macy's West, San Francisco, will be in New York for corporate meetings and will visit vendors if able, he said, particularly to preview collections.

Tuesday Morning, Dallas, will attend as usual and with the same number of people, said Bill Kendall, vp, textiles, who said the company's open to buy. "We're always looking for opportunistic buys of upper-end name brands ... We're anxious to get there and see what's available."

Many vendors are anxious to show retail buyers exactly what's available.

For Carson, CA-based Brentwood Originals, "this mini-market is very important for us because it's our throw market ... but we'll also use it to preview what we are introducing in April," said Loren Sweet, president. "It's our chance to show our customers coming in to see throws what we are also planning for our pillows and window treatment introductions in the spring."

Sweet explained that it's advantageous for Brentwood to land placements "early on," prior to the April market, "to give us a jump-start."

Park B. Smith Ltd., based here, is prepping to give "a major previewing of our spring line" at April market, said Valborg Linn, director of design and merchandising. "It's a very good time to get feedback and work in advance for retailers. We're looking to make advanced placements this mini-market."

Added Park B. Smith Sr., chairman: "We fully expect this mini-market to be major in every way."

Bob Flesca, vp, sales, Calhoun, GA-based Brumlow Mills, said he expects this mini-market to be "normal" for the company, with emphasis on holiday and Christmas design introductions as well as some new kitchen slice rug collections. Brumlow already has 10 percent more appointments for this market vs. its roster from last October.

"We see this as another opportunity for us to see our accounts and further develop our programs placed with them," Flesca said. "We're very optimistic, but we are always optimistic whenever we get a chance to meet with an account. This market is no different."

Dale Talbert, vp, Panorama City, CA-based Veratex, said mini-market is another opportunity for more face time with important customers.

"[Mini-market] sets a real deadline for when people are going to be looking again and for your company to start thinking about the spring market," Talbert said. "It's also good to get in front of the customer's face. Mini-market is definitely worth it because it can give you a direction. Maybe you need to go back and work on something."

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