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Winter market generates hope for spike in spring

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 in order to get it right, or maybe you need to dump it from your line based on the reactions you got at mini-market."

Bob Altbaier, senior vp, Down Lite International, based in Loveland, OH, described mini-market as a "hit or miss" for his company.

"It was never an important market for us, but we always show product for it," he said. "We're not showing a lot. It's important from the standpoint of those people who want to see us. We decided to go because there were some customers that are going, and we thought it important that we be there."

Traffic will be light, in the opinion of Kevin Kennedy, president of the consumer products division, Glenoit, New York.

"You constantly compare traffic to prior years, and there are fewer retailers every year to do business with," he said. "With all the consolidations at the retail level, there is less traffic. That's why a lot of the reviewing is done during previews and many placements are made before markets arrive."

Kurt Hamburger, president and managing director, Lintex Linens/Cobra in New York, felt the same way. He said he already did most of his holiday business in early December previews.

"The pyramid continues to get narrower as to who can be sold to, and the viable customers are becoming keener and keener, which is not good for this industry. Certain accounts will be playing one resource against another and, as a result, marking lower their prices; and in so doing they'll erode profit margins even further and they themselves become dangerously inviable," Hamburger said. "This market is an artificially created market. I'd rather have one in March that takes care of Christmas and April and one in August because October is much too late."

Stating one of the most optimistic statements was Jeffrey Cohen, vp of sales, Bellmawr, NJ-based Ginsey Industries: "There will be a Christmas this year no matter what."

Cohen said Ginsey is launching several new programs and expanding some existing ones in hopes of a strong buyer turnout.

"People come to February market because the holidays are fresh in their minds and because of the seasonal nature of the products and the logistical planning involved," Cohen said. "It's still a worthwhile market."

As bedding takes on a more prominent role for decorative pillow manufacturer and importer Newport, Portland, OR, mini-market likewise is becoming a more important market — for previewing new spring lines, said Corey Faul, president.

"The main purpose of mini-market is finalizing those placements you made at previews. But for us we have a lot of appointments for bedding previews for April," Faul said. "The reality is we are still doing a big cut-and-sew business; but imports is a growing area for us, and we need more lead time to develop and make it work smoothly, so that as we take more of the bedding business offshore, early placements are more and more important. Mini-market helps that happen."

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