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Atlanta Rug Market Under Pressure

Buyer Thrift, Competing Venues the Culprits

When it comes to the biannual Atlanta International Area Rug market, it's not unusual for retailer traffic to be noticeably slower in July compared to the popular January event. But many suppliers are complaining about lighter-than-usual appointment lists this time around, and they are blaming the proliferation of competing market events vying for buyers' time, and ultimately, business.

The most popular culprit is the New York market, which last year shifted to a February and August schedule after members of the industry voted to change the dates from April and October.

Brumlow Home is seeing the balance of its retail appointments tilting in favor of New York's summer market, said Patrick Moyer, president. "Normally the July [Atlanta] market is slower than January, but this time it might even have lighter traffic and it could be as a result of new New York dates," he said. "For the New York market in August, right now I'm at a pace with appointments that would make me believe we'll be very busy. Our appointments for New York are very brisk, more so than normal this early in the planning stages."

In anticipation of seeing fewer customers in Atlanta, Nourison is prepared to visit key accounts at their respective headquarters, said brand manager Julie Rosenblum.

"Buyers are now choosing their shows very carefully. Where they may have attended numerous shows in the past, now they are planning more appointments locally or picking one key market to accomplish all tasks," she said. "If any of our key customers are not planning to attend the Atlanta market, we are prepared to visit them at their stores to show them our new introductions."

With the home furnishings industry in somewhat of a slump, thrifty measures to keep business costs down were cited by some retailers who have decided to skip Atlanta's summer market this year.

JCPenney's retail division will not be represented in Atlanta. Stacy Leigh, associate buyer, said she based her decision to opt out of Atlanta in favor of New York, based on advice from colleagues.

"I am new to the rug world, only in the job six months, but in speaking to past buyers I [concluded that], since the [Atlanta] market is so close to the New York market and most of our rug vendors show in both places, it is not cost effective for me to go twice," Leigh explained. With a tip of the hat to the catalog/internet side, she added that JCP's retail side, or its stores, is "just on the tip of the iceberg in making JCP the destination for area rugs" in terms of the company's rug program development.

Stein Mart's Dan Angle, dmm, linens, admitted he and his team prefer to limit their market attendance whenever possible, and the proximity of Atlanta's market to that of New York this summer gives him that option.

"Any time we don't have to attend more markets, we don't," Angle said. "We have attended the July show in the past. But since we do mostly scatter and novelty rugs, we figure we can just go to the New York market and take care of business there."

Mervyn's is in need of patterned looks as well as shaped rugs — "octagons, oblongs, etc., basically new shapes and patterns" — to flush out its under-performing solid-colored rug assortments. But Mike Rotar, dmm of home, and his team will be doing their shopping in New York for these goods — not Atlanta, he said.

Home Depot's Ron Johnston, flooring merchant, won't be attending the Atlanta show, either, but because of scheduling conflicts and a heavy travel calendar this month.

Instead, he said, he would plan to send part of his team in late July to the Las Vegas World Market, where he anticipates they can meet with many major rug suppliers.

Las Vegas and New York are where Jacqui Lemay, rug buyer for Fred Meyer, will be doing her summer shopping — Atlanta will not be one of her stops.

Also on the Atlanta no-go list — but packing her bags for Las Vegas and New York — is Susan Klein, buyer/home decor for television and online retailer Home Shopping Network (HSN). "I will be attending both the Las Vegas [market] and New York Textiles market, so I know that I can get all topics taken care of at those," she explained.

Because ShopKo recently narrowed its vendor resources, many of whom have showrooms in both Atlanta and New York, the discount chain's floorcoverings buyer, Trisha Messerschmidt, also will be concentrating solely on the New York market.

"Besides, it's more convenient to attend one show if you can see your vendors there," she noted.

But be warned, penny-pinching retailers, urged Capel's vp of sales Allen Robertson: "My sermon to retailers is that they need to be out there shopping, trying harder than ever to find something different and exciting to separate their stores from their competitors and get their shot at the customers."

Robertson emphasized, "This is the time I would be working markets harder than ever." For those road warriors, Atlanta in the summer serves an important purpose.

At least one retailer already agrees. It has been several markets since Rooms To Go's accessories buyers shopped the Atlanta market, and now they will be revisiting. But why summer, not winter, for a comeback? To take advantage of the "little bit of lull in the action" to spend quality time with vendors, explained Linda Bressler, vp of accessory merchandise.

Gary Cissell, director of flooring for Nebraska Furniture Mart, is "absolutely going to Atlanta. I wouldn't miss it." This market, he brings a long shopping list that includes "vendors to fill niches — products that are a little more trendy, contain specific themes or novelties, and product that will move impulse buyers," he said.

Price point brackets run the gamut, he continued, from the three-unit chain's introductory $14.88 ticket through its high-end hand-knotted varieties, which average from $2,500 to $3,500.

Cissell also needs more casual and traditional styles for NFM's assortment and holiday-themed rugs in accent and 5-by-8 dimensions.

Atlanta markets — January and July — are both musts for Keith Arlinghaus in piecing together his assortment at Macy's. The floorcovering buyer is attending the Atlanta market as he does religiously — but not New York. This time he won't be joined by his colleague, Jerry Noack, Macy's general manager of floorcoverings for the N.Y./Metro region, who will be occupied in store operations matters. "I'm just too tied up this month," he explained. "But I'll make up for it [at the New York home textiles summer market]."

Tuesday Morning will be present at both markets, Atlanta and New York, because "we want to see a lot of people," said Bill Kendall, vp, textiles.

"The truth is, one market has nothing to do with the other," he went on. "Atlanta is the rug market. New York is the textiles market. That's all there is to it."

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