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Vendors to take their show out on the road

New York — While the recent fall market ultimately played host to more retailers than originally anticipated, the absence of others has prompted many vendors to take their acts on the road to showcase their goods.

With plans to utilize everything from mobile showrooms to hotel rooms, manufacturers are anticipating spending the better part of the next two months — and beyond — showing their complete collections to buyers who did not attend the recent market in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11.

"We want to develop a way to duplicate the impact of all that new product showed off to its best advantage in the showroom so that if somebody said to us, 'We want to see you and your product out here in November,' we can take it to them," said Peter McCabe, executive vp, Biederlack of America. "Come February, we will have some vehicle we can use to take our product on the road. We're looking at some form of mid-sized panel truck, the kind the Postal Service uses, with customized shelving and fixturing."

"We're taking the show on the road," said Dan Schecter, vp, sales and marketing, Consumer Products Division, Carpenter Co. "We're going to Canada and Mexico, as well as domestic retailers. We're taking all of those products from our showroom and we're setting up market in hotel rooms in all those areas. We're visiting in the neighborhood of 45 to 50 retailers."

These previously unplanned road trips will certainly come at a cost to many vendors — shipping costs alone will be thousands of dollars — but most agree that it is an investment they need to make to maintain valuable retail relationships.

"We knew certain accounts weren't coming in but then there were other accounts that called in at the last minute that said they weren't coming, too," said Bob Levitt, marketing manager, Divatex. "At least 50 percent of November will be traveling but it will probably go up to more than that."

"We're hitting the road," said Barry Samberg, president, Famous Home Fashions. "The month of November I'm doing substantial traveling. I believe in taking plenty of samples. Pictures don't do justice. It's a substantial amount [of money], we're taking most of the line."

"I've already been to a couple of major customers on their home turf," said Kevin Finlay, president, Ellison. "The next two weeks I'm going all over the place. We're taking either fabric or shams of all the different components on boards or in finished form. We had to produce quite a bit of cloth just so I could take it on the road."

Some vendors have gotten creative in implementing new technology in the hopes of creating a more efficient yet complete way to give buyers a look at their collections. These methods may have been derived as short-term solutions to a unique situation, but they could represent a new way of doing business going forward.

"We invested in high-end digital photography and shot the showroom and we're doing a professional PowerPoint presentation," said Sandy McNeil, senior vp, fashion bedding division, Hollander. "We're also doing a beautiful board presentation. We're taking the show on the road by combining new technology and traditional methods."

"We took digital photography of our showrooms and downloaded them onto CDs for buyers who didn't make it to market," said Wendy Keryk, president, window division, Richloom. "We have pretty intensive travel itineraries over the next few weeks to go out and see the people who didn't come and see us."

"We will go on the road with a combination of samples, photographs and computer-facilitated presentations," said Frank Scalice, executive vp, sales and marketing, Town & Country Living.

Some vendors expressed reluctance to begin this practice of going on the road with much of their product for fear that buyers will come to expect it and forgo future trade shows. However, for competitive reasons many vendors feel they can't afford not to take their show on the road this year.

"We don't want to make it too easy for customers not come to market," said Vincent DeRosa, president, Whisper Soft Mills. "If we provide too many tools I think we'll deceive people into thinking they can get by without the show. But on the other hand, you don't want to miss an opportunity. I'm just trying to assemble a range of tools including blow-ups of some of the individual vignettes like poster-size representations, the usual array of samples and a bunch of plane tickets."

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