Mini-market struggles to stay relevant

BCST Staff, February 2, 2004

The New York City February Mini-market is perpetually reinventing itself, just like the industry around it. This year's event is proving to be no different.

After several years of consolidation in both the retailer and supplier communities, the Mini-market is struggling to find an identity — especially since its considerably bigger sister, the New York Home Textiles Market, will take place less than two months from now.

For one, Stanley Mieszkowski, vice president, sales and marketing, New York-based The Northwest Company, said, "(Mini-market is not) relevant any longer. With the customer base shrinking, there are fewer people to see. We definitely have fewer appointments this year."

Despite its detractors, mini-market — traditionally a seasonal goods market, but evolving into an open venue for all products — still serves a purpose for everyone involved, although for some more than others.

Many suppliers use it not only as a seasonal-goods sell, but also as a platform to test new products on retailers before launching them at the spring market.

"Mini-market is an excellent opportunity for us to show the ideas and products we will more fully be presenting at the April market," said Charles D. Owen III, president of the Charles D. Owen division of Springs Industries.

"It's a great opportunity to get feedback from retailers on what you plan for April. And it really helps with the July-through-September sell-in. The earlier we can get feedback and ideas from our customers, it lets us get product to them in late summer or early fall. It's a great way to get a leg up on the fall selling season. So we like the mini-market," explained Owen, whose company is based in Fort Mill, S.C.

Carl Goldstein, senior vice president of Great Neck, N.Y.-based S. Lichtenberg, described mini-market as "absolutely worth it. Any opportunity to be with customers is worth it. It's an opportunity to preview for March."

Traditionally the mini-market has not been a window treatment market, but that is no longer the case, Goldstein said. "It was less relevant years ago … We didn't show product," he added. "But now many more buyers come in."

Joan Karron, executive vice president of New York-based CHF Industries, described the typical retailer attendance for the mini-market as a good cross-section comprised of specialty stores, mass merchants and department stores. The company has appointments with retailers from all of these levels of retail for this week's event, she added.

Marcia Brandwein, creative director for DWI Holdings (formerly Design Works) in New York, similarly will be meeting with all of her retail customers who usually attend mini-market.

"Last market was terrific for us in terms of generating new business, so we will be looking to duplicate, if not top, those efforts," Brandwein said. "I wish the market was a little later this year, because we are doing a lot of new product development, which always takes a lot of time to pull together."

Tuesday Morning will still be looking for new spring merchandise at the show, said Mike Anderson, executive vice president of merchandising.

Anna's Linens' president, Alan Gladstone, typically attends mini-market but said that he still is not sure if anyone from his company will go this year for unrelated reasons. He said, however, that the event is always worthwhile.

"You can't wait six months (in between markets) to make major decisions. Not everything you buy lasts as long and not every program works. It's a pure buying opportunity. We'll look for new basic items as well as promotional offers," he said.

Anna's Linens, said Gladstone, has an aggressive plan to buy, and will open 40 to 50 stores this year.

Still there are retailers and suppliers who agree the benefits of mini-market do not outweigh the drawbacks. For that reason, they opt out of participating at all.

Miami-based Macy's Burdines, Hayward, Calif.-based Mervyn's, Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl's and Atlanta-based Home Depot Expo are some major stores not attending mini-market this month.

"Nobody from here goes (to mini-market)," Gary Nickolie, buyer, Kohl's, said. "It's mainly for table linens, and that's becoming a smaller business for us now, so we do our buying through previews instead from our corporate offices. We focus now on the major markets in the spring and fall."

The table linens buyer for Mervyn's did not attend mini-market last year, nor will she attend this year, said Steve Sunyog, trend manager, product design and development. "We have all of our vendors coming to see us for previews," he added.

In the case of Macy's Burdines, the division will hold corporate meeting to prepare its private-label programs the week after mini-market. "We get an overview from our buyers at that point, so we don't typically attend mini-market," Michael Binenstock, divisional merchandise manager, vice president, textiles.

On the supplier side, blanket and accessory supplier Pendleton Home in Portland, Ore., will not participate in mini-market. "We do the two major markets in the spring and the fall," Bob Christnacht, manager, said. "I'm just not certain that it would have that much meaning for us."

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