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Mini-Market May Be Gaining Importance

New York — The “unofficial” August Mini-market is certainly real enough to retailers and suppliers who are currently setting up preview appointments during the first two weeks of the month.

Although many suppliers and some major retailers elect not to participate, the shift to global sourcing appears to be drawing more companies to New York during early August.

“Why do they call it unofficial? We've always gone and always do. We've always make a pre-market trip, usually the first week of August,” said Bruce Morel, vice president of product development, textiles and housewares, with Birmingham, Ala.-based Saks Department Store Group. “Working out in private brands, you need the extra time to get your domestic and import vendors the necessary lead time.”

Morel said he and SDSG's basic and fashion bedding and linens product managers will attend from July 31 through August 3. They will soon set up their appointments with vendors. “It is abbreviated compared to the regular markets, but we'll put in two to three days of hard appointments,” he continued.

The same is the case for Tuesday Morning's textiles buyers, said Bill Kendall, vice president of textiles, whose team will be in town from July 31 through August 3 or 4.

Kendall offered two reasons why he sees this unofficial Mini-market growing in importance, citing in particular shifting lead times to get product early from offshore sources. “And a lot of major vendors and retailers like to preview before market, so enough people are doing it that it's becoming more official,” he added.

For unrelated reasons, two retailers — The Home Depot and Boscov's — said they were holding off until the second week of August.

Atlanta, Ga.-based The Home Depot's Terry Handelman, interactive marketing and ebusiness product merchant, is piggybacking her visits with home textiles vendors onto her trip to attend the New York International Gift Fair, scheduled August 13 to 18.

Ann Hinrichs, domestics buyer for Reading, Pa.-based Boscov's, said she will not be able to make it to New York until week two of August because of scheduling conflicts. “We're so close to New York that we can go anytime, so this is a good opportunity to get a head start before October on some categories like beach towels,” she said.

Because of its even closer proximity to the Mini-market, Bloomingdale's New York deems the event “nothing for us, in particular,” said Joe Laneve, senior vice president. “We're in the market all the time.”

Still considering a stop at the unofficial market is Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based The Great Indoors' Decorative Rug Buyer Alyson Angotti. With the timing sandwiched between the Atlanta International Area Rug market in July and the High Point Market in October, the event might serve as “a nice break in between to see new product. You never know when you'll find good product, and it might be a good opportunity to cross-merchandise goods and incorporate other vendors from across the store,” she said.

Scheduling meetings with retailers in advance of the traditional April and October markets not only makes sense in today's post-quota environment but will continue to be the norm, predicted Frank Foley, president and CEO of CHF Industries.

“Basically, 60 days have been added to the lead-time schedules now that most manufacturing is offshore,” he explained. “Not only will there be unofficial markets if that's what it takes for the business to get done, but if market dates remain as they are at present, you'll have less muscle attending the official events because the timing doesn't work for them.”

The criteria for coming to market — official and unofficial — should be based on when retailers want to do their buying, said Dale Talbert, vice president, Veratex.

“People are shopping for merchandise whether we say it's market or not. And when people are shopping, that's when we are selling,” he continued.

Added Mason Carroll, senior vice president of the fashion bedding division at Hollander Home Fashions: “I think it's a matter of timing for the retailers. They need to see products now as opposed to waiting until October. The August Mini-market is extremely important, and I expect it to get more and more important as time goes on.”

But that sentiment is not universally held. Scott Walters, director of product development at Louisville Bedding Co., said that an August market hasn't become a must-attend event for companies in the basic bedding business.

“But this can change if the momentum builds and enough retailers want to conduct business in August,” he added. “Right now, we are just doing some things with Nautica that will be on display in their showroom.”

Oxford House Collection will be participating in the New York International Gift Fair rather than doing a showroom presence during the first week of August.

“Now that Heritage Lace has acquired us, we will be getting more involved in the gift business in addition to our window and table linen offerings,” said Barbara Tippin, vice president of sales and marketing.

Home Fashions International, like many suppliers, is still assessing whether the unofficial market will prove to be much of a draw. Denise Matlack, vice president of sales, said a couple of customers have asked about dates, but nothing has been confirmed.

“We're seeing East Coast people being very interested in coming to Mini-market in August and not so much those companies on the West Coast,” she said, adding that because the company has offices in both New York and California “we're there all the time … . We usually see some off-price guys and discounters as well as department and specialty stores, but always try to get as many different retailers in as we can since it really is helpful in terms of timing.”

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