The October Apparel Market wrapped up today in Atlanta. Spring 2011 fashions have been ordered for stores all over the US but most importantly, for Zoe! I want to share the whole experience with you!
I arrived at AmericasMart without issue on Thursday morning. For those of you familiar with the Atlanta area, the Mart takes up three large buildings in downtown, close to the Olympic Park and Phillips Arena areas. Building 1 is Home Furnishings, Building 2 is Gifts, and Building 3 is Apparel.
Clutching my ID and business card, I was quickly processed through registration and had my official badge, showing I "belonged"! Just a note to my IT friends - the computer that registered me was the LAST computer I saw in the Mart. More on this in a bit.
Along with my badge, I received a thick booklet (think about two Readers Digest magazines attached together) outlining all of the vendors, designers, and sales reps. It also included their locations and phone numbers for the Market period and additional maps of the Mart. There were also some advertisements. The first thing I saw was that there was free coffee in the second floor lounge so I made my way there.
As I sat there and sipped my coffee, I noticed a stage and runway - this would be the location for various fashion show events throughout the Market period. And the whole building pulsed with dance music! Building 3 has a huge open atrium and each floor can be accessed either by short escalators or pod shaped elevators that are glass and look out into the atrium.
I had intentionally made my first appointment for 11 am on Thursday. I was afraid that my flight would be delayed or registration lines would be long or some other disaster would befall me. I did not want to be any more panicked than I was! Since I was early, I decided to start to get the "lay of the land". After I sipped my coffee, I started to look at some of the vendor displays.
The way the Mart is set up, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floor are temporary exhibits. These are wholesalers who come in just for the market and set up in temporary space, often separated by curtains (imagine trade shows you've attended). I walked around and looked at these offerings. While there were some nice things, I will say that now I know where a lot of bad fashion comes from. It has to be purchased somewhere!
The 6th floor contains fine jewelry, the 7th some additional apparel, jewelry and accessories and then the 8th starts the permanent showrooms. Each floor going up seems a little larger and more structured. I wish I had been wearing a pedometer as I walked the perimeter of each of these floors, just looking and learning and taking everything in.
Since my first appointment was on the 8th floor, I made my way there and located the site of that meeting. Before I knew it, it was time to go in!
Many designers do not want to have to worry about the wholesale process, so they make agreements with professional wholesale organizations to handle that part of the process. My first visit was to one of my accessories vendors, where Heather and I spent significant time selecting beautiful belts and handbags for Zoe. Heather was wonderful as she provided me with the specifics on how the belts are sized to fit and typical size distributions. I tried them all on (of course)! She also introduced me to the jewelry lines that her wholesaler represents, so I can select from those items as well when I'm ready.
Now, for my techie friends - when the wholesalers say the term "Write an Order" they truly mean "Write". There is not a computer in sight. Everything is done by hand on order forms with multiple carbon copies. Totals are done via calculator. The fashion industry may need some technological help!
It was time for lunch (there were several places to get a sandwich at various locations in the Mart - they even had a Chik-Fil-A on one floor). I regrouped, updated my buying totals and headed on to the next appointment.
The 1 pm appointment was my first apparel appointment and it did not disappoint. This wholesaler represents a very large number of designers, some of which I knew and others I did not. The account rep allowed me to go through the designs for my chosen designer, pick out what I liked and we put them up on the board (this is a multi-level set of small grooves extended from the wall that allows the clothes to hang against the wall so that you can see them easily. The walls are always white. After I had selected all that I liked for the store, she grouped the items into their delivery dates (I'll write a whole blog on how that works) and gave me line sheets (I promise to do a glossary on these terms) so that I could see the wholesale price, the recommended sales price, the sizes available and the colors available. From that, I selected what I wanted to order, size distributions, and colors and we proceeded to "Write an Order". In this case, I also filled out a form required for a new buyer where they will check my financial situation/credit. Oh, and I bought beautiful pants, jackets, tops, and dresses for Zoe!
The final appointment of the day was with one of the wholesalers with whom I had been talking for some time. Most of the account reps are young (to me), probably mid-20s. A few are my age or older but not many. This particular wholesaler was showing the denim line and one of the primary knit lines that I wanted to carry and I was not disappointed. We had a fantastic session and I left clutching orders for those items for Zoe also.
Although I was tired, I felt that I should continue to explore and learn as much as I could. (By now, it was around 3:15). I continued to walk the higher floors and was wowed to find one floor that was nothing but prom gowns (this is the time of the year that stores are purchasing them, so they can show them in the spring).
I did visit one more wholesaler that had not been on my appointment list and looked at their dress line. I took line sheets and wrote out some orders but didn't place them. Since they weren't on my list or part of my going-in budget, I wanted to make sure that I really wanted the items before placing the orders.
When I walked out of their showroom, I was suddenly exhausted. And it was almost 5! Time to head to my mom's in Athens! Traffic was bad but could have been worse. What is normally about an hour and a half drive was two hours. That night, I could hardly think clearly. It was a combination of tired and trying to process everything I had seen that day! I went to bed after dinner so that I could be ready to hit the ground running the next day!
On Friday, I was up at 5 and out the door at 6! Traffic to Atlanta wasn't bad and I was parking at the Mart in an hour and a half! I grabbed one of my beloved Americanos from the Starbucks downstairs and sat down to reevaluated my progress from the previous day and map out the day ahead. I knew how much I had left to spend and what mix I wanted to go for in my purchasing.
My first appointment on Friday was at 9 and was delightful. Abby could not have been sweeter or more helpful. She and I went through the racks together, selecting colors and styles. In their showroom, we hung them on a rack and looked at the color combinations and selection that way. Especially when thinking about sizing, I had to consider the cut of the item, the pattern, and how it would look on different sizes and body types. I also purchased some earrings in complimentary colors to add to this collection.
As before, after the meeting, I regrouped and reviewed my plan, my budget and my remaining needs. And then off to the second meeting at 10:30! This apparel meeting was slightly different but still very enjoyable. The rep gave me the line sheets so that I could follow along and she presented the collection to me on the white wall. She would put the different groupings of items up and I would ask her to remove the ones that I didn't like. During all of these showings, I had the opportunity to fully inspect the garments and feel the materials and quality. Once we had a "collection" for a single ship date, we'd write an order for that date. That's another thing, IT friends. Each ship date had to have it's own written order sheet. It just doesn't seem productive!
During the 10:30 meeting, the rep showed me a pair of denim jeans that had been worn by a model on the runway in New York last month. I have never seen such a long, skinny pair of jeans in my life. We both had to giggle at them because they just don't look real! And that takes me to my next thought - I got to see runway models up close during the Market. And nothing prepares you for it. Even though I've seen them in ads and on TV, to see them in person is shocking. They are like torsos on stilts! Ladies, I think they are born that way. It is not attainable! So don't ever beat yourself up about it!
Virtually everyone I met with was helpful, kind, and supportive. I met two reps (both of which I visited on a whim - I didn't have appointments and I hadn't been in contact with them prior to the show) that were less than impressive. I probably wouldn't not purchase from their lines because I didn't like how they handled their presentations and they questioned the fact that I didn't like everything they showed me. Obviously, they hadn't talked to any of my former technology salespeople (ha).
After a quick lunch, I headed to my final scheduled appointment at 1 pm. We had a fantastic review of tops that I think all of you are going to LOVE! After selecting the styles, we picked colors and sizes. In this meeting (and in ALL of my meetings) all of you were with me. I constantly thought "Oh, that would look so nice on this friend" or "What a perfect color for that friend!" Each one of you is my constant inspiration!
After this meeting, I did a final tally of my purchases. Although I had some money left in the budget, I felt that same exhaustion and overload starting to set in and decided it was time to call it a day! Although I so much wanted to continue to explore the Mart, I felt that I had accomplished exactly what I set out to do. Zoe is dressed for spring!
Once you've written an order, it is as though you've joined a secret society. You are then given the "password" to the designer's site and can look at the line sheets and fashions to your heart's content. And, you can download all of the photo and written content you need for the web presentation. (Web Designer Mark was happy to hear this!)
I'm in the Atlanta Airport as I type and will go through my orders tomorrow to summarize all of the deliveries so I know when I should be receiving what items. The scary part - buying for summer starts in early February....