In many of the posts about going to the apparel markets, I've talked about the huge number of designers who have booths at each event. At the large markets, there are frequently over 1,000 individual booths! If I didn't always have a plan going in, I would probably just freeze from being overwhelmed with so many beautiful things in one place!
While I always try to leave myself a little bit of time to explore, I am usually fortunate to get through my appointments prior to returning home. I try to research designers as much as possible before going to market and I also depend on the showrooms that I do business with to give me guidance on other lines they may carry that might be a good fit with the store. And of course I frequently get cold calls (or emails) about new lines.
One of my new favorite ways to connect with designers (both large and small) is a website called JOOR. They work to create a virtual "market" where designers and store owners/buyers can connect and share information (and even place orders)! As a store owner, I signed up and then created a profile with information about my store - pictures, where I am located, brands I carry, price points. The designers also create profiles and can provide pictures, pricing, and linesheets to those stores that they have connected with on the site. There is no cost to me as a store to join (the business model must make money from the designer and, possibly, some percentage of sales (I'm not sure about this)).
There are internationally known designers on the site as well as very small, one person design houses. Both designers and boutiques have the opportunity to connect with each other and once that relationship is established, the boutique can see any information that the designer has placed on their page on the site. The site has a built-in messaging feature which allows for easy communication between boutiques and designers.
Like any site, the tool can be available but it all comes down to what level of effort you put into it. I have connected (both by my own request and by the request from designers) with a number of the lines on the site. In one case, I visited the showroom of one designer (due solely to her connection with me on JOOR) and placed an order for Fall. In another case, I'm planning to place my first on-line order on the site with a jewelry designer who asked to connect with me on the site. (We've since had a lovely phone conversation so I could get to know her better - the virtual world can only take you so far!) In both cases, I did not know about these designers until they requested to connect with me on the site.
Another thing I like about the site is that is a treasure trove of information and tips about things that boutique owners, managers, and buyers can use! Almost every week they publish an article on something that helps me learn or think about things in a new way.
So, despite my on-going frustration with much of the lack of technology in the industry, this site definitely is meeting a need!