"The hardest thing to do is buy enough that you are covered, but not too much," said John White, owner of John White Ltd., a 25-year-old men's and women's specialty store in Hattiesburg, Miss. "It's like being on a fence, and there's alligators on one side and lava on the other. You're either going to get burned or you're going to get bitten."
Many buyers were nervous because business was off in March, said Brad Hughes, whose showroom represents brands such as Lafayette 148 and Nicole Miller.
"We are telling them to spend money on what makes them money and buy those labels deeper and own them, and that way you have a partner," Hughes said. "It's the only way, and it calms them down."
However, there are areas of strength in the economy of the Southwest, particularly in Texas. Several retailers at the four-day market that ended March 30 reported solid business, as did the Dallas Market Center, which operates the wholesale venue within the World Trade Center.
"Attendance numbers were good and order writing was steady, perhaps due in part to our region's continuing economic strength," said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the DMC.
"Business is very steady and stable," said Kathi Lake, owner of J. Winston, an upscale store in Amarillo, Tex. "In Amarillo, the economy is actually pretty good. I won't go crazy for fall, but I'm certainly not going to cut back. There is a lot of newness in color, the new three-quarter-sleeve jacket, the pencil and full skirts and lighter-weight fabrics."
Carol Peretz, who shows her namesake eveningwear line and the Twisted sportswear collection at her corporate room, said, "Most of the buyers are saying it's tough, but a few of them are saying it's booming and they're the ones who bought adventurously. I hear from stores in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Illinois at this market, and [they say] business is there, but it takes so much more effort to make the sale. Customers are not doing as much impulse buying. It has to be special."