Tough Times Call for New Tactics

Buyers and exhibitors at two New York trade shows last week said that during periods of economic stress the best defense is a good offense.

Buyers and exhibitors at two New York trade shows last week said that during periods of economic stress the best defense is a good offense.

Resources at Designers at the Jumeirah Essex House, which ran May 4-5, said that translates into trying to be more proactive about building their trunk show business. Retailers attending Nouveau Collective at The New Yorker Hotel, said they are being more selective in what they carry, offering layaway plans and versatile separates.

"Everyone is absolutely concerned about the economy," said Suzanne Kim, owner of New York-based Stillman Studio, a Nouveau Collective exhibitor. "People don't have any disposable income. If this is going on in New York, go out to Syracuse and Rochester. It's a disaster. Clothing stores are boarded up here and there. I don't know what is going to bring it back or if it will come back."

Kim said she is holding her own because of loyal customers who want her unusual coats and suits.

Lisa DuFore, buyer for Midnight Sun in Oswego, N.Y., talked about how her employer recently closed Katmandu, another store it owned on the same block. Now Midnight Sun is offering a wider range of merchandise, said DuFore, who was looking for Indian imports and other items that used to be sold at Katmandu. The store is also offering a wider range of price points, starting at $20 for a "fun item," but not exceeding $100.

"There are fewer people, and people who are shopping are spending less than they used to," she said. "We're trying to offer more unique items that are not in more mainstream markets. That is tough to figure out."

In Saginaw, Mich., Elaine Cook, owner of Elie Divas, has seen a competitor post an "Everything Must Go" sign and another promote 80 percent off its entire store. Cook said she has maintained a strong customer base by sticking with her company's slogan, "Bigtime Fashion With Smalltime Prices." She said she was looking for semiformal pieces, dresses, skirts and jackets. "Our regular customers know our prices are fair," Cook said.

At the end of last year, she started offering repeat customers a layaway plan that has become more popular.
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