08 January 2009

Market Notebook, First Three Days

Here we are in Atlanta, Debbie and I. That's me on the right, croissant in hand.

This has been our daily breakfast routine since arriving three days ago in search of all that is new, fresh, and BLISSFUL for Spring, for everyday, and for {yes} Holiday '09. Right now, I'm propped up in bed, and my shiny new laptop rests atop a fluffy white Hyatt pillow {though our first night's stay at the Marriott Marquis after getting bumped out of the overbooked-due-to-renovation Hyatt Regency shocked us into become Marriott guests from this point forward--better lobby restaurant, fluffier pillows, voluptuous mattress, down comforter like Marshmallow Dream Whip. Take a note, Hyatt people, weary travelers love those down comforters.} Overheard from the bed next to me, just a minute ago: "I can't flippin' move. Are these sheets made of lead?"

For weeks now, this Atlanta show has loomed for me like a beacon of hope on the horizon. 2008 was one wearying year, a year of high professional highs {thank you, amazing customers, for giving us our best Holiday season in three years and for growing our sales revenues exponentially over the whole year} but on the personal front, some low lows and many tolerably uncomfortable valleys. To tell the truth, this year sucked and I couldn't wait to get out of it. I, the self-professed "incurable optimist," came into 2009 wondering if it was too much to ask that this year be a good one. This was the first year in a dozen I didn't write down goals and resolutions. I am open to a vision, but so far everything looks like one big question mark. I needed this show to be good.

And so far, it has been. Very good, in fact. After last year's decidedly lackluster showing across practically all product categories, it now looks and feels as if design is back. And THE BLISSFUL is here for the party.

This is How We Do It {Montell Jordan reference for those in my generation}

We {Debbie who is our head stylist/my mom/my buying partner} and I decided to shop this Market differently than we ever have before. Every time you do one of these shows you do it a little better and you learn what works best for you. First of all, this is the longest time we've ever stayed at a show. Usually we only manage to escape the shop for three and a half days, but this year, having a dream staff in place, we knew we could stay the whole week and feel good about it. Secondly, rather than prioritize our old faithfuls {our regular vendors from whom we order every season}, we decided to prioritize the unsung, the untried, and the nouveau. We are prioritizing shopping for those categories we've generally devoted the least attention to at Markets past. For us, that's Christmas {it usually takes us 'til Spring for our look and theme to come together} and jewelry/apparel/personal accessories, a category in our shop that has seen rapid growth and one that our customers are veerrrry interested in.

Bright Lights, Big Showroom

We started this year's Market quest on one of the Cash & Carry jewelry floors in Building 3, formerly called the Apparel Mart. Cash & Carry areas are the only areas of the show in which you physically take your product home with you {or, in our case, we'll ship it home}; everywhere else, you work with a sales rep in the showroom to write an order, which gets invoiced and shipped to you later on your desired ship date {providing the vendor receives it by then from their manufacturer, or in the case of a smaller handmade vendor, can fulfill the order within your desired timeframe}. In the past, we've saved these free-for-all Cash & Carry floors for last, somewhat dreading them because of how nuts they appear when you walk past. But because of the explosive demand for more jewelry at all price points from our customers, we've decided to bite the bullet and go after it first. It's nice to be able to pick this stuff out in person rather than ordering from afar via catalog or web store, or ordering in a showroom and then not receiving the product until weeks and often months later {"I ordered that?"}. Though the ultra bright florescents and strategically aimed spotlights in every single row of these jam-packed showrooms threatened to induce a migraine, we made out well. {Pictures to come of what we found.} Hot motifs in jewelry right now, from what I observed: peace signs, gothic/medieval crosses, heraldic emblems, natural/eco/hippie/indie meets bling {we found these chunky weathered wood bangles inlaid with tiny crystals--sparkle meets granola with absolutely no gaudy factor}. Chandelier earrings are still prominent, but the shapes and lengths are even more statement than before. I noticed that all the women on Bravo's Real Housewives of Orange County {sure, I watch it!} have been wearing big big earrings lately and I think they {the earrings} are very modern and very stylish. Rose and other flower shapes as pendants on necklaces and cabachons on rings and earrings are still around in bold colors in lucite. Metallics are still hanging in there--not so much true gold and silver tones, but the "off" tones: bronze, copper, platinum, pewter. What looks over to me: silver ball chains, choker length necklaces, Victorian styling and photo jewelry and some of the "collage" look. Sorry, folks, this is just my eye.

Fa La La La La, La-La-La...Hmm

Holiday '09, Holiday '09. It's time to conceive of Holiday '09.

I didn't want to spell it out on the blog last year, but I was sorely disappointed with vendors' Holiday decor offerings last year. I thought there was little that felt fresh or looked new or tempting. I put off ordering it forever because I just wasn't finding what I wanted. As a result, it was tough to pull together a look and even though customers said the store looked better than ever this past Holiday season, I still don't feel that we had a cohesive, compelling story to wrap our excitement around. It sold, but it didn't blow me away. This year, I want to be blown away.

For Holiday'09, we wanted to go toward more color. Our Holiday look for '08 was very neutral {one new customer shopped the store this past season, then turned around at the front door and said to her friend/shopping companion in a marveling tone, "There is no color in this store."} Yikes! How did we become a no-color store? I think one-palette stores {as I think of them} are lovely, but I never intended to morph into one. I guess as your buyer's eye and your retail wisdom evolves, you learn that neutrals sell because they're easy for every customer to work into her existing decor. And they're easy to merchandise--everything goes together. But I want to resist sameness on any level. So this year we have been desirous of reds and greens and chocolates {not all three on the same tree, though} with the platinums and silver glitters that our customers have loved...but once again, we are gravitating toward those neutral metallics. I have seen some striking peacock blue and chocolate brown trees grounded by snowy white and some wonderfully high-falutin' Scottish tartan trees gussied up in layers of ruffled and pintucked ribbon, but I'm not convinced that either of those looks would be fitting for us. So toward my Wendy Addison I waltz. Her line has some great new surprises this year that I think you all will love. We've picked up a few other great Christmas vendors at this show, too. We're trying to keep the look traditional with a fun, sweet, modern edge {something you really want to live with at the Holidays} and the price points affordable {we said no to a gorgeous line of tonal mercury glass and frosted glass ornaments that would've retailed in the $40-$80/per ornament range; to sell these, you'd really have to commit to showing the customer why it's worth it, and frankly, shouldn't we retailers have better things to do at Christmastime than foist expensive tree ornaments on people?}.

Here's what I've been seeing for Holiday '09, not necessarily for THE BLISSFUL, but across many showrooms: glitter glass continues to be in, though I suspect its wave has crested; metallics are still the predominant look, outshining the traditional pairing of red and green; Christmas red is not as prominent as its variations, from deep ruby to crimson to black cherry, even seguing into violets and shadowy plums; green is good quite literally, mostly mixed with golds, silvers, platinums, caramels, and browns; the grey to black scale is still a side story {for those interested, Melrose is doing some gorgeous charcoals, dove grays, and ebonies}; traditional ribbons make a return to the tree--over and over I saw showrooms layering three to five complimentary or contrasting ribbons back to back, then looping, tucking, and folding them upon themselves, weaving them into and around tree branches to create a ruched effect throughout the whole tree--very homey yet very different; as in jewelry, the natural/earthy/lodge-y look meets bling in the form of chandeliers, crystals, icicles, glitter, metallics, etc.; the elegant lodge look is still around but it's bigger, better, luxer, and more contemporary than it was last year {this is the Holiday look we were going to do in 2008 but veered away from at the last minute, fretting it would still look/read too "country" to our customers' collective eye}.

How to Get Drunk and Fat in Five Minutes

You'll notice that my Market posts are always a little light on pictures of, well, Market. This is because there is a strict No Photography rule in the showrooms. Not everyone abides by this rule, and I'm sure some who get around it have asked permission, but the reason behind it is to protect the integrity of the artists' designs. Some of what we see at Market are prototypes, not yet manufactured and sold to the public. I know how angst-y and up in arms I get when I see someone taking photos in my store without asking for permission {especially--ahem--when they're employees at a shop nearby}, so I want to give my vendors the same respect I hope shoppers in my store give me and my staff.

Exterior shot of Building 1, formerly known as the Merchandise Mart. We shot a quick video of ourselves standing outside it to send to our Shopgirls at home. Yes, we really do get that excited.

So instead of Market shots, you'll get food shots on this blog. Inside the showrooms, it seems as if there's something to nibble on at every turn. Vendors want to help keep buyers' blood sugar stable, I guess, in hopes that they'll keep shopping. Before we came to Atlanta, I had been dieting for about eight weeks. I'd only lost six pounds, but I'd established a six-day a week workout routine and have been feeling very strong and looking a bit more lean and generally feeling pretty good {local customers, don't go giving me the once over, please}. I knew much of my careful, eat-small-balanced-meals-five-times-a-day practice would go out the door once that Market badge went 'round my neck. Please don't tell me about PowerBars and portable protein shakes. I well know all that. When shopping a Mart, sometimes you must have the occasional chip {or twenty-seven} dipped in green salsa:

Or chocolate cake with chocolate ganache filling:

And when the rep in the showroom you stumble into, weary and swollen-footed, asks you, "Y'all need a margarita?" and then follows that up with, "With salt or without?" of course you must say yes! Now mind you, I enjoy a cocktail OR one glass of good red wine approximately once a month...and I can't think of a better time than when I'm power shopping. Trouble is, when you don't imbibe often and then do so on a fairly empty stomach...it really hits you.

But I made up for it, the empty stomach, that is. Here's a log of today's dietary damage:

8:52 AM Black Coffee, Croissant, Water
12:04 PM Margarita on the Rocks, with salt, in showroom
1:37 PM Clam Chowder, Iceberg Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing, 3 Slices Bread with butter, Diet Coke
3:38 PM Mini Hershey Bar, one Rollo in showroom
4:12 PM Pecan Sandie cookie in showroom {of course! where else?}
6:40 PM Beer Battered Fish Sliders with lettuce and tartar sauce {don't judge me}, French Fries with malt vinegar and ketchup {please}, Cole Slaw {thanks}, Diet Coke
8:03 PM Earl Grey Tea {ah yes, so healthy}, bag of M&M's {just the regular size}

Oh yes I did eat all that.

My boyfriend had the nerve to ask me on the phone tonight if I'm exercising while I'm at Market. Isn't walking ten hours a day across a million-plus square foot campus considered exercise?

The Search Continues

There's so much to see here we'll never see it all. No one will. That's just a given. Markets really should be open for two full weeks at a time, not just a week. Debbie commented tonight that the really great finds are those that you just stumble across, like the amazing full-length canvases of Adam and Eve we found today {they'll be shipped to us next week already!}, or the mercury glass jelly jars {unusable for canning, of course, but perfect for candles} we found in a most unlikely place. We have a few significant holes to fill in our merchandise mix, entire collections we're in search of as well as items and types of items. Sometimes we don't know quite what we're looking for, just that we'll know it instinctively when we see it. I am keeping my fingers crossed for our last three days here. I want to find some great new X*&#@) that customers will respond to as positively as they first did with the ones we've carried for a while now. And if we do order #&^+! from _*&^%$, I want to be at peace with it and believe that they're truly the best we can find for the money. And I have to find some new @)(*%%m because customers have been requesting those like crazy lately and I can't get the same ones we had last Spring.

Thoughts on Shopkeeping

One lesson I'm taking away from this show is about the art of selling. I like to forget that my business is the business of selling, although of course that's the bottom line. If we don't sell, we can't keep our doors open. And of course there is showmanship to it. I've written before on this blog how what we sell as independent retailers is about so much more than just the stuff--or it ought to be. It's also and ideally, mostly, about the experience we create for our customers. And the cool thing is, they can have that for free {sort of} even if they buy nothing {but then we're back to the old someone's gotta be buying it or we can't keep our doors open}. Being a retailer who rarely shops {weird, I know}, I am not too too often in an artful retail environment outside of my own store {Walgreen's doesn't count}. Maybe several times a year I'll get to Anthropologie, or I'll be lucky enough to pop into some great independents when I'm in other cities. So Market for me is a chance to be in artful selling environments with others who are professional sales people. And wow does this experience ever teach you about how to sell and how not to. And about what you enjoy about being sold to and what you detest. I am a customer who prefers a very low-key approach. In my own store, I would prefer that myself and my employees interact as little with the customers as would be necessary to make the customer feel good about shopping in the store. I would love it if we could post a sign at the door that says, We won't ignore you, but we won't go out of our way to obnoxiously greet you, either. Just make yourself comfortable. It would be our pleasure to assist you in any way you might desire, but we want you to make this experience yours. We're here if you need us. In fact, we're all about you, so much so that we won't get in your way. In fact, I wish that when we check in and get our badges at Market, we could also select one of three signs to wear. One would say, "Please greet me and offer me help. I like a lot of support when shopping." Another would say, "Please allow me to ask for help if I need it. I prefer to shop independently." {That would be my sign.} A third {for those who don't get as worked up about these things as I do} would say, "Try me."

I say all of the above to say that we've had a lot of frustrating experiences this week in trying to get acquainted with certain showrooms and product lines and continually being thwarted by not one, not two, but sometimes three reps in a row greeting us profusely and asking questions about what type of store we have--hardly crimes, I know--but then peppering us with so much detailed information about the lines and minimum order requirements and where things are made and the personal stories of who designed them that we honestly can't even look quietly at the line or think about how we might work it into our mix! As Debbie said to me, we don't care one whit about where the product is made or what inspired it until we think it might be right for the shop. There are too many thousands of lines and millions of items here at this show to consider to get mired down for even twenty minutes listening to "funny stories" about what we clearly know isn't right for us. This high-impact sales approach irks and somewhat offends me because it's all about the rep putting their job performance before their customers' needs. At least let us walk through the space before approaching and barraging us with questions and info!

We've also had a lot of wonderful experiences this week working with reps who listen, let the store owners direct the appointment, don't oversuggest lines that may or may not be right for the shop, and try to make a genuine, albeit brief, connection with us as buyers outside of just a selling relationship. Let us never forget that we're all real people here!

To-MOR-row, To-MOR-row, I Love Ya...

Tomorrow's going to be a big day. We've pulled at least a dozen pages out of our homemade binder of floorplans and they're all marked up with notes about new lines to check out {like the jewelry line whose stunningly cool ring a rep in another showroom was wearing today}, regular vendors to check in on, etc. We still have to hit the revamped area for outdoor decor called The Gardens and finish some floors in Building 2 {formerly called the Gift Mart}, but not before we hit our top three spots of the day: the Cash & Carry Jewelry Temporaries in Building 3, Floor 1, Europe's Finest Temp Booths in Building 1, Floor 1, and High Design Temps {we always score big here} in Building 2, Floor 1. Yes, the Temps open tomorrow and we'll start our day there.

Off to bed now. . .


metro home style said...

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I was hoping you find time to blog from market and this report was amazing. Thanks for sharing your detailed insights, can't wait to read about day 4!

Jenny Danna said...

I am so glad Santa gave you a laptop so we can see and hear about all the great things you are doing at market. You made my Christmas when I talked with you over the phone and you helped me order the Falling Snow candles...I only wish I would of ordered more. Your boyfriend should do some exercising while you are gone by walking to the jewelry store and buying you a welcome home gift...something that really shines! Just a suggestion!

jeannie wray said...

Oh My My!
I love this shop!
You need a followers spot because I want to follow this blog!
And I have to go to this shop!
it reminds me of home (CA)
I miss shops like this!
Lovely just lovely!