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To market, to market, to buy a....

To Market, To Market, To Buy A....

The menagerie of merchandise is dizzying. A blur of color swims in your peripheral vision. The scale of ...........things makes you crazy. Like the roar of a plane engine, thousands of voices make a background babble that you soon learn to disregard. Some people move along as though they're on a treadmill while others scurry about like mice in a maze. You need racehorse blinders to get down an aisle without stopping a dozen times.

This is how food addicts feel after being turned loose in a cafeteria. This is sensory overload. This is the Dallas Apparel Mart.

Most clothes hanging on Arkansas store racks begin their journey here, hand picked from thousands of lines and hundreds of thousands of samples.

People think it's glamorous, and it is. It's also mentally and physically draining and, above all, it's work.

At the most recent market (Oct. 25-30), Ann Walton and Charlotte Snyder of Ann Walton's in Little Rock had 51 appointments in three days. Rosemary Dyke and Thalie Kullander of Plum Pretty went for the full week and maintained a grueling 8 a.m. to midnight work schedule. In fact, they had to order their dinners from room service in a town with more restaurants than Little Rock has Razorback fans.

"They don't know how our feet hurt at the end of the day and how we're hoarse from talking," says one New York company owner, already out of heels and into flats by midday, who was showing her line to Dyke.

Pass Means Fail

"There have been a few times I didn't feel like coming," says Walton, who has had her own store for three years. "But once I get here, my blood gets pumping. It's a high."

Walton showed up ready to spend $30,000.

Sitting in a showroom with antique tables and brass display racks, Walton and her sidekick Snyder fit the profile of "beautiful people buying beautiful clothes." They take one glance at a group and know which pieces, if any, they want. They say no thanks more often than they write a style number.

They move in rhythm to another showroom. "Ooh, Ann, no, that neckline!" says Snyder, passing on a garment. "You can almost see markdowns hanging there," whispers Walton, pointing to a group she doesn't like.

The two make a concerted effort to find new lines to bring home to their customers and often ask salesperson if other stores in Little Rock are carrying them. Ann also sends her daughter to scout the aisles and report back on any good finds.

For breakfast, Walton and Snyder have coffee at their first appointment and are offered cokes or juice at the next. For lunch, they eat showroom hot dogs with one hand while they point at garments with the other. They'll keep up this gait until the market closes at 6 p.m.

Plum Busy

There are as many buying personalities as there are styles to choose from and, as store owners, Walton and Dyke are no exception. Both know their customers well and always work from that perspective. Walton has a decisive and spontaneous approach to buying while Dyke is more deliberate and thorough.

Dyke's store, Plum Pretty on Kavanaugh in Little Rock, caters to larger women, sizes 14-26. Because she buys for that niche, the Dallas market affords Dyke a chance to physically examine almost all the stock she buys for her store.

Dyke is prepared to spend $100,000 at this market - one of her two biggest of the year - and, in order to do that, she has to get an early start.

Long before the market opens each morning at 9 a.m., Dyke already is meeting with salespeople. She arrives pulling her canvas briefcase, heavy with papers, on a luggage cart behind her.

With six years of retailing and numerous trips to market behind her, Dyke has established a good rapport with some of the designers and showroom staffs.

They talk about their families and exchange jokes and war stories over an order pad and dessert. Most showrooms have kitchens and put out elaborate spreads of food and drink. "We've figured out who has the best lunch," Dyke kids.

Her associate, Kullander, quickly sketches every garment they order. Back in their hotel room each night, the pair will spend hours reviewing what they "wrote" that day, then make revisions. If they can't remember a piece, they definitely cull it. Then, it's back to market the next day.

"We're through," sighs Dyke, after seeing a line of more than 100 pieces.

"No you're not," says a smiling salesman.

"I want to be through," laughed Dyke.

While it may be tiring, it's never boring, and Arkansas buyers will spend an estimated $300-$400 million at the Dallas markets this year. And that doesn't include all of what industry insiders call "the big pencils" like Dillard's and Wal-Mart. Six hundred Arkansas stores were represented by over 1,100 buyers at the last market.

Oddly enough, the Dallas market once was thought of as a small, regional event. Today, however, buyers from all 50 states and several foreign countries attend the five seasonal shows (Fall I and II, Spring, Summer and Holiday) spaced throughout the year.

The October show hosted a Japanese contingency ("with yen to spend," says a market spokesman). In one showroom, Dyke sat next to a Bahama buyer. "Habla Espanol" read a sign in a showroom window.

Those who attend the show practically have to learn another language anyway to keep up with market lingo. Orange is melon, shrimp, tangerine, or pumpkin. Blue becomes azure or peacock. Hibiscus? Hot pink.

"Walking paper" is when a buyer writes an order but takes it with him instead of leaving it with the salesman. "A good body" is not 36-24-36 but rather a particular style or garment that has been selling well. And, of course, everybody here is in the "rag" business.

Bigger In Texas

With its own language and bulging population, the market is its own self-contained little city. The Apparel Mart complex is an overwhelming 2.2 million SF - the largest market under one roof anywhere. It houses 10 miles of aisles, 1,500 showrooms and more than a dozen eateries.

Amenities available include a daycare center, post office, travel agency, restaurant reservation service (complete with sample menus), office supply and sundry shops, and typing and fax services. Whew!

The "Great Hall," an immense space reaching up six floors, houses a stage, runway, and bartenders in tuxedos.

Glitzy? Yes. Glamorous? Yes. Hard work? Definitely.

It's after six, it's getting dark, and tired people sift out of the building to a train of shuttles and taxis, having forgotten that it's cold out because they've just spent all day buying shorts and swimsuits.

PHOTO : FRENZIED FUN: Ann Walton says of hectic markets, "If you can't have fun, it's not worth doing it."
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Title Annotation:Arkansans flock in the Dallas Apparel Mart, spending millions on clothes
Author:Ford, Kelly
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 5, 1990
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