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Chris Jones

Clothes-Minded Told to Open Eyes

25 February 2004

Despite the bling-bling diamond rings, model-studded parties and celebrity posses on display in abundance, most of the nearly 90,000 people in town for this week's Men's Apparel Guild in California trade show came to Las Vegas seeking new ways to grow and improve their businesses.

And those who didn't come to MAGIC to work likely won't last long in the highly competitive retail fashion industry, industry expert Mercedes Gonzales said Tuesday.

"You're not here on vacation," Gonzales, a representative of New York-based Global Purchasing Group, said during an educational session that focused on how to open and run a successful retail store. "It's a big show and you need to try to take everything you can in" while attending the semiannual event.

Still, a successful stint at MAGIC is just the first step on a clothing retailer's road to success, said Gonzales, who added their challenges will likely range from complicated lease agreements and credit problems with vendors to unfamiliar industry lingo and the nagging fear of failure.

Among the most common mistakes, however, comes when people start a retail business with no sense of just how much business is involved in retailing, Gonzales said.

"I can't tell you how many people I've met who when I asked them what made them open up a store said, `My husband says I'm a good dresser' or `My girlfriends all love the way I dress so I opened up a store,' " Gonzales said. "This fashion business has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with the math."

Gonzales urged would-be store owners to study their preferred location closely, making sure their products and price points fit well with an area's demographics and existing consumer needs. She downplayed the importance of a catchy store name -- the popular Chico's chain was named after a pet parrot, she said -- but argued that a store's external image is vital to its success.

To that end, she urged the 150 or so people in attendance to closely study exhibitors' booths at MAGIC, as well as stores they frequently visit, to grasp consumers' traffic patterns and how to best catch a shopper's attention.

With close to 3,000 companies displaying products at this week's trade show, many exhibitors went to great extremes to attract the attention of attendees at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands Expo and Convention Center.

Strolling through the Sands' corridors Tuesday was much like flipping through the pages of a high-fashion magazine: a famous model here, an up-and-coming beauty there. Cleavage was definitely in (or out, depending upon one's interpretation of the word), and famous faces such as TV star Pamela Anderson, rap mogul Russell Simmons, comic Steve Harvey and pro football star Steve McNair were each scheduled to hawk various wares on the trade show floor.

Despite such eye candy, manufacturer Michael Ryan said it's still the product that matters most.

Along with his financial partner, Eric Wilhelm, Ryan recently launched an Atlanta-based clothing line called Ryan Michael. And while this is the company's first appearance at MAGIC, Ryan said orders have been strong because his products' upscale Western style stands out when compared with other, somewhat similar clothing lines.

"This is a visual environment and you have to be able to stop (passers-by) and appeal to them from 10 feet away," Ryan said of his array of shirts, boots and other items showcased Tuesday. "When people walk up and down here, you have to grab their attention. ... The product has to be right first."

Once buyers at MAGIC have purchased Ryan's clothing line and placed it in stores, the additional marketing efforts must continue, he added.

Among other strategies, Wilhelm said each garment he ships will be accompanied by a signature Michael Ryan hanger to help the line stand out once it's placed on a store's sales racks. That extra step costs the company about $1.17 per hanger, but Ryan believes the expense will help define his brand's image among upscale consumers.

"This is a small way to say, `We're different' ," said Ryan, who added his silk shirts, which retail from $108 to $118, should be available in upscale clothing boutiques sometime this summer.