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Maximize Your Next Retail Buying Trip


Retailer Mary Moore knows a thing or two about buying trips. Founder and owner of The Cook's Warehouse with three stores in Atlanta, Moore recently traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, to attend Ambiente, a huge international market and consumer goods fair.

Back in the U.S., markets that Moore considers her "staples" are the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago; the Gourmet Housewares Show, usually in Las Vegas; and two Atlanta shows, one in January and one in July. And this year, even though the Dallas Market Center is not on her regular rotation, she did attend a show there in January with her buying group.

Moore's primary mission when she goes to market is, of course, to purchase merchandise for her stores, but there are other benefits. "It's a great time to catch up with people. You all come together at the same place. It's fun," Moore says. "You get to know everybody, and it's nice to see these people three or four or five times a year. Plus, there's the excitement and energy behind what's new and what is going to happen this year."

Another advantage of going to market, she says, is to pick up merchandising tricks. "When you go to all these different showrooms, the products are merchandised in different ways. It's good to take notes if you see things you really like because when you are there, the manufacturers are selling it to you the same way you would be selling it to your customers."

While Moore works the retailer's side of the buying trip, Evonne Eiseman and Laura Dumas work the other side -- Eiseman as buyer services manager for the Denver Merchandise Mart and Dumas as senior director of buyer communications for the Dallas Market Center.

All three women say the most important task for a buyer preparing to go to market is to organize the trip in advance.

Take Advantage of Benefits

Moore, Eiseman, and Dumas all recommend preregistering and taking advantage of the often reasonable hotel rates negotiated by the various market centers. One advantage to this is the shuttle services the marts provide to and from participating hotels. Besides simplifying the logistics, Dumas says the shuttle bus is a great place to meet and network with other retailers, perhaps about challenges they have overcome in their own stores or successful promotions they are running.

"Make sure," Moore advises, "that you're getting all the benefits that the markets set up to entice the buyers to come. Most have good Web sites, and they often have travel agencies associated with the show."

Learn the Lay of the Land

After you preregister, you should receive a show directory in the mail. Study it carefully. Read the advertisements placed by vendors who will exhibit at the show, recommends Eiseman, and flip to the back of the directory to do a category search. For example, in the directory she received for Denver's Gift, Jewelry, and Resort Show, she was able to look up "gourmet foods" in the category index and find an extensive list of all the gourmet food vendors who would be attending the show, along with their booth locations. This comes in handy when trying to narrow down the exhibitors you would like to visit, especially when attending an enormous, busy event.

But don't get too carried away with this, she cautions, for several reasons: For one thing, there could be retail seminars you will want to attend on popular topics such as visual merchandising or sales promotions. In addition, you may want to schedule some appointments ahead of time.

If possible, schedule a full day to walk the entire show before you begin to make purchases. And be sure to include the temporary exhibitors in your walk-through. These are generally smaller or newer companies. Says Dumas, "That's where you can really see a lot of new product," Moore agrees: "That can be where you'll find that golden nugget, which is what we're always looking for -- that great, hot new item that's going to be an incredible seller."

Bring Along Backup

"Make copious notes throughout the year," recommends Dumas, "so you can go back and see what sold and what didn't sell." This will keep you from getting caught up in the moment during a show, and making a purchasing mistake. One other suggestion is to bring along a companion. "There's so much to cover," Dumas says, "so it helps if you can divide and conquer. And it also helps to have a second pair of eyes to make an onsite evaluation."

Moore always takes her buyer along. During Atlanta shows, she also invites her store managers and sales supervisors. "I think the more I can expose the managers and the key people in the stores to the markets, the better off we all are because they might see something that I either am not seeing, or something they're excited about that they might be able to sell really well."

Stay Organized

All three women stress the importance of keeping your paperwork well organized:

  • Prepare your credit information (see end of article for details)
  • Bring plenty of business cards, and include both your ship-to and bill-to addresses on the card.
  • Bring a copy of your state retail tax license.
  • Bring your business credit card.

Determining How Much to Buy

Before you arrive, be sure to figure out your "open to buy," or how much money you have available to spend. How many of one item to buy is something that comes easier with experience, so Moore and Dumas both recommend relying on showroom staff for help. "Ask them," Moore suggests, "what their top sellers are, what the volume is. They don't want to stick you with something you can't sell anymore than you want to be that position. The sales reps generally have a good sense and feel for what's happening in the marketplace."

And, Dumas points out, "They live and breathe that product. They're going to know what's selling across the country."

One suggestion from Moore is to place two orders at the same time. "Place an order for 12 and a backup order for another 12 for two weeks out. You can always cancel that backup order, but it's there if you need it."

More Wisdom from the Experts

Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and relax a little. "Don't go back to your hotel room and just pore over your orders. Go out and have a nice dinner," Dumas says. She also recommends that you "go out and shop while you're there. Not to buy things, but to look at other stores and see how they display things, what lines they're carrying. It's a way to broaden your horizons."

You will pick up hundreds of brochures and catalogs while walking the floor. Consider shipping them to yourself rather than carrying them back home.

While you are at market, Moore says, it's smart to establish relationships with similar retailers from around the country. "I have friends all over the country with gourmet stores. We share ideas and tips and talk about products. It's really helpful because it's hard to operate in a vacuum."

Both Dumas and Moore say that one great reason to go to market is because manufacturers frequently have market specials, deals not available from the sales reps who visit your store. "Place a big enough order," Dumas says, "and that just covered your air fare."

After the Show

When you are back home, "Make sure you sit down, follow up on the orders that you made," Dumas advises. "Make sure you got all the information you needed. Figure out when you should expect delivery. Then go over the orders with your staff so that they feel part of the process and are familiar with the product once it arrives."

Going to market, she says, is "high energy, very motivating. It kind of reminds you of why you're in retail."

For more information, be sure to check out the Gift & Home Channel and Giftware News.

Information to Include on Your Credit Sheet

  • Store name, address, telephone numbers
  • Type of business (corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship)
  • Date your store opened
  • Bank name, address, phone number, account number, contact person
  • Your state retail sales tax license number and your federal ID number
  • Names of at least three vendors with whom you have done business for more than six months
  • List of your account numbers with these vendors, including their addresses and phone numbers (Beforehand, verify with the vendors that they will give either phone or written credit references.)

Multi award-winning Carol Carter has been a business journalist since 1978, when she was among the founding staff of Atlanta Business Chronicle, for which she served as editor, managing editor, reporter, and columnist. She covered retail news for the Chronicle for five years, wrote a column about retail stores for Southline newspaper in Atlanta, and was the consumer reporter for NBC-affiliate WXIA-TV's Noonday show. operates one of the Web's premier business sites, providing practical information and services for business professionals and growing businesses. See more at

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