Collections Up Close: How Atlanta Apparel’s Leading Showrooms Are Making Things Work Safely & Smoothly

by Freya Drohan

The ever-changing and ever-evolving health and safety guidelines in place to curtail the spread of COVID have impacted every fashion business, but here’s how Atlanta Apparel’s showroom owners are taking to the challenge with aplomb. As  the super-sized trade show is off to a flying start, here’s how they are navigating the sea of change this time around, without compromising on the experience. 

Analeise Reeves Thomas, Reeves & Company Showroom

Tell us about your history with Atlanta Apparel.
We have been showing at Atlanta Apparel for five years. We represent about 15 brands, ranging from young contemporary to crossover missy. We really have something for everyone at every price point.

How did you display your collections this year versus other years?
We are not allowing stores to touch our jewelry line or clothing samples as a way to keep everyone safe. Other than that, we really didn’t do much to change the customer experience in our showroom. We tried to show the more casual pieces in each line with more fervor. Working from home is a real thing that isn’t going away, and buyers are looking to provide more comfortable options for their customers.

How does this new way of displaying take into mind the current advised safety protocol?
We’re cognizant of the safety protocol and are doing our part to keep the showroom clean and safe. We really want everyone to feel relaxed and comfortable knowing we are doing everything safely. We’re also only serving pre-packaged snacks and drinks, versus hot lunches.

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What was your main concern this year before Atlanta Apparel, and how have you overcome it?
Our main concern has been ensuring that we see buyers at market. Buyers have, obviously, been more cautious in traveling and that has made things difficult this year. We have emphasized to stores how important bringing in new merchandise is to their success. We have found that the stores that are bringing in fresh product are doing much better than the stores trying to sell Spring Summer ’20 merchandise. Calling, emailing, and DMing stores on Instagram has been key to getting appointments. We are pleased with our number of appointments and expect the show to be strong.

Have you utilized social media or digital platforms in other new ways this year?
Absolutely. We’ve been posting more of our brands’ content, as well as adamantly re-posting our stores’ content. Online tools have helped tremendously. The most successful digital platform for our showroom has been the Wholesale Portal that we created on our website. Stores were able to access linesheets, lookbooks, and videos of our sales team showing each brand in high-quality videos.

Has the pandemic influenced your business for the better in any way?
It has made us work harder, that’s for sure! We also have used social media in ways we hadn’t prior to the pandemic. Not only are we working harder, but our stores are working harder, and that is really neat to see.

How is Atlanta Apparel different to other trade shows?
The spacious size of the showrooms makes things really easy to navigate. Booth-only shows can be tough and overwhelming. Here, you can sit in our showroom for a few hours and see 10 lines, have lunch, and a cocktail!

What’s your favorite thing about Atlanta Apparel and its Southern hospitality-meets-cosmopolitan city vibe?
Your question states what is so great about Atlanta Apparel: the Southern hospitality in a big city! Atlanta offers so much—great nightlife, restaurants, and professional sports.

Randy Leib, Randy Lieb Showroom

Tell us about your business.
Leib Associates has been in business for 42 years, showing at Atlanta Apparel since the first anniversary of the building being open. We’re a “better/contemporary” price structure show room, appealing to the contemporary to crossover customer. We offer everything from chic lifestyle casual wear and day/night dress options to leather jackets, and so on. Our brands come from a variety of places including LA, New York, and Paris.

How did you display your collections this year versus other years?
When COVID hit, we started doing more Zoom and FaceTime appointments, but we’re back to our normal travel schedule now. We are still doing virtual appointments for anyone that we’re unable to see though.

How does this new way of displaying take into mind the current advised safety protocol?
My staff and I are wearing masks at all times when working with our buyers. We wash our hands before and after appointments, and wipe down our car interior as often as possible.

What was your main concern this year before Atlanta Apparel, and how have you overcome it?
The safety of my staff and our customers was, and still is, my top priority. We’ve been diligent in our implementation of the CDC required protocols. We’ve tried our hardest to think outside of the box with social media, email blasts, and more, to get people interested in coming to market.

How do you think this will affect the buyer and retailer’s experience?
We’ve always had better business when our buyers can see everything in person, but when that isn’t an option, we are doing everything we can to make the retailer’s experience a positive one. We have bought things like tripods to hold our iPads, “selfie lights”, and spot lights.

Have you utilized digital platforms in new ways this year?
Absolutely. Social media has taken on a whole new role here in the showroom. We’ve expanded into TikTok and have spent a lot more time on our Instagram.

How is Atlanta Apparel different to other trade shows?
The Atlanta Apparel shows are a little slower paced. You have a chance to really get to know your customers, catch up on business, and have a one-on-one conversation. It’s also much easier to display the lines here in the showroom compared to in a booth.

Stuart Matthews, Matisse Footwear

Tell us about your lines!
We have Matisse and Coconuts lines, and we’ve been showing at Atlanta Apparel for about 10 years. We started with a 10×10 booth and within a year to a year and a half, we were at 300 square feet. We just kept growing over the years. While we have shown in the temporaries for a long time, this year we decided to also open a permanent showroom upstairs.

How did you display your collections this year versus other years?
We haven’t really changed anything beyond additional sanitizing. Buyers still handle the shoes and try them on, but we have hand sanitizer and wipes we use now, too.

How does this new way of displaying take into mind the current advised safety protocol?
The Market really has everybody covered with the masks and the temperature checks. I think it keeps everybody safe and comfortable, and really brings more people out because it’s a level playing ground—everyone has to wear a mask.

Have you utilized social media or digital platforms in new ways this year? 
We’re doing a lot of FaceTime and Zoom. The team is also using social media more to reach buyers who can’t make it to the shows.

Since you’ve been showing at Atlanta Apparel for a decade, how do you think it’s different to other trade shows? 
It’s a great Market, with great people. It’s well put-together, well thought-out, and very convenient with all the hotels and restaurants—everything is right here, it’s easy access for the customer to come and shop. I tell anyone I meet from other territories that they’ve got to try Atlanta, and I hear, ‘The reps are so much nicer here!’ And the building is so easy to work—from the energy, to the music, and the people. It’s just great!

What’s your favorite thing about Atlanta Apparel and its Southern hospitality-meets-cosmopolitan city vibe?
When you come here, there are sports games, sightseeing, the ferris wheel, museums—there’s so much to do here. You just need the time to do it!

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