Atlanta Apparel’s Caron Stover On Pivoting, Safety, And Helping Fashion Brands Make It Through

by Freya Drohan

Caron Stover, Atlanta Apparel‘s senior vice president of leasing, is an industry veteran, having served in many roles over the last 16 years with the company. This year, Stover explains how she and her teams stepped up to ensure the live trade show event could take place from Oct. 13-17 at AmericasMart. Their utmost priority, now more than ever is safety, and supporting the thousands of brands who showcase with Atlanta Apparel multiple times a year. She tells The Daily how this year is panning out to be a great success, and how the team are getting things done.

Tell us about your role and responsibilities.
I’ve been with the Atlanta Apparel brand for 16 years now. Along the way, I have worked in the fashion department producing fashion events, then into tradeshow sales, and I’ve sold all the categories along the way. Until recently, I have been focused on the temporary exhibits side of the business, but within the last month, things have shifted and now I oversee both temporary and permanent leasing. It’s really about managing the teams and the customer relationships between our temporaries, our permanent reps and our vendors.

Has your role changed recently?
I’m still managing and motivating teams; it just looks a little different! We had to pivot andjust be as agile as we can be. I’m excited to host a full show next week that includes temporaries, and of our five general apparel markets each year, our big Spring Summer market is this one that happens in October.

Caron Stover (courtesy)

Have you had any other live events this year?
We had June and August Atlanta Apparel markets, but without our temporary collections—just our permanent showroom offerings only. In June, we had about 50% of showrooms open, and in August we had about 70% of them open. We’re expecting the majority of the showrooms to be open in October with 230+ temporaries.

What numbers are you expecting for October?
Based on pre-registration, we’re expecting to see the majority of the buyers we hosted last year. That face-to-face connection: it’s why we’re here. We like to bring people together to produce these markets. When we surveyed our buyers in the spring, we expected attendance to be closer to 50% or 60% by October, so we’re very happy with the numbers so far. Three weeks ago, we had our September bridal market and saw 76% [of attendees] compared to last year, so we are seeing as the months come on, that those numbers are going up.

How has COVID changed everything for everyone involved in Atlanta Apparel?
COVID has forced us all to pivot. Our sales teams have kept in touch with our showroom and temporary exhibitors to understand what they are going through. Our brand and fashion teams moved all of our programming and fashion events online and found valuable resources for our brands and buyers through this crisis. Our operations team has reimagined the market experience to be safe and welcoming to buyers.

What else makes Atlanta Apparel unique in your eyes?
We always say, “This is where business gets done. This is where paper gets left.” Serious buyers come, they build customer relationships, they’re very loyal. This is where they get the opportunity with less of the noise, where they can concentrate, enjoy the one-on-one time with their reps, and walk through the lines. That’s always been a special part of the Atlanta experience. With us having the five shows a year, they can see the lines and buy closer to the season. You can come and touch and feel the product, the fabrics. This year, our brands are taking bigger spaces, and they’re trying to show more of their collection because the national shows have been cancelled.

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Walking into the weekend like…. 🤩 #atlapparel

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What does an average day look like for you right now?
Really, it’s about meeting with sales teams, talking to the accounts directly, finding out exactly what they need to be successful and how we can help keep them in business. I also work with the operations team on how we are going to make this the most safe environment. A lot of the day is walking through that with all the departments to make sure we’re coming up with best plans. I’ll work with my marketing and digital teams on what are we doing to enhance the customer experience—stuff that we used to do live, how we can now do that digitally.

Will that day-to-day look different when Atlanta Apparel kicks off on Oct. 13?
Next week, my week will be completely different! That day-to-day will be sitting and talking with the customers, and retailers, asking about the state of their business, what can we do to continue to help drive business and bring us all into the future, post-COVID. It’s community over competition—I want to see everyone thrive.

What’s Atlanta Apparel’s main advantage over similar events?
Atlanta has a huge advantage in regionality. Buyers being able to drive in, instead of flying in: that’s huge. People want and need this physical event to happen this year. We all want to end the year with a reminder of why we all got in this business to begin with.

What has been the big focus this year?
Health and safety. We have been working with a renowned epidemiologist who has advised on our reopening plan along the way. For example, we will have digital badges instead of physical badges, which attendees will get a couple of days before market. There’s a temperature check required upon arrival. There are occupancy limits for all exhibitors, temporary and permanent, and we have widened the aisles in all of our tradeshow floors. We’ve moved all food locations to well-spaced areas. And we’ve replaced physical events with virtual events which will be pushed out to email, social media, and live on our website. Masks are 100% essential. Safety is number one, we have to be all in it together to have a successful market.

What are you looking forward to this year?
The experience of coming to a market again; seeing people and the joy of people’s faces lighting up at the connections we make at market. We want everyone to remember the reasons why they are coming. We want to continue to work with our customers on getting their retailers to come to our market. If those other markets around the country are not happening, how can we help them? The road business has been very difficult this year, and what we’re seeing is that the buyer needs to come to a market. In this industry, we’re here to produce events and make commerce happen. In these new times, it’s going to look different. But we’re closing out fourth quarter and we’re all in this together for 2021.

Lastly, can you describe Atlanta Apparel in three words?
Accessible, profitable, community.

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