By HILDY MEDINA
Faced with a shrinking number of tenants, California Mart, the premier downtown showroom for Southern California’s apparel industry, is going after a new market.
As part of a five-year expansion plan, CalMart is decreasing its focus on wholesalers of apparel in an effort to attract exporters, customs brokers, makers of home accessories and even buyers from foreign retail chains.
CalMart is currently about 75 percent occupied down from its 77 percent level of last year, but up from the 60-percent range during the depths of the recession. Many tenants moved out during the mid-1990s, and changing trends in the business are slowing the giant showroom’s recovery.
Many newer companies are eschewing permanent showrooms, pushing their products instead through sales representatives or participating in giant apparel trade shows, industry observers say.
Rick Klotz, whose streetwear company Fresh Jive is a few minutes from CalMart, said he doesn’t want a showroom “because we don’t need it.”
“Our clothes are sold through our reps, who travel and visit different retailers,” said Klotz. Fresh Jive also participates in ASR, a giant apparel trade show for the surfing, skateboard and snowboarding apparel markets.
“The trade show advantage is, it’s a temporary basis. When you’re done, you no longer have to maintain the property,” said Joe Loggia, president of Magic International, producer of some the country’s largest apparel trade shows. “We believe trends are certainly toward the temporary showroom environment.”
CalMart is responding to this trend by introducing temporary showrooms for the first time since it opened in 1965. During last month’s market week, a seasonal blitz held five times a year during which retail buyers watch fashion shows and tour showrooms, several manufacturers were invited to rent space on a temporary basis.
CalMart is also trying to promote Southland designers to international retailers by courting foreign apparel buyers. Last month, Japanese buying office Haru Corp. moved into CalMart, marking the showroom’s first international tenant.
The mart has also reserved more wholesale showroom space for home gifts and bedding manufacturers.
Marsha Timson, vice president of sales and leasing at CalMart, insists that the showroom will not lose its apparel focus by expanding its tenant mix.
“Those kinds of businesses will not take away from what we do,” said Timson. “It’s how business has got to be done today.”