Designers Focus On Trunk Shows; See Boost to Bottom Line

In the wake of the recession designers are increasingly turning to the age old method of trunk shows to build their customer base, get crucial feedback from shoppers and to actually sell clothes.
While it may seem old fashioned in the midst of the e-commerce boom (trunk shows, after all, were first popularized by Bill Blass following World War II), many designers are finding that nothing beats face-to-face time with their customers. And to rack up sales, many of them are spending months on the road with their most recent collection, armed with the knowledge that $4,000 dresses don’t just sell themselves.
Trunk Shows Boost Sales
Designer Prabal Gurung (pictured last year at a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco) says, "What I find great about trunk shows is that they grant us the opportunity to educate our customers and relay the back story of the brand. It's important for a woman to relate and in some way have a connection to what she's wearing. Our trunk show business continues to strengthen each season." Gurung, who launched his label in 2009, is hosting trunk shows in Palo Alto, Fort Worth Texas, Troy Michigan and Atlanta among other cities to pre-sell his fall 2011 collection. He was also one of the first designers to partner with Moda Operandi, which conducts trunk shows online.
Gurung isn’t alone in valuing trunk show business. Santiago Barberi Gonzalez, President and CEO of accessories brand Nancy Gonzalez, calls trunks shows "a priceless opportunity." The brand hosted trunk shows and customer lunches in Neiman Marcus’ San Francisco and Palo Alto stores this season. Gonzalez calls them "a fantastic litmus test on how your new collection styles will perform."
These pre-sale events are transforming into more than just a testing period for many design houses, and are providing a major boost to the bottom line, as women increasingly want clothes directly from the runways. Designer Jason Wu made headlines after driving $200,000 dollars in sales and pre-sales at an appearance at Nordstrom and at a party thrown by the retailer this month in Washington DC. One customer reportedly bought 41-pieces from his fall 2011 collection. 
Retailers are also hoping to benefit. Saks Fifth Avenue, to promote the fall 2011 collections, is hosting lunches for prized shoppers featuring appearances from designers including Carolina Herrera and Erdem Moralioglu, drawing in a range of professional women including bankers, lawyers and doctors. At the Herrera luncheon, a blue tweed coat and black glittery gown were among the items scooped up.
Merchandising For Unique Markets
Many designers are finding that a perk of trunk shows is discovering the unique needs of their different markets. Boca Raton women have different tastes and requirements for instance then women living in Chicago. Trunk show veteran and accessories designer Kara Ross says, “It's helped us develop a point of view specific to each region we’ve held trunk shows in, which translates into increased sales in the area.” Stops for Kara Ross this season have included Coral Gables, Scottsdale and Atlanta. 
Jewelry designer Matthew Campbell Laurenza has similar sentiments. “I love doing trunk shows as it helps me keep my finger on the pulse of my markets,” he says. “In many cases the markets vary based on region or cultural differences and without actually going to these regions in person and seeing for myself I would miss the gradual nuances that could make or break my assortment.” Laurenza is certainly racking up frequent flyer miles with personal appearances as far reaching as Takashimaya in Singapore and Saks Fifth Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama. 
A Learning Experience
24-year old designer Wes Gordon estimates that he will spend around five-weeks on the road with his fall 2011 collection, his third season. After learning last season on the trunk show circuit that women really like wearing sleeves, that nugget was incorporated into his fall 2011 collection. Gordon says, "There's something amazing about meeting the woman who is buying your clothes and hearing her feedback about what she likes and does not like. It's a great learning opportunity for me and I feel like the past three seasons of trunk shows have taught me so much.”
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