Story & Photos By Amy Mangan
If you want to know the secret to successfully experiencing the world’s largest home and gift market, look down. The answer lies with your feet. With three multi-leveled buildings in downtown Atlanta housing every home-related item imagined, this is not the place for a high-heel pair of Jimmy Choos. Comfortable shoes are essential in order to canvas the 4,500 booths and 2,000 showrooms at the place that many in the design industry simply refer to as The Market.
For me — someone who alphabetizes her home design books and knows every HGTV design star by name — this was a dream come true. My assignment was equally exciting — find out what this almost-mythical market is all about and shadow some of Ocala’s own design professionals and retailers. So, with my Atlanta’s Buyer Guide in one hand, a camera and notepad in the other, I was off to experience the first market of 2007.
A pair of comfy shoes wasn’t the only required necessity. Lucky for me, AmericasMart Public Relations Director Keri Hanenkrat Arroll served as my helpful guide in navigating between buildings of 31,000 product lines. Keri says her secret strategy is taking the market one building at a time.
“After you’ve been to a few of these,” she says, “you learn to navigate through the booths and showrooms very effectively.”
AmericasMart hosts 25 wholesale markets annually, attracting more than 548,000 attendees from every U.S. state and 80 countries. A marketplace since 1957, this year’s first market was an unparalleled success, bringing an unprecedented number of buyers and sellers. Keri attributes this year’s success to the market’s reputation.
“High consumer confidence levels and empty store shelves, coupled with aggressive marketing initiatives by AmericasMart as well as our exhibitors, brought the retailer here,” Keri says. “It was our largest and most successful market in our more than 50-year history.”
Every coveted space in market reveals home decor products from linens and rugs to wall art and garden collections to customized furnishings for pets. You name it, the market has it. However, before you start packing your bags, this is a market for retailers only. Yet, the good news is that many of these beautiful items are coming our way thanks to the shopping prowess of Ocala retailers who attended.
And it’s not only retail professionals who visit this event, celebrities attend, too. Sandra Lee, host of Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee on the Food Network, gave a cooking and tablescape demonstration. Martha Stewart arrived to unveil her new area rug collection, while other notable designers and chefs hosted their own demonstrations and book signings.
I was almost on home design sensory overload by the end of my visit, but returned to my senses to tackle seeing most of the showrooms, taking in a few of the demonstrations, and scouting for design trends and ideas. While I missed a few booths and exhibits, maybe there’s another market visit in my future. If so, I’ll be sure to pack my sneakers.
In the meantime, here are a few observations from my novice market tour:
Blue Is Back & Pink Is Still Perfect. While neutral colors still command attention in this Pottery Barn era, soothing shades of light blue and pale pink dominate the design canvas. These subtle colors were evident throughout market in bedding, vases, lamps, and dinnerware. Add a touch of chocolate to the mix from paint to accessories, and you’ve got a rich palette.
Never Forget The Rooster. Local Ocala retailer Trudy Yancey shared this quote as a reminder that some home decor items, like the ever-present rooster, have permanence. While other things may be a fad — Remember sponge-painted walls? — other design elements like Toile fabric never go out of style.
Comfort Counts. The market reinforced the trend that comfort matters when creating your own personal cocoon. Overstuffed beds, luxurious chaises, and velvet pillows were prevalent throughout the showrooms. However, comfort at home has translated into inspiration for the spirit, too. Inspirational words remain popular with encouraging phrases on plaques and simple one-word creations like “Inspire” and “Create.”
Transitional Is The Key. I heard this term a lot while at market. One showroom representative described the current design trend as more transitional than traditional. This approach is seen in crisp, clean lines that are casual, yet, sophisticated. Less is more with simple accessories and unfussy patterns. And, as best I can tell, the “country” look is out, so put those decorative washboards in your next garage sale.
Coastal Is Cool. The market debuted a new division called Coastal Lifestyles Collections offering 6,000 square feet of decorative waterside living accessories and must-haves, regardless if you live near the water or not.
Pets Are People, Too. Well, okay, they’re not really human, but their owners are major consumers, so market revealed a new-and-larger space of booths called Pampered Pets. A doghouse never looked so good
Accessorize This. At market, every nook and cranny in one’s home is recognized. I spotted a booth selling unique pewter switch plates in 26 different styles. Dried floral arrangements in elegant copper containers also proved a big hit for this market as did the ever-popular fragrant candles in elegant glass holders.
There’s No Place Like Home. The market’s continual growth is successful for a reason — people love their homes and are willing to spend money accordingly. Market analysts say Baby Boomers have a huge impact on home design spending trends.
Ocala Retailers Hit Atlanta
They arrive early and leave late, bringing their lists and spreadsheets to check off when purchases have been made. Their schedule is tight, usually meeting with showroom reps on the half hour throughout the day and sometimes into the night. They bring their credit cards and buy in bulk. They are retailers who come to market in search of the perfect item to bring home for their customers.
I followed a few Ocala retailers and designers while at market. Though diverse in their shopping approach, they have one thing in common — they outlasted this writer who was ready to collapse back at the hotel after eight grueling hours a day. The market is not for the retailing weary. Most retailers attend a minimum of four to five markets annually, so proper planning and endurance is absolutely necessary.
Paulette Milhorn, The Veranda
Paulette was in a mood for fans, lots of them. One showroom with old-fashioned and art deco fans caught her attention, resulting in a purchase of a few of the cleverly appointed pieces. Her colleagues, Devan Ryder and Bonnie Harris, were on the lookout for other items to fill the Ocala specialty store.
“We love having each other’s opinions because sometimes you don’t see something the same way another person does,” says Paulette who returned nightly to her hotel room to assess the day’s purchase, often working until midnight.
Michael Koontz & Barbara Robertson, Koontz Company
While looking for wall art, Michael and Barbara deciphered the meaning of “giclee” with the showroom owner. Michael wanted clarification on this term for the benefit of his customers and the showroom representative was happy to oblige, especially since the Koontz Company duo made a few purchases.
Michael, a market veteran, says his approach to market has worked well for him.
“I keep my mind open in looking for things to buy for the store,” he says, “We can build a room centered around art so I always like to visit the artisan showrooms when I’m in Atlanta.”
Barbara has a different strategy.
“Start at the top floor of each building and work our way down,” she laughs.
Coming to market has advantages. Michael discovered a gorgeous leather sofa, but quickly realized the piece was hard and bulky.
“This is why we come to market rather than order online,” adds Michael. “An item has to be comfortable as well as look good.”
Paula King & Carmen Greiner, Ocala Traditions
Stocking a new store of products could prove daunting for some, but not for Paula and Carmen who arrived to market with a finely tuned plan and one impressive Excel spreadsheet.
“We’re looking for a good product mix that remains unified,” Paula explains, “but offers a variety for our customers.”
This pair opened several new lines of dinnerware while I accompanied them to a china and accessories showroom. Carmen and Paula agree that quality serves as their barometer for making a purchase. They mulled over a French china line featuring quaint teddy bears that could serve as an elegant alternative to a typical baby shower gift.
With an emphasis on tabletop design, both looked for unique accessories to complement a table setting.
“Ocala has a lot of tradition, which is how we came up with our business name,” Paula says. “We’re keeping this in mind while shopping at market to look for things that keep with these traditions like summer barbeques, graduation brunches, bridal and baby showers, fall football tailgating, and holiday parties.”
Like the other retailers I followed, they sometimes just go on gut instinct with a purchase. Carmen made such a buy with some stunning ceramics that she just had to have. She hopes her Ocala customers will agree.
Trudy Yancey, Your Hearts Desire
For someone who is celebrating her 22nd year at market, Trudy makes the buying experience look effortless. Yet years of scouting for what she calls a “hidden treasure” has rewarded her in streamlining her focus toward product lines that best fit her store.
“I love the challenge of finding new things and making customers happy,” says Trudy, “If this wasn’t my job, it would probably be a hobby.”
Trudy spotted some Tuscan-designed high top tables with matching stools that ended up as a purchase along with some summer beach canvases to place in her store windows.
“I’ve even had customers buy my entire window décor,” she adds, “so you just never know.”
Trudy also hunts for Christmas items since coming off the heels of the busy holiday shopping season.
Her endurance is impressive — she stayed for nine days at this market, going solo this visit.
“The last time I brought some of my associates,” laughs Trudy, “they plopped their heads down on a table at a showroom at 7pm and begged for me to take them back to the hotel.”
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Story & Photos By Amy Mangan