Merchandising Mart Planned for Downtown

Article excerpt

Feature Editor A regional cash-and-carry wholesale showroom market for small retailers is being planned in downtown Oklahoma City.

No opening date has been set, but the developer, Bill Cozzens, said he tentatively plans on having a building at 825 N. Broadway ready in May. The operation could eventually house 60 to 80 individual wholesale showroom operations in 40,000 square feet of space on four floors of that building and 14,000 square feet in an adjoining building.

Cozzens has operated Accessories-To-Go, a cash-and-carry wholesale jewelry and accessory business, next door at 815 N. Broadway, about a year.

"As a result of our success here and the success of the (cash-and-carry) concept, we are preparing right now The Oklahoma Merchandising Mart," he said. "It will be like the Dallas Mart, except for one major difference. The majority of our accounts will be in different areas of ready-to-wear or giftware."

Cozzens said he definitely plans to develop the merchandising mart but is reluctant to make any big announcements because he does not have all of the financing arranged.

"We are organizing it, but I don't want another Skirvin Hotel announcement or another `downtown is saved again,' by somebody coming in here without financing and making a big statement. If you haven't got your financing in place, don't tell me what you are going to do with the Skirvin or the Holiday Inn. Let me see some action, that your construction interim (financing) is in place.

"We have had two offers to finance. We bought the buildings, then we took it to banks, and the banks said: `Basically, you have two things here. The first is a new entrepreneurial venture. The second is after you get through with this venture, then it reverts to a real estate loan in downtown Oklahoma City. Now, forgive us bankers if it doesn't excite us - those two opportunities.'

"It seems like the kind of loan we are going to have to go to is, if we give them a certificate of deposit or cash equal to the amount at risk, then they will lend it to us for one or two points over that amount. Maybe we will just finance it ourselves.

"The concept we are looking at here works. The concept of having merchandise here for a retailer to take what he needs to sell for a very short, short period is valid," Cozzens said.

Trade area for the Oklahoma Merchandising Mart is expected to be primarily within a three-hour drive, he said.

"The chain-store buyers go to Dallas and spend six days at the market. The lady that owns the dress shop loses $500 when she is out of the store because Aunt Minnie, who is running the store, can't mark down 10 percent to get rid of something she's had for two years.

"If our concept works, we anticipate, on a good market weekend, having 400 to 500 people in the area," Cozzens said.

Parking for the crowds has been tentatively arranged with other nearby businesses with large parking lots. They would charge for weekend parking services and increase their businesses independently of the shopping mart, Cozzens said.

A mail survey of retailer interest in the Oklahoma Merchandising Mart concept drew a 61 percent return within a week, with 87 percent of those interested in being buyers, he said. More than 80 percent of those surveyed were interested enough to return the survey eventually, he said.

Cozzens estimated there are 20,000 prospective customers for the buyers' market in its planned market area.

About a dozen wholesalers have made tentative commitments to lease showroom space in the merchandising market, Cozzens said. He believes that number should grow easily to about 50 active showrooms after the market is opened and operating, he said. …