Small Retail Store Buyers' Response to Apparel Markets: Perceptions and Choices

Article excerpt

One of the most fundamental activities for a retail firm is merchandise procurement. Effective merchandise purchasing can minimize the cost of goods sold as well as the cost of supplies and fixed assets (Scarborough and Zimmer 1991). In addition, successful negotiations with vendors may enable the retail buyer to obtain financial assistance from the supplier. Also, suppliers are valuable sources of information about trends, current top-selling products, and pricing suggestions. All of these may contribute to productivity, and buyers' decisions regarding the purchase of merchandise greatly affect the ultimate success or failure of the retail store.

A key element of purchasing is selecting vendors that best meet the needs of the retailer's target customer and retail firm. Retailers are interested in developing a close relationship with a small number of key vendors (Crewe and Davenport 1992). One source often used by retailers to identify and select potential vendors is a market or trade show. Today, buyers from every type of retail firm patronize the market shows. The essence of the apparel industry revolves around the market show.

Market show locations range from free-standing showrooms in New York City, to regional market centers with showrooms clustered in one building such as the Dallas Market Center, to local market shows set up in convention centers or hotels. The primary users of the regional and local market shows are small, specialty apparel firms (Colgate 1991). In particular, local market shows which are held a few times a year are patronized mainly by small retail store buyers. Buyers for these small apparel firms are usually generalists instead of specialists, fulfilling all the merchandise needs of the retail store. The responsibilities of buying for a small firm can be more intense and cover more merchandise categories than buying for a larger firm.

While quite a few researchers have examined the criteria retail buyers use to select merchandise or vendors (for review, see Arbuthnot, Slama, and Sisler 1993), limited research has dealt with their selection of markets or trade shows. Summers and Church (1987) surveyed apparel retail store buyers who attended a regional apparel mart. Convenience, travel, comfort, and location were the four selection criteria for the retail store buyers, with location being the most important to them. Retail buyers' satisfaction with the services of a regional mart was examined by Shim and Kotsiopulos (1994). They identified seven factors of satisfaction: satisfaction with merchandise lines/representatives; mart staffs; publications/seminar; social events; parking/food services; hotel services; and location/airfare. While these two studies examined the importance of and satisfaction with the services provided by regional apparel marts, which are much larger than local market shows, there is a strong need to examine local market shows, which are often the main source of merchandise for small retail stores.

This study focused on buyers for really small retail stores, the primary users of temporary local apparel markets. Small businesses are quite important to the U.S. economy. By definition, the majority (87 per cent) of small businesses in the United States have fewer than nineteen employees, and more than one-half of these businesses have no employees other than the owner. Specifically examining retail businesses, the largest percentage (46.8 per cent) of retailers have fewer than four employees (U.S. Small Business Administration 1991). And small businesses continue to be a primary creator of new jobs.

The main purpose of this study was to develop strategies which can be used to improve local apparel market services for small apparel store buyers. This can be done through recommendations to apparel market management. In this study, first, the retail buyers' perceptions of the importance of services provided at local apparel markets were compared to vendors' perceptions in order to identify possible discrepancies between vendors' and retailers' perceptions. …

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