March 6, 2017
By Eleanor Harper-Dutt
“Um, four of that one. And this one too—four, please.”
“OK, what else?”
“Uh, this one here. Can we do six of these?”
I had a scalloped brass necklace clutched in my hand while I scanned over the rest of the jewelry on the display table. I thought back to the slat wall in our store where we display the jewelry line, and minutely contemplated which pieces would best accompany our current selection.
“OK, I think three of these, and then we are done with this line. Did we want anything else?”
I shot a glance over to my colleague and manager Jennifer, and with her nod of approval, we moved on to a selection of sculptural brass candleholders.
Attending the Las Vegas Market for the first time was an experience unlike any other, and truly a lesson in stamina and the necessity of a keen and quickly discerning eye.
At The Museum Store of the Phoenix Art Museum, I’ve worked directly with merchandise in various capacities—processing, shipping and receiving; merchandising; and, of course, sales. I knew, however, that I had hit the retail jackpot when our store manager invited me to accompany her to Las Vegas for Museum Store Association’s Western Chapter meeting and Las Vegas Market, where more than 3,700 brands and lines are represented.
With aspects of the coveted role of buyer still somewhat a mystery, I was elated to get a behind-the-scenes look at just what goes into creating the aesthetic of our store. With a list of appointments and vendors that were must-see, we left our store in the hands of our trusty Lead Sales Associate and flew a short 50 minutes to the city of neon lights and historic mob bosses.
Fueled by a couple of salted caramel lattes and disheveled by a bumpy shuttle ride from our hotel, we reached the Market itself—all 5 million square feet of decorative pillows, stationery, handcrafted soap and ever so many Christmas ornaments. I was in awe of the size of the complex itself, the elaborately merchandised booth windows and the overwhelming variety of vendors. Eager to absorb as much as possible, I scanned each booth we walked by. If I caught a glimpse of Frida Kahlo on a T-shirt or a shiny balloon dog, I’d stop in my tracks for a closer look, quickly making a decision with Jennifer as to whether or not we should go in. We had many priorities and appointments—and little time to accomplish them.
Starting with our favorite vendors, we sought out fresh and new water bottle colors, updated jewelry designs, and the latest shade of “The Starry Night” socks. It soon became apparent that there are several trends this year: Mustaches as decoration are still going strong; and, if you can put a gold pineapple on it, there will be a gold pineapple on it.
In the midst of our reliable favorites were a few delightful surprises. We weren’t expecting to find a Japanese soap, beautifully molded in the form of a fish—a delicate item that will complement the plethora of wooden swords for sale during our upcoming exhibition of Japanese Samurai Armor. Later, we stumbled upon temporary tattoos featuring Vogue artwork—a fantastic tie-in to our museum’s extensive fashion design collection. We left that booth with an order receipt (and each of us sporting a freshly applied and still-damp sample tattoo).
I kept an ear on the conversations between Jennifer and the vendor reps. “Do you have any show specials?” and “What is your minimum on this vendor?” were phrases I began to expect and ultimately use.
Needing a break from a particularly long vendor rep appointment, Jennifer handed me the reins for a few orders, and I immediately felt the weight and responsibility of buying for our store. Is this price point appropriate for our patrons? Is it possible to repackage this to display on our fixtures? Does this significantly relate to our institution and collection?
As we continued our laps throughout the many floors of the Market, I began to understand one of the major challenges of buying at Market: Maintaining a discerning and critical eye after hours of fast-paced decision-making and visual saturation.
I can see how more than eight hours of speed walking through booth after booth and visually sifting through the many windows and displays could lead one to adopt a lower standard of selection. Upholding the sharp and confident decision-making is what makes the job challenging, but also what makes a strong buyer. Knowing when to stop and take a break, when to walk away and onto the next booth, and when to take a chance on a new line are all essential, and only learned by experience and through perusing the many booths.
On our short plane ride back to Phoenix, after another full day at the Market, I made a mental list of the new vendors we’d acquired and the items our sales associates would be most excited about.
Jennifer and I talked about what would need to be done in the store when we returned. Fixtures would need rearranging and our sketchbooks remerchandising, and we would need to determine where in the world we are going to store the back stock of what we ordered. I think our trip was a huge success; we found exciting new vendors and made strong decisions for our store, and I was introduced to other industry professionals.
My one, most valuable piece of advice for attending Las Vegas Market? Wear comfortable shoes.
Eleanor Harper-Dutt is the Assistant Retail Sales Manager of The Museum Store at Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona. She received her Master of Arts in Art History in 2010, and her professional experience includes retail and customer service positions at the Walker Art Center, Senator John Heinz History Center and Nordstrom Inc.