HomeWorld Business: Can you describe the housewares and merchandise mix at The Merchandise Center?
Mark Passis: The Merchandise Center is a closeout and general merchandise market, and housewares is a core part of that mix. About half of the exhibitor showrooms feature housewares products while the other half runs the gamut, such as household cleaning tools and accessories, health and beauty aids, tools, giftware and toys. We have 85-plus exhibitors featuring over 100,000 products in our closeout and extreme value merchandise center, in over 75,000 square feet of space. Closeout inventories are ever changing and exhibitors are constantly updating their inventories. That creates a need for repeat visits. Many products are high margin and high volume, and good for promotions. We always want to bring new products to the attention of the buyers who attend.
HWB: What kinds of retail buyers attend the shows?
MP: The majority of our vendors deal in closeouts, and so retail sourcing and buying is prevalent in the off-price and closeout channels, such as the deep discounters, extreme value stores, the dollar and variety stores. Many retailers that source TMC are on the larger end. This market is also becoming valuable for the mainstream retailers and our vendors to partner on ways to sell excess inventory and propel sales without disrupting their traditional brands and retail channels. Over the years, closeout distribution has become much more accepted and efficient for the larger format retailers, and retail sourcing has become more sophisticated in this channel.
HWB: Has the economy benefited TMC and its shows?
MP: Everybody loves a deal. Certainly, the percentage of the population that is looking for discounts has grown, and recent economic challenges have enhanced that. The small format value stores have thrived and are expanding. There is a demand for more resources, more product and better product. Both our tenant vendors and retailers have performed well.
HWB: What are some of the buyer show services and amenities that TMC offers?
MP: Buyers can come to The Merchandise Center and see everyone in the closeout industry in one place. It’s comfortable and convenient, and conducting business in a showroom environment gives buyers the attention and time they deserve. We also offer terrific food for free, as a further way to make business in the center professional and pleasurable.
HWB: What are some of the advantages of TMC’s location?
MP: Our facility is only a half mile from Chicago’s O’Hare airport so it’s a very convenient and centralized location. There are numerous four-star hotels in the area, and we have discount arrangements with many of them for under $100 per night. We have courtesy shuttle services to the airport and hotels. The area has a new casino, numerous restaurants and retail that visitors can take advantage of to make their stay enjoyable.
HWB: What does the future hold for TMC?
MP: We will open a day before the International Home + Housewares Show in March, so buyers can take advantage of being in town and conduct some business with our vendor showrooms. We did this last year, and it was very successful. We will continue to work with our tenants and develop marketing and direct mail to drive event traffic. Our facility right now is 100% leased but we are always looking to grow and build on our events in the future, work with our exhibitor advisory committee and make sure we have the right mix of tenants. We will continue to focus on customer service and make sure our visitors have a productive experience.