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Michelle Harrison: Hallmark of customer service

Michelle Harrison is a 25 year veteran at AmericasMart in Atlanta, GA. Originally from New York City, Michelle studied pre-med and special education in college, but her passion was in the fashion industry. After a brief stint in education, Michelle was introduced to people in the garment district. She started working as a receptionist to learn the business. Soon Michelle and her employer realized she was a natural salesperson.

Michelle's migration to Atlanta started after meeting a travel industry entrepreneur who worked the southeastern US territory. They were married and decided to move to Atlanta. With proven ability, Michelle's employer gladly set her up with a showroom in AmericasMart. Within a couple years the showroom had changed owners several times and was closing. Friends and business associates encouraged Michelle to continue on and open her own showroom; and that's what she did! Michelle Harrison & Associates was launched in an 1800 square foot showroom. In 2010, it's one of the largest showrooms at AmericasMart.

It wasn't easy for this woman from New York to build a following in the southeast. Michelle drove from small town to small town walking into one boutique after another talking to shop owners. She wanted to learn first hand what their clients wanted.  She also needed to learn the way business is done in the South. She was a city gal up against the instilled good ole boy network but this didn't discourage her. Michelle was determined to develop friendships, help her prospects be successful, and sit at the table with the boys. Twenty-five years later, it's obvious she did things right!

Today business is different, Michelle has adapted to the changes and AmericasMart is a key part of her strategy. "With a challenging retail environment, there is no guarantee you'll get an order just because you walk in the door," says Michelle. In the early days retailers were glad to see a traveling salesperson and would almost always place an order. A salesperson would see three to four customers a day and could make a good living on the road. These days, margins are tighter and retailers can not afford to buy inventory that doesn't sell. Salespeople have to add value bringing knowledge of the market and competitive offerings that will sell.

Wholesalers must also run a tight ship. It is much more effective to have buyers visit a centrally located showroom where they can see what else is on the market and make good buying decisions. When buyers visit Michelle's showroom, she can pamper them, expose them to a larger selection of complimentary lines, and see many more clients in a single day.

Michelle Harrison & Associates carries numerous complimentary lines in the "better to bridge evening sports wear" category.  Her niche markets include occasions, desk to dinner, mother of the bride, prom and pageant. Michelle sees her job as developing a large complimentary collection that offers retailers real choices at different price points. Michelle is also responsible for generating traffic to the showroom so her manufacturers reps can close the sale.

Michelle admits that the business is extremely competitive. Competitors are always trying to get manufacturers to change showrooms promising bigger client exposure and better sales. She deals with this aspect of the business by pioneering new lines and servicing her customers to create loyal buyers. Michelle prides herself in doing her own research on what consumers want. She personally shops the retail stores to see what's moving and what's not. That knowledge, along with her eye for style, gives Michelle and her associates that competitive advantage as retailers, who buy from Michelle Harrison & Associates, realize strong retail sales.

One of Michelle's biggest challenges in the current economic environment is helping her clients manage inventory with smaller lines of credit. Customers must receive inventory, sell it, and order new product in compressed time lines. "Closing the sale is not the end of the process. I receive my commission when the order ships and the manufacturer is paid." Michelle's motto is "customer service, honesty, and hard work" which she explains this way, "we'll never be millionaires but we'll be honest and we'll represent the store." Michelle employs two full time employees, several part time employees, and several models at her showroom in AmericasMart. Her staff helps with client prospecting, marketing, showroom operations, manufacturer relations, and order fulfillment.

Additional images from behind the scenes in the Michelle Harrison & Associates showroom can be viewed at samdobrow.com.

For more information about Michelle Harrison & Associates, visit www.michelleharrisonandassociates.com on the web.

Sam Dobrow is a freelance photographer and reporter based in Atlanta, GA.

Visit Sam's blog at samdobrow.com.

Information about samdobrow photography is available at samdobrowphotography.com.

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