Neiman Marcus was there. So was Jazz It Up, a marketer of detachable sequin appliquÉs. They were but 2 of 236 merchants selling at the Houston Ballet's Nutcracker Market, where a reported 30,000 shoppers come -- some by bus -- each fall to support the ballet.

If fund-raisers don't impress you as distribution channels, consider that Jazz It Up makes all its sales at such boutiques, grossing as much as $40,000 at a good show. The Nutcracker Market collects $500 and up for space, plus 10% of sales.

Through her travels to fund-raiser shows around the country, Keven Wilder, owner of Chiasso, a Chicago-based retailer-cataloger of upscale toys and desk items, has added the names of 25,000 qualified leads to her mailing list. She opened a store in Los Angeles after a profitable exhibit at the Christmas Co., an Orange County Junior League event that draws 20,000 to Newport Beach, Calif.

Also popular are the Junior League holiday marts in Austin, Denver, and Washington, D.C. There is a downside, though. Most shows are held during the busiest selling season. Still, Wilder considers them a good way "to test-market, advertise, and get names without spending a lot."

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