By  on January 22, 2008

This winter's weather has been erratic at best, but outerwear makers and retailers are playing up fashion and lighter-weight options to try to outsmart Mother Nature.

Weatherproof Garment Co. president and chief executive officer Freddie Stollmack said mild temperatures in September and October "really hurt" outerwear sales, but chillier temperatures kicked in in November and December. The company bought weather insurance as a safeguard — more commonly used by ski resorts and snowmobile makers — but Stollmack said he was "delighted" not to have to cash in on the policy.

Having an average retail price of $100 and designing more transitional pieces have appealed to shoppers, he said. The layering trend, which is especially popular among younger shoppers, has also helped business. Weatherproof has made a concerted effort to design more fashion-oriented pieces. That gels with its strategy of catering to women between the ages of 30 and 50 instead of 40 and up.

At L.L. Bean, holiday sales in all channels happened a bit later than expected, but were strong, and postholiday sales continue to be robust, according to a company spokeswoman.

In addition, the three new stores and the hunting and fishing store L.L. Bean opened last year have been well-received, she said.

This season's unusual weather — "record highs, record lows and record amounts of snowfall" — has kept the Freeport, Maine-based retailer, which also has a sizable mail-order and online business, on its toes. Offering free shipping from the beginning of September through Dec. 21, an incentive that is usually only offered to L.L. Bean credit card customers, helped drum up sales. Shoppers did not have any minimum purchase restrictions to qualify. In addition, last month the company offered $10 coupons for orders of $50 or more, which gave holiday sales a boost and some shoppers are using the coupons to make purchases this month, the spokeswoman said.

Outerwear sales at Searle have not been lagging due primarily to the fact the retailer is known to carry a healthy assortment at this time of year, said Rick Weinstein, director of sales and marketing. The fact that most department stores are getting ready for the end of the outerwear season only helps, he said.

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