By  on May 7, 2007

Although Zachary Belil enjoyed his work as divisional merchandise manager at Christopher & Banks for nearly five years, he decided last fall to leave the icy, brutal winters of Minnesota for New York. His mother, in ill health for some time, took a turn for the worse, and Belil wanted to be close by.

Now vice president of sales and merchandising at Pine Needles Apparel, a factory-direct firm focusing on sweaters and woven shirts that is coowned by K.H. Lam, Belil has returned to his roots in wholesale. He started as a product development director at Mitsubishi International Corp. before becoming president and co-owner of the Daggar Group, which manufactured sweaters under the label Work in Progress. After selling the company and a brief detour at Kellwood Corp., as divisional vice president of Vintage Blue Sweaters, he had the rare opportunity to switch sides and move into retail at Christopher & Banks.

Now that he's come full circle, Belil shares some lessons learned from being on both sides of the front line.

WWD: What was the major lesson you learned from your experience at the Daggar Group?

Zachary Belil: It was the need to focus on many different customers and their proprietary label profiles. I was looking at the trends and having to focus on the casual side for one brand manager, only to shift focus to the tailored, career version of the same trend for the next brand manager who is visiting. The challenge was how to make every proprietary label of theirs look unique.

WWD: How did that change for you at Christopher & Banks?

Z.B.: I learned that wholesalers are from Mars and retailers are from Venus. We try very little in general to understand each other. When I got there, the greatest thing for me was the ability to analyze classifications every day. When you're on the wholesale side, you try to pull information from your retailers about what's selling. Someone who's good will call customers once a week to find out. Most retailers have a "bestsellers" meeting on Monday. The reports tell you what's selling by classification, whether its short-sleeve, V-neck, basics or novelty. When you can see that every day, you have to be either living under a rock or totally not paying attention in order to not succeed. If you know what you were selling, then the challenge only is how does one get more of it.

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