By  on February 17, 2009

Despite — or possibly because of — the broad implications of the current economic malaise, manufacturers and retailers seem less fearful and frozen than they were three or four months ago. The market is flush with inventive and traditional methods to offset the downturn.

Contemporary and young contemporary exhibitors at WWDMAGIC head to Las Vegas with an array of survival skills that include more pared-down offerings, special payment terms for buyers and new operating systems to help wholesalers cut costs.

Komarov, a 12-year-old Los Angeles resource known for its intricate pleating and wrinkle-free fabrics, is showing spring, summer and fall, homing in on tried-and-true pieces instead of straying from its specialties.

“We have a niche and we’re very recognizable. We’re going to weather the storm just like we did when [overseas producers] were trying to knock us off,” said Dimitri Komarov, president. “I think the worst of the economy has passed, but until banks start lending money and credit opens back up, nothing can get better.”

To accommodate buyers with suffocated credit lines, the company recently began accepting a 50 percent credit card hold and a check to cover the rest, which can be held for up to 90 days.

“I’d rather go ahead and get my merchandise in stores and hold payment for a little while,” said Komarov. “At least then I know my line might sell and that I have a better chance of getting paid.”

Buyers are searching for immediates and only looking 30 days ahead, according to Komarov, and orders are being cut from about 40 units to 20. Dresses are selling best, especially charmeuse knee- and tea-length styles in big floral, polkadot and black-and-white prints.

The line is priced from $70 to $140 wholesale and currently sells to about 1,000 boutiques and majors such as Nordstrom.

Komarov expects sales to be flat with last year.

Like Komarov, Charlotte Tarantola, a sweater and top line out of Culver City, Calif., is fine-tuning its lineup, opting for proven sellers over radical design change.

“I won’t sacrifice hand feel, design, quality or construction, but what I can do is assort my bells and whistles so prices are under control. Sadly, there isn’t room in the budget this year for the kitchen sink,” said owner and designer Charlotte Tarantola.

For fall, Tarantola is doing fewer solids than in seasons past, citing customer demand. Prints account for 80 percent of the season’s lineup, ranging from feminine florals to equestrian-style patterns, all done in rich colors, assorted textures and a variety of silhouettes.

Tarantola is also focusing on her cobranding project with Disney, a venture that combines her tops and accessories designs with classic Disney art, including Snow White — the most recent theme.

For Michelle Kim, president and designer for 213 Industry, a Los Angeles young contemporary brand of novelty items, survival in the down economy means sticking to a reasonable price point and cultivating international business.

“The contemporary and young contemporary market is really suffering right now. With all these chain stores and mass retailers, buyers are looking for a bargain more than ever. We really have to be careful not to show the buyers something too overpriced,” said Kim.

The company is bringing immediates and early fall to the show, focusing on plaids inspired by Eighties punk, pleather motorcycle jackets and blazers and some knit jersey pieces with vintage-style lace trims.

Kim hopes playful, fresh product will give reluctant buyers incentive to carry the line.

“It’s really depressing when we hear about all these boutiques and businesses going out of business,” she said. “I am hoping that the economy will pick up by late spring so we can get back to business.”

In the meantime, 213 Industry is offering plenty of immediate deliveries, hoping to capitalize on retail’s stagnancy over the last few months and further entice international retailers.

“We are bringing up to September delivery for international buyers so they won’t miss out on our fall. MAGIC is a great opportunity to meet that great international account who has chain stores. All the big international accounts we have, we met at MAGIC,” said Kim.

Other wholesalers are banding together and offering inventive ways to reduce costs and bolster efficiency in a down economy.

VFish, a two-year-old Chicago line of sporty contemporary pieces, in January launched a new division called Intuitivia — a Web platform that addresses trade show, fax and e-commerce ordering for wholesale and consumer accounts. The operation aims to help makers and retailers manage their work flows more efficiently, from ship-date management to order entry, according to Tal Moise, president of VFish.

“Intuitivia was built for wholesale distributors by a wholesale distributor,” said Moise. “We did not reinvent this industry and we didn’t build yet another tool to augment our existing systems. Rather, we digitally enabled the business processes that we were already undertaking.”

Using the operating system for his own company, Moise said he has reduced expenses by more than 30 percent and has increased online wholesale business by 700 percent.
Exhibitor Daniel Reeder, president of Wish Collection, a $10 million Birmingham, Ala., manufacturer, switched from Quickbooks — and five other systems — to Intuitivia in November and says the system has slashed overhead and helped him better manage more than 4,200 accounts.

“I’ve seen order shipment time reduced by 90 percent and now we only use one system,” said Reeder. “More importantly, I had three open positions to fill [before we implemented Intuitivia] and now I don’t require that additional staff.”

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