By  on May 18, 2009

WASHINGTON — In a down economy, focusing on the details and leveraging new technology is more important than macro trends, fashion executives said at a small business conference here Wednesday.

“I never saw the big picture. We only see the little picture of our company,” Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, told attendees. Since founding Nicole Miller, Konheim said he has kept a handwritten daily diary detailing the company’s bookings and sales. On July 4, 2007, he said the numbers told him things were starting to take a turn for the worse.

“I had a choice: lower the prices and compete that way or go back to the philosophy we have — which is design, design, design,” Konheim said. In response, the company cut inventory levels and rolled out a new category, daytime dresses. Nicole Miller is known for special occasion dresses, but the daytime dresses offered a new opportunity, Konheim said.

“It was a cover for making lower-priced stuff,” he said.

Hanky Panky, a high-end intimates company, took a similarly nuanced approach to pricing pressures when the economy went bad, said Lida Orzeck, ceo. Hanky Panky intended to raise the price on its signature thong at the end of last year because of rising material and labor costs, and had informed its customers of the impending change, Orzeck said.

“Then the economy started to get bleak,” she said. “What we decided to do was not lower the price, but not raise it. We made quite a splash with that news. Our retailers really appreciated that.” The company did decrease the price on its second- most-popular item, boyshort-style women’s underwear, to $29 from $32, Orzeck said. And in an effort to add value, the company rolled out a product called Panties and Polish that packaged two matching or contrasting color thongs with a bottle of Essie nail polish.

Not losing sight of growth opportunities, like the Internet, is also important, executives said. “I take my cues from the recent election,” Konheim said. “We elected a president that had absolutely no résumé, no funding…no track record, no networking to speak of and he’s president. How did he get to be president? He used all the new tools available.”

Toward that end, Nicole Miller is in the process of developing “Webisodes” in an effort to “dig into” the new technology options, Konheim said. Nicole Miller isn’t the only fashion brand to look to new technology. Elizabeth Harrison, founder of Harrison & Shriftman, a public relations firm, said her firm is working with Nine West to develop an online campaign for the company’s new vintage line that will use an online talent competition to attract consumers. The campaign will solicit original songs from consumers looking to be the next “voice of America” and then drive traffic back to the company’s stores, she said.

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