By  on June 20, 2012

Color and newness drove solid sales results for retailers on Father’s Day, but despite the strong showing, merchants expressed some trepidation about the fall season.

The upcoming presidential election, the ongoing economic crisis in Europe and continued financial sluggishness at home have combined to cast a pall over retailers’ expectations for the future.

Having said that, stores were generally pleased with their results for Father’s Day with colorful sportswear, golfwear and updated furnishings leading the way.

According to a survey from the National Retail Federation prior to the holiday, the average consumer was expected to spend $117.14 on Father’s Day this year, up from $106.49 last year for a total of $12.7 billion. Apparel purchases were also expected to rise, to $1.7 billion from $1.4 billion in 2011. Department stores were seen drawing over 41 percent of shoppers, with discount stores attracting 34 percent and specialty apparel stores 10.7 percent. Over 28 percent of consumers, up from 22 percent last year, were expected to shop online.

Brand Keys projected Father’s Day sales to be even higher, with customers seen spending an average of $136, up 10 percent over last year. Apparel was expected to represent 23 percent of purchases, the same as last year.

“The business went quite well,” said Tom Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Saks Fifth Avenue, pointing to the success of a “series of artisan events” that the store hosted for the holiday both in New York City and its branches. He said customers responded to a wide variety of “classic gifts” such as shirts, ties, accessories, sport shirts and short-sleeve knits. “Those were the drivers,” he said, noting that Saks opted to “go back to basics” this year as a “point of differentiation.”

Even though Father’s Day business was strong, Ott admitted he has some reservations about fall. “We’re excited that we had a good June, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said, pointing to the Greek elections, the upcoming U.S. election and the fact that the American economy is “not out of the woods yet. The challenges of the recession are not so far behind us,” he said. “We have to be realists. We’re excited about fall, but we still can’t relax.”

Lou Amendola, chief merchandising officer for Brooks Brothers, agreed. “I feel good that we own more novelty and newness for fall from an inventory standpoint,” he said. “But we’re cautious. Consumers are still thinking carefully about what they’re buying. So we have a very conservative plan for fall — the most conservative of the past two years.”

Amendola characterized Father’s Day as “OK compared to last year,” with the chain posting single-digit increases. The hot spots were sportswear including sweaters, woven shirts and knitwear. The company ran a promotion offering 44 different colors of polo shirts for $2,000, which Amendola said “drove attention to the category and got people motivated to buy a polo. Today, you have to give people a reason to buy.”

Whether in polos or other items, color continues to drive sales, with “high-prep pink and green” along with printed and embroidered shorts attracting attention. Basic dress shirts and ties were “soft,” he said.

Color was also a top seller at Macy’s. “We had a solid Father’s Day,” said Durand Guion, vice president and men’s fashion director. “Some key items helped drive business.” Golfwear in particular was a standout thanks to the “buzz” around last week’s U.S. Open tournament. “But it’s not the same old golf,” he said, noting that color and pattern were the “new direction” for the category.

The retailer also sold a lot of color in shorts, particularly red and pale blue. “There are new reasons to buy beyond fit,” he said, adding that fitted, plain-front models outperformed the loose-fit cargos of the past. Like Brooks Bros., Macy’s also had success with polos, particularly those in “bold, bright colors and a trim fit.”

In furnishings, silk bow ties continue to find fans. “They’re really trending across the country,” he said, pointing out that the business is being boosted by many NBA players participating in the Finals wearing bow ties in off-the-court interviews. In dress shirts, purple is the prevailing color, and patterns such as gingham are also leading to improved sales. “And we had a nice performance in small leather goods such as belts and wallets,” he said. Tank tops and sleeveless shirts were also selling for younger guys, a trend Guion expected to continue to be strong this summer.

For fall, he said he’s optimistic that by continuing to focus on updated styles, business will be good. “It’s not about replenishment or basics,” he said. “What he want is the next color explosion and more dress-up. So we’ve got some strong ideas to take us through the rest of 2012.”

Kevin Harter, vice president of fashion direction for men’s at Bloomingdale’s, said the store had “a great, solid Father’s Day, well balanced across all families of business. We’re pleased with the results.” He said the store found success with sport coats and dress trousers; dress shirts and neckwear from Turnbull & Asser, Duchamp and Ferragamo; sportswear from Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Theory, John Varvatos and Vince, as well as Bloomingdale’s private label.

“We’re selling a lot of color,” he added. “And sport coats have become a great trend. We really got behind that and it worked for us.” He also said the “up-and-coming designer businesses” such as Saturdays Surf, Ovadia & Sons, APC and Shipley & Halmos performed well. The store was pleased with the results of a pop-up shop from Aviator Nation and a trunk show from Will Leather Goods.

Harter said that although Bloomingdale’s is experiencing “good momentum in the men’s business, we’re [hopeful] about fall. We know we need to offer unique and special merchandise.”

Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans in New York, hosted a pre-Father’s Day prostate cancer event at its new Union Square store last week in conjunction with Zero: The Project to End Prostate Cancer and Würkin Stiffs. An RV was parked outside the store offering complimentary testing and a gift bag for those who participated. “Close to 100 people got tested,” Giddon said, noting that he was happy to participate in “anything that creates buzz.”

He said the store had success selling “fun” neckwear, as well as apparel from Hugo Boss. A Vineyard Vines pop-up shop was popular, with shorts, swim trunks and ties leading the way.

Giddon said Rothmans is anticipating a good fall thanks to its new store and its inventory selection. “Great product sells,” he said.

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