By  on July 14, 2011

Contemporary retailers are riding the same wave of solid sales that has lifted the high-end men’s market beginning at the end of last year.

Buoyed by strength in heritage product, shorts, swimwear and soft jackets, merchants have experienced strong spring and summer business, and they’re expecting the momentum to continue through to the fall. As a result, retailers who will be shopping Project and the other trade shows in New York next week are seeking updates of the products that are working and will be scouring the fairs and showrooms in the city for other must-have items or collections for the season.

“Knock on wood, our men’s business is up over last year and the spring season has been amazing,” said Bryan Reynolds, divisional merchandise manager of men’s wear for Scoop. Among the top performers, he said, are swimwear, which is “up in the triple digits,” along with shorts from Tailor Vintage, a new addition to the store. “They have a reversible short for $98 that has been just phenomenal for us,” Reynolds said.

Polos continue to do well, along with cargo shorts, Bermuda shorts, flip-flops and rubber boat shoes from Swims that retail for $148. “We can’t keep them in stock.” Vintage belts, Roderick Tung shirts and shoes from Del Toro have also performed well along with Scoop’s private label basics.

“It’s all about buy-now, wear-now for guys,” Reynolds said. “Most of our spring product is still selling at full price.”

For fall, Reynolds expects to capitalize even further on the wear-now mentality. “Last year it was warm until November,” he said, “so when we bought fall, we were very conscious of wear-now fabrications for the third quarter. Yes, there will be some wool, leather and shearlings, but there will also be lightweight sweaters, polos and T-shirts in fall colors that guys can wear immediately.”

Reynolds, who will shop Project, ENKNYC and Capsule, said he’ll be looking for spring merchandise with a pop of color such as cerulean blue, light yellow or rust — colors that permeated the recent European men’s spring market. In addition, he will be seeking double-breasted peak lapel jackets, blouson-style jackets, ribbon belts, colored shorts and pants and sandals.

Charlie Groom, men’s buyer and merchandise planner for South Moon Under, a 15-unit specialty store chain based in Ocean City, Md., will also be looking for pops of color for spring when he hits the trade show floors next week.

“We’ve had a nice reaction to what I call indie prep, as well as color and the whole outdoors trend,” he said. “We used to do Patagonia, then we dropped them, but we picked them up again and it’s selling. We’re also having success with retro surf lines such as Lightning Bolt, shorter shorts and tank tops.”

For spring ’12, Groom said he’ll be “playing off the field-and-stream theme,” as well as a “color pop in indie prep” and more Baja surf brands. “We’re also going to touch base on some of the edgier stuff such as skinny trousers and ties — the whole rockabilly look,” he added. “We want to expand our dressy areas.”

Groom said the chain, which will open its 16th store in September, had a “pretty good” fourth quarter, and the first and second quarters of this year have been “up and down.

“We’re still trying to get back to ’07 numbers,” he said. But the business has seen a recent uptick in average retail prices, indicating the people are “paying a little more.”

For fall, Groom expects color to continue to connect with customers. And he’s hopeful the strength the store has experienced in the past several months will continue. Because the store offers a variety of price points and is skewed more moderately, Groom believes most shoppers will be able to find things in their price range. “We have a balance of price points, so someone will come in and buy one high-priced item and then a couple at the lower scale. People are still watching their money.”

Adam Beltzman and Jerry Kamhi, owners of Haberdash in Chicago, said business over the past six months has been good despite some challenges. “Chicago has been dealt a very difficult hand due to the weather,” Kamhi said. The store was also limited by some shortages in product that did not arrive on time. “We did OK, but we could have had a better spring if we could have gotten product sooner. But we had a great fourth quarter and a pretty good spring.” Kamhi said sales through June of this year rose 83 percent, due in part to a second store Haberdash opened in October. “But we’re ending June with 9 percent more inventory than a year ago. We really maxed what we had.”

Among the bestsellers were shoes and LBM 1911 blazers and clean, nondistressed denim, the merchants said. Woven shirts, including Gitman Vintage, New England Shirt Company and Steven Alan, have been “exceptional,” Kamhi said. Belts, skinny ties, khakis from Grown and Sewn and 316 Denim have also been strong.

For fall, the retailers are feeling “really bullish,” according to Kamhi. “We really did not do the outerwear business justice this year and we’re pursuing that, along with soft blazers. LBM taught us what we can do.” He said that after November, customers couldn’t buy a Canada Goose coat or Sorel boot and the store is hoping to have the inventory to meet the demand this time around. Harris tweed blazers from D.S. Dundee, along with waistcoats and vests will also be opportunities for fall, they believe.

Looking ahead, Haberdash expects authentic heritage brands such as Alden shoes to continue to be strong and will be searching for soft suits and knitwear for spring and summer at the upcoming shows.

Norman Usiak, owner of Camouflage, said he’s “happy with business the last four weeks. It’s a start but it’s all still promotionally based. But things are starting to look better.”

At the upcoming market, he will be on the lookout for fashionable swimsuits, updated cargo pants and shorts that average 14 inches rather than 17 inches. “I also hope the designers come up with something different — not too edgy, because if you can’t wear it five years from now, people won’t buy it.”

Usiak also believes accessories will be a big category for spring. “It’s an easy buy and it’s not that expensive,” he said. “But the last thing I want to see is denim.”

He also uses the trade shows as an educational experience. “I look to see more what not to buy. If everybody has a knit shirt in the same color, I know not to buy that color.” And he’s also hoping to find new resources and pieces that will allow him to “do something different. That’s what Camouflage has a reputation for.”

Matthew Culmo of By George in Austin, Tex., also reported that sales have been strong, despite the recent heat wave in the state. “We’ve had 30 or 40 days of 100 degrees so people are still looking for summer — all shorts and bathing suits. It’s wear-now, buy-now.”

He said the men’s business has picked up and he’s upbeat about the upcoming months thanks in part to a series of events he has planned in July and August to help boost business.

At the upcoming shows, Culmo said he will be looking new and interesting items and resources to add to the mix. “We’re looking for more collections,” he said, noting that Lanvin and Dries Van Noten have done well for the store. “But we have to have a mix of high and low.” He’s also seeking “hip sportswear looks at a better price.”

Culmo is especially excited by the new Todd Snyder collection he has coming in for fall. “It’s not so Americana kitsch, but it’s mixed with tailoring. I think it’s spot-on.”

By focusing on brands such as this, Culmo hopes By George will set itself apart from the other men’s retailers in Austin. “We’re discerning and very narrow in what we carry.”

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