WASHINGTON -- Discount doesn't have to be dreary, say manufacturers who supply the nation's mass merchants.
In fact, mass market retailers are increasingly using more sophisticated products and marketing techniques to lure shoppers from department and specialty stores.
In turn, many of the 400 mass merchandise suppliers who exhibited their wares Sunday and Monday at the International Mass Retail Association's four-day annual convention here -- which ended Tuesday -- said they're using television and magazine "lifestyle" ads featuring celebrities to broaden their reach, as well as putting more emphasis on brand concepts.
They are also making store displays more attractive and employing sophisticated merchandising techniques such as analyzing ZIP codes for mailings.
Following are some of the new lines and new directions of vendors at the IMRA show.
At Sara Lee Corp., women's jersey separates in complementary colors and prints are selling very well among traditional discount shoppers and crossover customers, said Martha M. Dally, executive vice president of the personal products group.
The company's new Hanes Her Way bodywear line, has been very hot since its introduction in April. Cotton-Lycra spandex bicycle shorts and cropped bra tops in brightly colored patterns retail for $5.99 to $7.99 per piece. Sizes run to extra large.
Also on display were shimmery bra-panty sets in raspberry, teal and bronze -- $12.99 for bras and $4.99 for panties.
Dally, whose company uses hang-tag questionnaires to find where their customers usually shop, said many new Hanes Her Way consumers are coming from The Gap and other stores, while the taste of traditional discount shoppers also is swinging toward comfortable, simple knits.
Wrangler, a VF Corp. division, and a major brand for Wal-Mart, Kmart and other discounters, has seen sales jump to $1 billion from $500 million three years ago. Women's jeans are Wrangler's fastest-growing category, although the company started shipping them just eight months ago.
"We're using our success in men's and boys' to propel women's," said Angelo LaGrega, vice president of consumer marketing.
LaGrega put Wrangler's share of the total jeans market at 19 percent, with about a third of the men's and boys' markets and 3 percent to 4 percent of women's.
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