By  on April 25, 2005

NEW YORK — The January and March wholesale selling periods proved to be a challenge for lingerie manufacturers as executives struggled with questions about the future of their brands and private label businesses in a time of retail consolidation.

It appears vendors will have no easy solutions at next week’s market as they discuss marketing campaigns and review orders for fall with retail groups that are getting larger and wielding tremendous power. The main retail players are Federated Department Stores, which is acquiring May Department Stores, and Sears Holdings Corp., a merger of Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Kmart.

A key question is whether the retail giants begin to downsize the number of national lingerie brands in favor of in-house brands. At the same time, the industry is filled with acquisition and licensing opportunities among the vendors, whether it’s a household name, an edgy fashion logo, a celebrity name or a new label.

But in order to compete with a new breed of store names such as Joe Boxer at Kmart, Gilligan & O’Malley at Target, Delicates at J.C. Penney, Cabernet at Dillard’s and Alfani and Charter Club at Federated, manufacturers will need financial support, flexibility and marketing savvy to keep national brands afloat, industry executives said.

Marc Gobé, chairman and chief executive officer of brand-image consultant desgrippes gobé, said national brands will face mounting competition in the next several years from a growing number of store-created brands.

“Private label brands are clearly competing with national brands and retailers have the advantage of a better understanding of their customers, and how to brand their own products,” Gobé said. “Retailers have learned that the private label route, if well executed, will increase traffic and loyalty.

“Consumers are seeing the same national brands everywhere and private labels have the advantage to be a unique signature you can find only at stores that make them, like Alfani, Mossimo and Arizona, and retailers are increasingly going directly to designers for partnerships, as Target has done with Mossimo and Isaac Mizrahi,’’ he said.

Allan Ellinger, senior managing director at MMG, an investment banking and apparel consulting firm, disagreed about the status of national brands.

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