By  on March 12, 2002

A LACKLUSTER ECONOMY IS FORCING SPECIALTY STORE OWNERS TO REEVALUATE THEIR OPEN-TO-BUYS, SPRING ORDERS AND WHICH LINES THEY OFFER SHOPPERS.

WWD chatted recently with a trio of Illinois specialty store owners to discuss the state of retail. The discussion addressed several issues, including open-to-buys, coping with the post-Sept. 11 sluggish economy, important trends and customer shopping patterns. The retailers were: Tricia Tunstall, co-owner along with Jessica Darrow, p.45, Chicago; Gina Kulbieda, Jolie Joli, Chicago, and Debbie Hennen, Deborah Jean's, Naperville.

Tunstall: "We use a combination of an inventory management system and our instincts. We work with an inventory management consultant every month to review and project on the business. In this meeting, we look at our open-to-buy by class, as well as any trends that are going on in the fashion industry."

Kulbieda: "I do something really unique. It's a math formula that works for me, but I don't want to let my competition know how I do it."

Hennen: "I use a formal order-to-buy to determine the wholesale dollars that I'm going to spend. I calculate it based on current stock, rate of travel, projected sales and then on my markdown schedule."

Due to the economy and the aftermath of Sept. 11, did you revise or cut back your spring buying? Have you filled in with reorders? Have you dropped any categories?

Tunstall: "We were very cautious buying in spring I. We scaled back our spring I open-to-buy with the hopes of reordering. We have been begging our designers to ship us early and have already reordered several collections."

Kulbieda: "I bought cautiously for spring-summer 2002. In this business, there is always the opportunity to go back in and either reorder or buy immediates if business continues on an upward trend. I've dropped designers, but I haven't dropped any categories."

Hennen: "I didn't cut back, but I revised. We're more item-driven, as opposed to complete collections. What I used to allocate for complete outfits, I re-allocated in key items such as jackets and sweaters, figuring that people wouldn't be spending as much. I also went for a slightly lower price point. I haven't dropped any categories. If I have a good line, I will fill in with a small reorder. I never do huge reorders."

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