By  on February 22, 2010

The fall-holiday season is shaping up to be a strong market, but the outcome won’t be decided until mid-March.

With the exception of major programs for basics and replenishment items, orders are off to a slow start as retailers continue to be wary of overstocking and inventory issues following a dismal year-ago period. A main concern is how merchants perceive the price-value equation as they select key items that will drive business, as well as restrained consumer spending.

Vendors, however, are bullish about this year’s prospects due to small early-year gains at retail. As a result, retailers’ open-to-buy budgets are said to be 5 to 10 percent higher than last year.

Maurice Reznik, chief executive officer of Maidenform Brands Inc., said, “Buyers focused on three things, which, fortunately, [are] our focus: newness that represented core everyday styling with a fashion element, styles that offer a new comfort benefit and recolors of existing core basics. Buyers were intent on spending their dollars on big ideas that have broad appeal and will significantly impact their sales.”

Seth Morris, president of The Carole Hochman Design Group, which produces licensed sleepwear by Oscar de la Renta, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Betsey Johnson and Lily Pulitzer, said, “Reaction across our diverse brand portfolio was really strong at this market. The focus was clearly on new key items to drive holiday gift-giving and presenting a very solid value proposition to accompany the product.”

Regarding retailers’ open-to-buy budgets, Morris said, “Budgets are going to be a whole lot bigger, but I do believe there will be a shift in the marketplace of who will be getting those receipts based on fall 2009 performance.”

Jon E. Lewis, president of the D2 Brands division of Delta Galil Ltd., said the company is giving retailers several options.

“We have finalized major key items for all door programs in both Tommy Hilfiger and Lucky Brand for holiday,” Lewis said. “Since we are expanding doors in both Tommy Hilfiger and Lucky Brand, we presented a tiered assortment, which includes items for all door gift-giving programs, an elevated fashion-basic assortment for key doors and a fashion assortment for higher-volume doors. This allows us to achieve a balanced stock-to-sales ratio without saturating the top doors with too much basic product, thus maintaining the integrity of the brand while also maximizing sales.”

Michael Herman, senior vice president of sales, merchandising and production at Natori Co., said, “Our business is cut to order. We showed the complete fall season collections and we are in the process of finalizing orders with retailers. Based on reaction, retailers are still looking for fashion ‘wow’ items that evoke an emotional must-have response, and items that are seasonless, modern classics that have a fashion twist. The price-value factor continues to be important to customers. Items stuck in the middle are not working.”

Herman said the company had a better-than-anticipated finish to fall 2009 and the reduced inventories have helped ease open-to-buy constraints.

“Retailers are still cautious, but at the same time, feeling positive about building future growth,” he said.

Greg Holland, vice president of sales at The Komar Co. and president of its licensed Donna Karan and DKNY sleepwear, said this is the firm’s biggest market of the year.

“All retailers have been looking for key items more so than ever before,” Holland said. “They are really trying to focus their assortments and make it easy for the customer. Open-to-buy is slightly higher than last year when stores were very conservative and they achieved conservative figures. Their plans at the time reflected decreases. Now, the strategy for some is to layer on the increases, and that would apply to spring 2010, as well.”

John Brody, executive vice president of Jockey International’s wholesale and licensing businesses in North America, said, “The key thing is taking key fashion items and making them replenishable. It’s a combination of introducing newness within proven performers such as animal prints in our No Panty Line franchise, and key new groups like No Panty Line Luxe, seam-free items in the Classic group, and Elance Super Soft microfiber.”

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