By  on October 26, 2009

A sense that business is slowly improving is permeating the market, as vendors prepare to meet a growing demand for new merchandise.

Coming off three markets that were impacted by lackluster sales at retail from January through August, as well as inventories that were flattened to maintain cash flow, vendors said they will be facing a new challenge in November: sourcing, producing and shipping goods to stores that did not place major orders at the February, May and August markets and now want immediate merchandise.

The exception during the recession has been value-priced basics such as underwear, everyday bras, shapewear, dual-purpose items like camis, and volume programs for sleepwear and lounge pieces that double as casual sportswear. Intimates business in September picked up 3 to 5 percent, but retailers are expected to remain cautious, looking for items that offer value and quality at a price, as well as more assortments, brands, and a balanced mix of basic and fashion.

“I think retailers are opening up now, and we’ve seen it during preview,” said Bob Nolan, president of Jockey International North America’s wholesale and licensing operations. “Everybody thinks we’ve been through the worst of it and it’s made us better business people. It sets the stage for the next few years. Retailers [and vendors] had cut inventories down, and now we are seeing the demand going up and we’re scrambling through our supply chain to meet demand because inventories are now in line. But meeting the demand will be a challenge for everybody, especially if you didn’t forecast it.”

Nolan said Jockey will be focusing on three groups of underwear for women for fall: an extension of the No Panty Line franchise with No Panty Line Luxe, a collection of “extra fine nylon and spandex that has a soft, sensuous hand,” and two “fashion-basic” groups called Elance Super Soft Modal and Naturals Bamboo, which features a broader range of colors and prints. He added that a line for men called Athletic Stretch with antimicrobial and wicking applications that “dry eight times faster than cotton” will be added to the Sports Performance group.

“Our expectations, of course, remain moderated by the economy,” said Seth Morris, president of the Carole Hochman Design Group. “Our business at retail is generally pretty healthy right now, so we are optimistic as we enter market and the beginning of fall 2010 purchases.”

Addressing inventory issues, Morris said, “Everyone is being caught with not enough goods based on the cautious planning that was rightfully done by retailers and suppliers alike. I think we will see a bit more aggressive positions taken for fall if the sales trends continue positively over the next 10 weeks.”

Greg Holland, vice president of sales for The Komar Co. and president of the licensed Donna Karan and DKNY sleepwear brands, said the mood is “more positive.”

“Retail seems to be better than plan, so I believe the stores will be coming into market with a positive attitude,” Holland said. “Stores have conservative plans, and a few are looking to increase stock levels due to outperforming their sales plans. However, this may or may not lead to expanded purchases in November market. We will not know until we meet with our customers in the New York market.”

Holland noted fashion is expected to receive good reaction.

“The consumer is responding to fashion,” he said. “Anything new with perceived value seems to be performing well. We will have a balance of both fashion and value-priced key items.”

Bob Vitale, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Wacoal America Inc., said, “We’ve seen some improvement at retail. The first quarter was dreadful, the second quarter was somewhat better and the third quarter was better. I think it’s better because of the mood of the country along with new products. Shapewear business for us in September was up 50 percent at retail. We are tracking this very closely because shapewear is a major push for us.”

Vitale added Wacoal will be introducing five new bra styles and the b.tempted line will be showing four new bras for fall 2010.

“The focus is still on very good value and a lot of details such as strap treatments and lace appliques, making the product more attractive and building into it is our way to provide volume sales,” he said.

John Adams, vice president of sales at Felina Lingerie Inc., said, “Outside of off-price stores and discounters, the department stores are experiencing fairly significant comp-door drops. September was better, but we are not out of the woods yet. With that said, there is definitely a caution on where and how much retailers are investing open-to-buy dollars. However, if a style, color, a collection or a line is delivering strong results, they will invest aggressively.

“The same is true for a new idea or marketing strategy,” Adams continued. “For example, this past May we previewed a boxed gift set by Jezebel for holiday-Valentine’s Day selling. We hoped to ship in 2010. The idea was so well received that we partnered with retailers and will deliver it to stores this December. So retailers are certainly open to new ideas to drive sales.”

Gale Epstein, president and creative director of Hanky Panky, said, “We have been experiencing great openness to new silhouettes in spring and hope retailers will have the same mind-set for the new fashion forward concepts we are presenting for summer. Our understanding is that stores are coming in looking to review product, finalize any spring ad opportunities and discuss any last-minute replenishment opportunities. The demand for fashion colors and prints has definitely increased since September, so we are seeing small gains in the fashion arena. But it’s also balanced by requests from merchants to offer value-based panty programs.”

Epstein singled out The Glam Bra, a supportive, cut-and-sew, non-underwire lace bra in fashion and basic colors with matching undies, as the firm’s “most exciting new product” for November.

“Things have stabled out, and retailers are feeling more comfortable testing new product,” said Guido Campello, vice president of marketing and innovation at Cosabella. “But it’s still basics for us and fashion is not what it used to be. Fashion accounted for 80 percent of the business and it now is 60 percent. I think this will continue into next spring.”

Campello said bras, primarily bandeaus, underwire push-up styles, and a new strapless number with a deep plunge front and back, will “carry us through this market.” Also expected to be a hit is a four-pack panty program by the licensed Sex and the City by Cosabella brand that will retail for $69 and be in-store for the “Sex and the City” movie sequel that premieres May 28. Colors will represent the film’s four female characters: lipstick pink for Carrie, black for Samantha, purple for Charlotte and aqua for Miranda.

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