By  on January 30, 1996

NEW YORK -- The only thing harder than a three-hour workout is continuing to turn a profit from sales of workout wear.

In an effort to overcome the anemic retail climate, manufacturers said they are focusing on such strategies as increasing colors or prints and building niche businesses by catering to specific markets -- like the tourist industry.

Several vendors said they hoped their efforts would translate into double-digit gains for 1996.

Renny Black, chief executive officer for 22nd Terrace, a Pompano Beach, Fla.-based activewear firm, said he expects to write 10 percent of his annual business at WWD/MAGIC International. Despite the planned increase of more than 5 percent, Black said the business climate is unsteady.

"A year ago nothing mattered. Buyers would buy anything, but in the past six months they've become very price-conscious," Black said. "We'll be working closer with buyers because I don't think Christmas was good for anyone."

To accommodate picky buyers, 22nd Terrace has increased its coordinating outfits and customized orders.

The company also offers socks and accessories to match its apparel, and Black expects sales for those categories to climb. He said stores selling the apparel and the accessories usually generate 40 percent more at retail than stores selling the apparel alone.

Another Florida firm, Linda Tilson, which operates from Sarasota, doubled sales in 1995 by focusing on the resort business, according to Mort Chalfy, operations manager.

Offering 24 styles in at least 40 prints each season is the primary reason why business is strong. Wholesale prices range from $10 for a cotton T-shirt to $35 for a cotton baseball jacket.

"When we started our business three years ago in Florida, it was natural to do resort," he said. "Now we sell to all types of resorts -- golf, ski and beach."

In addition, exhibiting at 24 trade shows in 1995 -- a few more compared with the previous year -- helped to boost sales.

Going forward, Chalfy said he is concerned about maintaining growth.

"What we find most difficult is controlling sourcing costs. Sourcing is very tough because most of our prints are done offshore," he said. "Trying to reduce costs and shipping time to maintain profitability is something we work on every day. We don't want to be sitting on a pile of fabric that no one wants."

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