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."Based in Federal Way, Wash., Christine Alexander saw a 66 percent increase in sales in 1995, said Kim Taylor, a sales associate. Customizing branded activewear for hotels, cruise lines and resorts has boosted annual sales to $2 million.

In the past year, Christine Alexander has improved the technology used to duplicate logos, and it has helped business, she said. However, to distinguish itself from competitors, the company also does handembroidery and stitching on 90 percent of its apparel. Logo cotton T-shirts that wholesale around $13 are the most popular item in the eight-piece line.

Hanil/Oleg Cassini will introduce Oleg Cassini Sport, a 30-piece line made primarily of polyester and Lycra spandex, at WWD/MAGIC. Wholesale prices range from $12 for a long-sleeved ribbed cotton crewneck shirt to $32 for a polyester fleece jumper. The collection also features a plaid jacket, zippered vest and pullover jacket.

First-year volume should surpass $2 million, said Merrill Flaum, sales manager. For 1996, the company has allocated $125,000 for advertising.

"Oleg Cassini is a highly visible household name, so we already have that pre-sold customer," he said. "These clothes could be used to entertain at home or to run to the grocery store. But women don't necessarily have to [work out] to wear them."

Cassini has never delved into the activewear arena, but that shouldn't pose a problem, Flaum said.

"The name doesn't convey a specific type of clothing. It's an image," he said. "That should make it more easily accepted."

Rousso Apparel Group Inc., a sportswear and activewear firm here, will launch its new Mureli Sport line at the show. With wholesale prices ranging from $15 for a quilted polyester microfiber vest to $30 for a polyester microfiber zip-front jacket, the 25-piece line should generate at least $3 million in its first year, said Janet Rousso, chairwoman.

She said there is a need for updated spectator-sports wear in the active market and noted, "These are clothes to wear to the gym -- not to work out in." The collection is aimed at department stores and specialty stores.

Not everyone saw increases in 1995.Beleaguered by decreased traffic in department stores, Packing Crate Classics Inc., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based manufacturer that specializes in T-shirts, reported a 20 percent decrease in sales, said a spokeswoman.

"Department stores are losing money and they're more cautious about spending. They're looking for really inexpensive items," she said. "They're also pitting manufacturers against each other by saying things such as, 'This firm said they can offer this shirt for $6. What can you do?"'

In the past year, Packing Crate Classics has maintained prices, even though some competitors have lowered wholesale prices by as much as 20 percent.

"We're basically rolling with it. Ideally, we'd like to get some of our department store business back," the spokeswoman said. "Specialty stores have never been our bread and butter."

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