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Adapt And Adjust

From working more closely with retailers to upping the quality of pieces to trying to snag back lost accounts, moderate manufacturers are revisiting their business strategies.<br><br><br><br>Flexibility is the buzzword of moderate firms, which seek...

From working more closely with retailers to upping the quality of pieces to trying to snag back lost accounts, moderate manufacturers are revisiting their business strategies.

Flexibility is the buzzword of moderate firms, which seek ways to counter a lackluster economy and fear over the possible outbreak of war. Some vendors are relaxing once-rigid production rules and allowing stores more freedom to customize buys, including making subtle changes to silhouettes. Others are changing production calendars to accommodate the rising demand for immediates. Classics and bestsellers from past seasons are also being revisited and refreshed with seasonal trend references. And on the marketing front, campaigns have become indispensable tools to stand apart from the competition. Here, some other issues affecting the moderate market:

RETAILERS RULE: Many moderate companies are firm believers in the mantra, “The customer is always right.” Deepak Khubchandani, a principal at La Cera, a division of New York-based Rajco International, said, “We’re bending and catering to stores’ needs more than ever. Of course it’s lots of extra work for us, but it’s part of surviving and prospering in a difficult economy.” La Cera has implemented various strategies, including lowering many of its price points (on average, between 5 and 10 percent), permitting stores to make subtle style changes to silhouettes and increasing its catalog business, which has grown 300 percent over the last year. The company published 12-page catalogs on a quarterly basis. “We’re going heavily toward catalog to grow our business,” Khubchandani said. “It’s a wonderful way to present our lines in a very focused way that’s fast and easy to understand for busy customers.”

Andy Mahtani, a principal at India Bali Imports in New York, said, “We’re beating this really bad economy by trying new ideas and concepts and being very flexible when working with stores. Sales are so slow at retail right now, and buyers are desperate to come up with some excitement and build volume. So we’re spending lots of time with our accounts and helping them fine-tune their orders.”

At Coronado, Calif.-based Rico Handknits, marketing manager Ric Fowler said, “We’re producing closer to season to meet the needs of buyers who come to us wanting immediates. We want to be ready. Listening to the customers’ needs and trying to respond has never been more important.”

This story first appeared in the February 18, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

REACHING OUT: Moderate makers are on a campaign to raise their profile among retailers, as well as the general public.

L.A. Illusion, a Mexican label that targets Spanish women living in the U.S., is boosting its advertising from seasonal placements to twice-monthly ads in Spanish-language television guides, said Rogillo Calderon, a spokesman who works from the company’s U.S. base in City of Commerce, Calif. “We’ve been in business 55 years in Mexico and have seen lots of different economic circumstances, and we’ve always believed that advertising is a very effective way to reach your target customers.”

La Cera is adding regional sales representatives to help boost its profiles among retailers in under-represented areas, Khubchandani said.

At India Bali Imports, Mahtani said the company is aggressively contacting existing accounts, as well as inactive ones, in a bid to get them to place orders. “You have to go after the business,” he said. “Call stores that are active to make sure everything is OK, or to see if they need replenishments. And we’re calling stores that haven’t left an order in a season or two or even longer to see if we can get a new order from them. It’s time-consuming, but well worth it. In this economy when every territory in the country is hurting, you have to go after all possible leads to build your business.”

QUALITY IS JOB ONE: “We travel the world seeking trend inspiration and scouting for the best fabrics and trims as part of our mission to make our line even more viable and important,” said La Cera’s Khubchandani. The company is sourcing Indian and East Asian silk and cotton, as well as heavier wool and flannel from Europe. La Cera owns two factories in India, which helps offset third-party costs.

Samuel Dong, designer and president at New York-based Don’s Collection, said, “Our mission is to offer the best quality and value, so our collections are sewn with high-quality fabrics and trims and still maintain competitive price points. When a woman compares similarly priced garments and then compares the fabric and construction, we plan on winning.”

Rico Handknits’ Fowler said focusing on quality and tightly editing collections to contain unique but highly salable styles and trends is a formula for success. “We’re also taking previous styles that have done well and updating them. We believe in sticking with the winners.”