HECHT'S FLAGSHIP PLAYS A TIGHT GAME

Byline: Carol Emert

WASHINGTON--Bodywear's a spotty proposition at Hecht & Co.
Once a mainstay of the hosiery department, the merchandise now is generally in the intimate apparel area, although at some stores a small representation remains in hosiery. And according to vendors, the category has gone through some downsizing in recent seasons.
If you want to find it at Hecht's downtown flagship here, you'll have to go to the fourth-floor lingerie department. And when you get there, the selection, based on a visit last week, is pretty much built around sports bras, complemented by some coordinating shorts and T-shirts.
Neatly maintained but without departmental signs, the area, which has a back corner of the innerwear department, has only five brands. Two of them are specialists in sports bras--Champion Jogbra and Speedo by Warner's. Champion Jogbra, a product of Sara Lee Corp., is a joining of the Champion name in activewear with Jogbra, a name synonymous with sports bras.
Speedo, a long-established name in swimwear, has gone into activewear in the last several years and now is moving into the sports bra arena under license with Warner's, a unit of The Warnaco Group.
The other three brands are national foundations labels that make sports bras: Lily of France; Lilyette,and Warner's, not carrying the Speedo name.
Champion Jogbra had two racks of bras with some bike shorts and T-shirts, and a T-stand with crop T-shirts and shorts. Lilyette and Warner's bras shared a rack, and Lily of France bras and Speedo bras and shorts each had one rack. A table display had a Speedo sign and a pair of Speedo bike shorts, along with a gift box and two Speedo shopping bags. Hecht's is participating in the national launch of Speedo sports bras, and ran an ad--nearly a full page--in The Washington Post last week.
Throughout the department, fashion looks were at a minimum, and basic styles and colors predominated.
A telephone check with some outlying Hecht's stores in the area found bodywear carried in hosiery departments, as well, but with other labels, such as Liz Claiborne Bodywear and Marika.
A spokesman for May Department Stores Co., Hecht's corporate parent in St. Louis, declined to comment for this article.
Several bodywear manufacturers, however, were quick to share their thoughts about Hecht's merchandising policies in bodywear and how the category had been donwplayed by the store in the last couple of years.
May Co.'s matrix buying system was blamed by one vendor as the main reason for dumping labels and downsizing assortments.
"These big retailers have killed bodywear because the matrixes just let the big [suppliers] get bigger," complained the maker. "The smaller guys who may be doing something new and innovative don't even get a shot."
Another vendor complimented Hecht's buying staff, but grumbled that May management "doesn't know how to find a home for bodywear."
"May sends directives to the buyers saying they're in the business--or they're out of the business," griped the vendor. "They've got no direction at all."
Makers believe other factors behind the weeding out of bodywear at Hecht's include increased competition from discounters.
But there's also the question of fashion. "I don't think it will be given much space, because the category today is so basic," observed one supplier. "Until fashion hits again... you won't see them start to open up space."Where's the Bodywear?
This article is another in a periodic series exploring how bodywear is situated and merchandised in major stores.

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