HOSIERY FIRMS DIP A TOE INTO CYBERSPACE

Byline: Marilyn Nason

HICKORY, N.C.--Selling hosiery in cyberspace and other beyond-retail venues might be inevitable, but it doesn't have to be immediate, according to executives at the Catawba Valley Hosiery Association's annual meeting here last week.
Called "Surfing the Net," the dinner meeting featured Charles Powell of the Raleigh News & Observer's NandO.net, which outlined the advantages of using on-line services for distribution and sourcing.
Several hosiery manufacturers said they are exploring on-line services for sales and sourcing to improve the way they do business. Some firms said they're studying all the implications of computer direct selling and no one discounted its potential.
Determined to keep all their marketing options open, some companies said the Home Shopping Network is another opportunity.
Moretz Mills has been successfully selling goods through HSN without affecting existing business, according to John Moretz, president and chief executive officer for the Newton, N.C.-based firm.
On May 15, Moretz Mills will introduce its new collection of Kareem Abdul Jabbar shirts, socks and memorabilia on QVC to tie in with his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame that day. Jabbar has been a spokesman for Moretz Mills since he retired from professional basketball in 1988.
"Going with QVC hasn't presented any problems with our accounts," Moretz said. "It simply isn't an issue anymore as we see it."
Several manufacturers indicated they are giving serious thought to going on line at some point as a natural expansion of their existing mail order business. Ken Hamby, general manager for Jefferies Socks in Burlington, N.C., said his firm's successful mail-order catalog called Socks Source is a prime candidate for the Internet. The catalog, which offers hosiery for men, women and children, would not be offered through on-line services for a couple of years, he said.
As did several other manufacturers considering going on line but concerned about the reaction of their retailing accounts, Hamby said the easiest way to handle this would be to offer non-competing lines. Manufacturers could also offer multi packs of socks for on-line sale, since most retailers generally sell single pairs or two-pair packs.
Having had success selling sport-specific socks through direct mail, Dennis Martin, president of MHF Inc. and N.C. Sock Co. said they plan to market their existing products as well as new ones through the Internet.
"Frankly, we see it as an excellent opportunity for us as manufacturers," he said. "The big question for us right now is determining the extent of front-end costs involved."
In 1988, Clayson Knitting Co. of Star, N.C., converted to EDI to accommodate Kmart, one of its key retailers, according to Charles Richardson, president of sales. With EDI, the company can fill orders for most stock items and lines within five days, he said. Now Clayson Knitting handles invoicing, bar coding and other tasks electronically for about 75 percent of its overall business.
But there are drawbacks. Richardson said the biggest problem with most EDI systems is that it forces suppliers to become their customers' warehouse.
"Getting on line has improved the speed and accuracy with which we can communicate with the customer. It has also raised the accuracy rate for maintaining inventory controls immensely," Richardson said. "What it hasn't done is to improve forecasting for sales and marketing trends."
Clayson is not prepared now to provide on-line services for consumers since these major hurdles need to be to overcome, Richardson said.
Not everyone was determined to sell hosiery through on-line services.
Steve Neuville, ceo of Neuville Industries in Hildebran, N.C., said, "Keeping our significant mass merchants' business with major customers like Wal-Mart is our full-time, number one goal." At this point, he is not looking into on-line services, he said.
Some manufacturers are using such services for other purposes.
A growing number of CVHA members have signed on to the organization's Hosiery Information & Product Services (HIPS) computer system primarily for its sourcing services, said Dennis Good, president of Red Hill Hosiery.
With more manufacturers expected to subscribe to HIPS, the CVHA plans to add suppliers and buyers to its network, he said.

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