NEW YORK--Although fall and back-to-school sales continue to be sluggish at many stores, retailers across a broad price spectrum--from Goldblatt Bros., a 14-unit discount department store in Chicago to Barneys New York--are heading to WWD/MAGIC International holding their heads high. Many executives who plan to attend said the women's show gives them an opportunity to get a jump on the spring market as well as get some ideas for the fourth quarter and holiday period. They said it provides an opportunity to see unique lines they would not normally see in New York and holds the promise of finding new vendors and exclusives. Among the key items on retailers' lists are dresses, denim, skooter skirts, casualwear, immediate holiday goods and Polar-type fleece. "What we're really looking for is exclusive items for Barneys that set us apart from other stores," said Susie Welton, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for the Co-op contemporary area. "For the Co-op area, I'll be looking for contemporary and casual apparel, specifically leathers, spring outerwear and dresses." At Ames Department Stores Inc., a 305-store discounter based in Rocky Hill, Conn., the fall apparel business is expected to keep pace with the 5.8 percent same-store sales increase the chain has racked up for apparel through July, according to Joseph Ettore, president and chief executive officer. Despite the gain, apparel sales are still "a little below" plan, he said. "I see that continuing because we're doing a much better job of having the right things in the stores at the right time," Ettore said. "Our special buy program also continues to be successful and help drive our apparel business." With its special buys program, Ames features merchandise from manufacturers who have overruns or canceled orders at promotional prices. At the show, Ettore said he will be looking for new vendors or items as well as "any advantageous [buying] situations" that would provide merchandise for the special buys program. Business has been more difficult at Dawahare's Garden Side in Lexington, Ky. "We're making our figures, but it's a struggle," said A.F. Dawahare, president. "The only hot thing we've got right now is vests. We're selling quite a bit of wool, surprisingly enough. I think that bodes well for fall. We're also selling a lot of cardigan sweaters." Dawahare will look for immediate and holiday items at moderate price points at the show. "Our problem is with the way the market is going," Dawahare said. "We're selling more units, but the average retail price is down. One of our goals is to raise price points." George P. Kelly, senior vice president of Jacobson's, said the retailer's coverage of the show will be handled by the Frederick Atkins buying office. "Last year, we found a couple of people we thought were good that we may not have seen otherwise," Kelly said. "Business is clearly better than in the spring," he added. "Parts of our business, like coats, took a big hit because of the weather. I think that this year will be better. "We're much happier with the direction in which our sportswear is going," Kelly said. "Our dress business has been good and continues to be okay. We think it will be pretty good for fall. Sales of regular priced merchandise was good in July. We postponed some markdowns and had an excellent beginning of August. We are not a price-promotional store and don't have major sales." In addition to seeking new resources and direction for spring, Thomas J. Burns, senior executive vice president and general merchandise manager for The Doneger Group, said he hopes to "get a better pulse on retail for the fourth quarter" during the show. "Back-to-school is not taking off as well as expected," he said, adding that August has been a tough month for apparel. "The underlying current is that people are cautious." Burns said there was a "big rush of sales" on summer apparel at many stores last month, which may have influenced shoppers to hold off purchasing fall goods until the next sale wave. Warm weather across the country also discourages purchases of flannel shirts, turtlenecks and sweaters--typical fall items. Still, Burns said he would shop the show with an "open mind" and an eye on picking up some fashion direction for spring. "It's a little early for spring, but there are always people working on their lines," he said.
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