HOSIERY: BOOSTING SALES FOR BOUTIQUES

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--Hosiery is gaining importance this year as a plus business for better-price boutiques and designer stores.
The category traditionally has contributed add-on sales in these upscale stores.
Merchants point out their affluent customers like the ease of purchasing hosiery in a service-oriented environment, and now some retailers say they're adding more fashion looks.
Hosiery often closes an apparel sale, since it provides a polished and flattering look, according to Yolanda Cellucci, owner of Yolanda's in Waltham, Mass., who routinely gives her customers pantyhose to try with an outfit.
"It doesn't matter how heavy or thin you are. Hosiery makes the look complete. There's not a line showing," she said.
Most shoppers buy two pairs of pantyhose with their apparel purchases, but Cellucci said she suggests they take at least four pairs, for convenience.
"People are a little spoiled--they want it easy to shop," she said. The retailer's average sale ranges from $1,200 to $2,000.
Her legwear selection is priced from $6.95 for Hanes Smooth Illusions to $15 for Givenchy. Many customers opt to purchase six pairs of sheer pantyhose in a box for $50. Single-pair packs are placed near the cash register since they are an impulse buy.
Alba Waldensian's plus-size sheer pantyhose, Alba Direct, which retails for $8 to $9, are popular, Cellucci said. Legwear sales are 20 percent ahead of last year's at Harry B.'s in Nashville, according to Christina Fiore, buyer and sales associate.
When purchasing an outfit, most women include two pairs of sheer pantyhose or tights by Calvin Klein Collection or Giorgio Armani, she said. The retailer carries such lines as Calvin Klein Collection ready-to-wear and Giorgio Armani Black Label.
Shoppers looking for more casual looks usually opt for Hue tights, which retail from $7.95 to $8.95, or Armani trouser socks at $14. Business has improved because the legwear offerings are more diversified this year, Fiore said.
"Sheer hosiery is back. Not everyone will be wearing tights this fall," she said.
For the first time in two years, Martha Phillips, a 5,000-square-foot boutique in Palm Beach, Fla., will stock sheer hosiery this fall. With retail prices ranging from $28 to $55, Wolford and Fogal hosiery will be available in at least 12 styles.
Each item will coordinate with the rtw collections and will be merchandised at a small counter.
"These are special products. We don't want to have a hosiery department," said Lynn Manulis, president. "When we've offered hosiery in the past, the customer has been very grateful that they don't have to run out to search for something in a department store."
Fashion looks are increasing sales at The Carriage in Charlotte, N.C., where Hanes Silk Reflections Casual will be offered for the first time this fall.
Ribbed tights at $10 and trouser socks ranging from $7 to $9 are expected to be strong in the 5,600-square-foot store, according to Angie Baucom, hosiery buyer.
As part of a special promotion, customers who purchase one pair of Hanes Smooth Illusions and Silk Reflections pantyhose at full price can get a second pair at half-price, she said. Most women shopping at Gazebo, a 13,000-square-foot store in Dallas, purchase three pairs of hosiery by Donna Karan or Christian Dior with their apparel buys, according to Shelle Bagot, owner. Donna Karan accounts for 70 percent of the store's hosiery business, she said.
For spring, the retailer is considering introducing Wolford hosiery to give the business a further boost.
About 80 percent of the customers buy sheer pantyhose, which is displayed in the center of the store, a heavily trafficked area.
Hosiery sales are running 5 percent ahead of last year's at Nora's Daisy, a 5,000-square-foot store in Omaha, Neb., according to Nora Lee Zoob, owner. The store's hosiery is all from Hanes, and Silk Reflections tights are the bestseller, although sheers also do well.
With one out of eight customers purchasing sheer pantyhose, the store caters to a number of women who are looking only for legwear.
"Customers love the convenience," she said. "They pull up at my door and run in to pick up a pair. They don't have to deal with a department store parking lot or waiting for a sales associate at the cash register."

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