SUMMER RX: NUDE-LOOK PANTYHOSE

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--Pantyhose manufacturers are out to beat the bare-leg blues of summer this year.
"In the past, we used to resign ourselves to the fact that business was lousy during this time of year. Now we're being more aggressive," said Barry Tartarkin, vice president of licensing and private label development for Ridgeview Hosiery, which produces the licensed Ellen Tracy hosiery.
The pantyhose business, many manufacturers agree, generally takes a dive around Memorial Day and doesn't resurface until August. The growing acceptance of casual dress codes in the work force has only heightened the trend.
To reverse the summer falloff, manufacturers are turning to premium money or awards for retail sales staffs, sweepstakes promotions, trunk shows and new products and packaging.
Some firms emphasize nude-tone hosiery. These makers' thinking is that nude-tone shades will give women the bare-legged look they seem to prefer in the summer, and the flattering contouring and smoothness that hosiery provides. While none of the firms contacted plans to promote this idea directly, they hope photography in ads and store displays will make the point.
Hanes Hosiery expects a new group of sheers called The Nudes, in its licensed Donna Karan hosiery collection, to shore up summer sales, according to Debbie Hobbs, vice president of merchandising for Hanes and the Karan line.
As reported, The Nudes group, which hit stores in April, is expected to hit $1.2 million in its first year with five key retailers: Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Marshall Field's-Dayton Hudson.
Spring sales for Silk Reflections and Fitting Pretty sheer hosiery in nude tones have increased by low double-digit percentages and are expected to maintain that pace until early September, Hobbs said. Last August the company added about five nude tones to each collection, she said.
Hanes merchandisers working in the stores are scaling back on black sheer offerings to place more nude-tone pantyhose on the sales floor. Special attention will be given to nude-colored sheers to assure inventory is replenished electronically as needed, she said. Spring sales (February through April) traditionally account for 24 percent of Hanes' overall volume, and summer sales (May through July) make up 20 percent, but summer sales should exceed spring sales this year, she said.
Nude hosiery is the focus at Ithaca Industries, which produces and distributes the licensed Evan-Picone hosiery. Evan-Picone's new Natural Nudes wholesale from $2.75 for control-top sheers with reinforced toe to $2.88 for control-top Lycra spandex sheers. Available in seven shades, Natural Nudes are designed to work for a variety of skin tones, especially for the ethnic population, according to Joni Zeller-Claxton, vice president of hosiery design. "Wearing nude hosiery is more flattering than not wearing any hosiery," she said.
"We decided to introduce the product at a time when women may opt to go bare-legged," she said. "We hope this will spark business and keep them from going without wearing anything."
Wolford, the luxury legwear line produced in Austria, is pushing the bare-leg look. Easton International, which is the exclusive distributor of the hosiery in the U.S., has put together a merchandising package of four ultrasheer styles, ranging from 5-denier to 15-denier, that it expects stores to display together.
To further pump up sales, Easton, for the first time in the summer, will hold eight trunk shows in department stores as well as in its boutiques, according to Russell Klein, president of Easton.
The trunk shows, which begin this week at the Short Hills, N.J., Wolford boutique, should generate about $250,000 in volume, he estimated.
Beginning next month, Easton will staff nine Bloomingdale's hosiery departments with part-time Wolford representatives. The company decided to supplement the store's own sales staff after Bloomingdale's agreed to expand distribution of Wolford products from three stores to nine stores, Klein said. Moreover, nine Easton representatives recently visited 50 accounts to promote the idea of wearing hosiery during the summer and to outline its new sales incentive program, offering the salespeople Wolford legwear and bodywear for meeting certain sales goals.
A sales incentive program is the strategy at Ridgeview, noted Barry Tartarkin, vice president of licensing and private label development. The program began June 1 and will run for six weeks; it offers retail sales associates a cash premium for each pair of Ellen Tracy pantyhose they sell. Tartarkin wouldn't disclose the amount. Ridgeview has run three-week incentive programs in March, September and October, but this is the first one it has tried in summer.
Eight Ridgeview representatives held breakfast meetings last month with 25 major accounts to outline the program and to pitch its products for summer wear.
Jockey For Her--to build attention for its annual summer sale of legwear and underwear, July 30 to Sept. 4--is holding its first national sweepstakes in 3,500 stores, or about 90 percent of its account base, according to a Jockey International spokeswoman.
No purchase is necessary to enter the contest, being flagged as "Under It All You Love Adventure," and four grand prize winners will receive trips for two to New Zealand. Jockey International expects to draw at least 17 million entries.
Mayer-Berkshire Corp. expects its new line of support pantyhose that will ship to stores at the end of this month to strengthen summer business, according to Nympha Prijdekker, key account manager. With wholesale prices ranging from $3.12 for sheer-to-waist support pantyhose to $4.08 for control-top pantyhose, the three-piece collection should increase July and August sales by $150,000, she said. Available in 11 colors, the support line will feature a queen-size style. Sales of queen-size products account for 40 percent of volume, she said. To promote the new support collection in the Boston area, Berkshire and Jordan Marsh are running a half-page ad in The Boston Globe in early July, she said. Berkshire is targeting Boston because the brand "is not very strong in the Boston market," and Jordan Marsh will be the only retailer in the Boston area to carry the product until mid-August, Prijdekker added.
The company plans to roll out similar promotions in other areas of the country if this campaign is successful, she said. Queen-size products are getting special attention at Mayer-Berkshire. New packaging for these products will be in stores this summer, with photographs of queen-size models for the first time.

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