ORLANDO, Fla.--Mickey and Calvin Klein, Goofy and Levi Strauss. For many of the international tourists who flock here for fun and sun, those names exert equal pull. Orlando has a population of about one million, and it attracts close to 34 million tourists each year. An increasing number are from South America, Europe and Japan, according to the Orlando Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau. And because the cost of a pair of jeans abroad can be twice what it is here, those tourists search for brands as status symbols and souvenirs. Retailers here are capitalizing on this growing demand for denim, with stores in key tourist areas. Here are profiles of two Orlando denim specialty stores that have built their businesses on selling brand-name denim to international customers.
WORLD OF DENIM "Branded denim has been so hot at World of Denim that by end of 1996, there will be six stores, all operating within a 10-mile radius of here," said Judy Cheek, the chain's general manager. "There's enough tourist business in a concentrated area for that many stores to all do well," she said. Currently, there are five stores in the chain, three of them World of Denim units and two called Denim World, the name under which the chain started in business 15 years ago. At that time, Denim World targeted a local audience with unbranded merchandise at promotional prices. But the increasing demand for branded merchandise by international tourists spurred the opening of a new format called World of Denim, in 1992. "We were driven by price," said Cheek. "Now it's the right branded merchandise. Brand names are so important to these customers that they come in the door asking for it." The new approach has worked so well that the two Denim World stores will be changing their name to World of Denim in the next year, and an additional store will be opened. The owners declined to give figures, but industry sources estimate volume at over $20 million for the five current stores. Each store is around 10,000 square feet, said Cheek. Store interiors are light and bright, with wooden fixtures mixed with metal and mini-departments housing separate brands. The mix is about 40 percent women's, 60 percent men's. Best-selling brands include Guess, Calvin Klein, Levi, Lee, Wrangler, Pepe, Girbaud, Diesel and Replay. Levi is a mainstay for the store and accounts for 35 percent of business. The basic 501 jean is the best-selling item storewide. Levi's are priced at around $30 to $40. World of Denim also buys about $2 million of Calvin Klein merchandise. "Calvin Klein is huge in Europe and more expensive there," said Cheek. Most lines in the store are priced around the same as in department stores, although some are about 15 percent lower, depending on sales and promotions. Although World of Denim carries complete collections from several of its vendors, 50 percent of the overall business is from the sale of bottoms, primarily jeans. Fashion pieces such as scooters, rompers and short-alls are mixed in to attract fashion-conscious customers. Logos--the bigger, the better--are very important to the international customer, said Cheek. "Customers want to go home looking like they've bought something here," she said. "Our local customers don't want to advertise brands, and our vendors don't understand it, but to these customers, it's a status symbol."DENIM USA "To these customers, jeans equal America. We're selling not only jeans, but the idea of America and Florida," said Joe Josephs, owner of Denim USA. Branded jeans are so popular with tourists that they often buy jeans to wear home on the plane, said Josephs. Denim USA opened in May and doubled its size to 12,000 square feet shortly thereafter. The store is on target for a projected $3 million to $3.5 million in first-year sales volume, said Josephs. A former real estate developer, Josephs launched the store in response to feedback from customers shopping at various strip malls near Disney World. With 90 percent of business coming from tourists, and a constantly changing international representation, the Denim USA customer defies classification, he said. "Our customers may be the most unusual in the country," said Josephs. "One week it may be young girls from Brazil, and the next week it may be families from Germany." Buying for such a diverse group is challenging, said Josephs. Serving tourists from both hemispheres at different times of the year blurs seasons. For example, South Americans coming in the summer are looking for jackets to take home, where it is winter. Denim brands such as Levi's, Calvin Klein, Lee, Boss, Beverly Hills Polo Club for women and men make up most of the inventory, with Levi's 501 and 505 styles the bestsellers. Prices are $30 to $34 for Levi's jeans, which constitute 50 percent of total business. "We could do $1 million more a year with Levi if we could have more access to product," said Josephs. "Levi's are so in demand, that we can't keep enough in stock." Bottoms outsell tops, but branded T-shirts with logos from all brands are popular, he said. Denim USA also carries more fashion-forward looks to appeal to a younger customer. In addition to junior-oriented jeans lines such as Jordache and Jou Jou, the store carries knits, waffle prints, thermal fabrics and pointelle cotton dresses from Tropical Cargo to appeal to teenagers traveling with their families in Florida. The store also has some more upscale lines with a streetwear feel, such as the Montreal-based Parasuco. A black mesh see-through nylon top with a silver medallion, priced at $40, sold six units in two days, he said. "International tourists are often more daring in the way they dress," said Josephs. "The French and Brazilians are particularly more flamboyant than other nationalities." The store has an "earthy but contemporary" feel, said Josephs, with marble fixtures and maple shelves, and blue neon accents. Josephs said he doesn't see the denim craze dying out soon. "Our store proves that jeans have a universal appeal," he said. "Denim transcends age and international boundaries."
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