RIDER'S MASS MOMENTUM

Byline: Alice Welsh

NEW YORK--The Lee Apparel Co. is poised to broaden the appeal of its Riders mass market denim brand.
Riders, which is positioned at the higher end of the mass market denim brands and offers a mix of fashion and basics, has signed two licensing deals for new product categories. In addition, it will increase its distribution at the end of the year by testing in Wal-Mart Stores after spending its first three years in regional mass outlets.
The two new licenses are for woven sportswear with Kikomo Ltd. here, and knit and fleece apparel with VF Corp.'s Cutler Sports Apparel, based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Both lines are slated for fall retail shelves.
Kikomo produces mass market apparel and branded junior and misses' sportswear under the Kikomo label, as well as woven tops for the Chic mass market denim line. The new Riders' woven line was launched at this month's market.
The knit and fleece apparel will be ready in two weeks.
Lee Apparel--a division of VF Corp.--declined to provide a first-year volume projection for the new products.
Both categories will cover all segments--misses', large sizes and juniors, as well as girl's, men's and boy's. The Riders current sales mix is divided almost equally among women's, men's and youth.
The decision to expand the brand came after mass retailers asked for the additional classifications, said Bob Coppage, vice president and general merchandise manager for the Riders Brand, in an interview here last week.
"The mass merchants are becoming more brand-driven. They are looking for brands that are meaningful to their consumers," said Coppage. "This gives them power in their advertising. By extending the brand across additional classifications, the Riders brand products can be advertised every season of the year."
Coppage said the company is not asking stores to establish in-store Riders shops, and the products do not have to be merchandised together.
He noted that because the new categories were all denim-friendly styles, the merchandise would generally be located nearby, encouraging multiple buys.
"The Riders woven apparel will be merchandised with a jeanswear mentality," said Neal Kukreja, president of Kikomo. "The line is more than just denim shirts, but will feature special trims, buttons and other detailing. Retailers can expect two to four extra points in gross margin than if they produced the merchandise themselves."
"Everyone is doing the fashion programs," said Kukreja. "The real estate is gone at this point for the basic programs."
Riders' woven wholesale prices range from $9 to $13, and the line includes embroidered flannel, printed corduroy and white poplin shirts, and stretch twill, cotton linen twill and brush twill bottoms.
Wholesale prices for the knits are $7 to $11. Fabrics are 80 percent cotton and 20 percent polyester with Lycra spandex trim and are treated with an enzyme wash for a distressed look. Women's styles include long-sleeved V-patch crewneck shirts and pointelle henleys. Core styles, in an 8.5-ounce fleece, are a mock-turtleneck tunic and a funnel-neck pullover.
Kikomo will handle the new categories from its showroom at 1411 Broadway, the same building as Lee and Riders.
In 1993, Lee pulled its brand out of the mass stores and repositioned it as a moderate label. That same year, it introduced the Riders label to replace Lee in the mass market.
This move was consistent with parent VF's overall strategy of being represented in every segment.
The Lee brand is now distributed exclusively to moderate and upper-moderate department stores. As reported, when Lee stopped shipping to the mass market in 1993, it lost about $370 million worth of business. According to the company, most of this volume was recouped later that year through increased distribution in the moderate base and new accounts with upper-moderate stores.
Lee Apparel also produces woven tops and bottoms and knits.
"We phased out the Lee name in 1993 by mixing the Lee and Riders inventory at the same price. This gave the customer the chance to see the two brands side by side," said Coppage. Coppage said that women and youth were the fastest to convert from Lee to Riders.
"Men were slower to convert because they are more set and less adventurous as shoppers," he said. "By 1994, Riders as a brand had been established with the consumer, and we experienced double-digit increases in retail sell-throughs by the second half of 1994." Riders was the fastest-growing brand in the mass category in 1994, according to the NPD, which tracks consumer purchasing data, said Coppage.
Riders' accounts currently include Ames Department Stores, Bradlees Department Stores, Caldor, Hills Department Stores, Target and Venture Stores. A decision was made to sell Riders exclusively to regional mass merchants for the first three years. Coppage said the decision to roll out the brand to Wal-Mart stores at the end of this year "has not bothered our existing accounts" so far.
One reason may be Riders' positioning as a premium mass brand and its policy of a "minimum advertised price," a concept built into its co-operative advertising programs with the retailers.
"When retailers run an ad, they are free to do what they want as far as price," said Coppage. "If they advertise for less than the minimum advertised price, then we will not reimburse them for the advertising. This is in keeping with our strategy of positioning Riders as a premium brand. We don't want to be at the low end."
Lee Apparel's first Riders ad campaign broke last year, developed by Minneapolis ad agency Fallon, McElligott, which also handles Lee's advertising.
Riders plans to increase its ad spending this year by 33 percent, but Melanie Albert, director of advertising for the brand, declined to disclose the budget. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Lee spent about $3 million in TV advertising for Riders last year. The 1995 campaign, also developed by Fallon, McElligott, will be strictly TV and will continue to focus on fit. It begins in August.
"The advertising plan is to showcase the new apparel categories, but the creative is still under development," said Albert.
"Our media strategy is to concentrate spending on Sunday night TV," said Coppage. "Newspaper circulars come out on Sunday, so the two will reinforce each other."
TV is Riders' only ad venue, said Coppage, because it "builds brand awareness nationally."
Coppage said the company isn't concerned that the Lee and Riders brands will compete with each other, although the products are virtually identical.
He indicated that both brands were solidly positioned in different segments and that, even with the consumer's increasing incidence of shopping across channels, he was not concerned with the possibility of one brand cannibalizing the other.
"Both brands share the same fabrics and manufacturing," said Coppage. "There are a few finishing details with Lee and the breadth of the product line differs, but there aren't a lot of differences, especially with the core products. The individual quality and fashion requirements are very similar."
Lee jeans retail for $30 to $35, while Riders are $22 to $25.

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