NEW YORK--Off-price stores are managing to turn up the heat on hosiery manufacturers and retailers as they struggle to maintain price points. A recent tour of three major off-pricers here--Daffy's, Filene's Basement and Century 21--revealed a wide range of brand name legwear. Key factors included: l Discontinued and irregular designer and brand names well represented in basic classifications. l Prices that were often between 30 and 66 percent lower than suggested retail price. l Displays resembling those in department stores and systemized by brand, size and color. Some sales floors at the off-pricers were messy, but inventories appeared fairly complete and in order. Finding salespeople for assistance was a problem: When they were on the floor, they were more often talking among themselves, rather than aiding customers. Shoppers were left to answer each other's questions about style and fit. Marked 30 percent and 50 percent lower than the suggested retail price, most brand and designer name hosiery was available for under $4. At Century 21, Donna Karan's matte heather pantyhose, which carried a suggested retail price of $17 and was marked as a discontinued item, sold for $8. It was the highest-priced legwear item in the three stores WWD visited. At all three stores, several shoppers commented on the value of the prices, as well as the selection. While each store had a wide selection of basic styles of casual and dress socks, novelty items--such as Donna Karan's $3 ribbed knee-highs, suggested retail of $6, at Century 21, and Nicole Miller's $4 anklets, with a suggested retail of $10, at Daffy's--rounded out their offerings. Unlike the pantyhose, which in some places were pulled out of their packaging, the socks were neatly displayed against walls or placed on freestanding fixtures. Although Daffy's alone offered its own store name private label in pantyhose, Filene's Basement and Century 21 each carry about a dozen brands, including Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Hanes, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Anne Klein, Jockey for Her, Evan-Picone, Burlington and Round the Clock. A good portion of the merchandise consisted of discontinued and irregular styles. One exception was Century 21's well-stocked offering of Hanes pantyhose, which is regular merchandise sold at the suggested retail price. In addition to its hosiery department, Century 21 offers irregular items in a separate area where prices are up to 80 percent below the suggested retail price. Daffy's does not accept any hosiery returns, but the other stores do. With a receipt, Filene's Basement accepts returns within 30 days of purchase. Century 21 offers an even exchange for merchandise returned within 12 days of purchase, provided the hosiery is undamaged. The following is a closer look of what each store had to offer.DAFFY'S The hosiery department at this unit on Fifth Avenue and East 18th Street was on the first floor, wedged between the accessories department and children's clothing. Unlike Daffy's men's sock department, which was easy to find and twice as large, the women's hosiery department was crowded and poorly lit. The section offered the basics in legwear, but nothing elaborate. All of the pantyhose and most of the trouser socks and basic anklets were available only in Daffy's brand. The hosiery selection was limited to six kiosks, with the merchandise priced between $2.75 and $3.75. The sock collection was more extensive, with novelty items by Givenchy and Nicole Miller rounding out the line. All goods retailed between $2 and $4. During a recent visit, shoppers snatched up pairs of Nicole Miller's $4 dark socks with baseballs or stethoscopes. Daffy's private label $2 white sport socks and its $2.60 nylon and linen anklets also sold well. Aside from these three items, whose inventories looked depleted, the department was well stocked.
FILENE'S BASEMENT Approximately 400 square feet of this off-price store on Broadway at West 79th Street was devoted to hosiery. Unlike Daffy's and Century 21, the department here was clearly marked by a good-sized overhead sign reading "hosiery." The department is located across from a bank of cash registers, and the cashiers were helpful, pleasant and seemingly well informed about the legwear stock. Two-thirds of the department consisted of discontinued and irregular styles, with knee-highs, athletic socks and dress socks filling out the remainder of the merchandise. Most of the hosiery, which filled 2 1/2 bins, featured recognizable designer and brand names such as Calvin Klein, Norma Kamali and Hanes. Kamali's nylon and Lycra spandex sheer pantyhose at $3, carrying a suggested retail of $9 on the package, and Christian Dior's patterned pantyhose at $2.50, with a suggested retail of $7, appeared slightly understocked but hardly scant. A dressing room attendant, commenting on the irregulars noted: "Usually a seam might be off by a few stitches. But I buy them all the time and I can't find anything wrong with them. They say it's irregular, but they last a long time." One section of a wall, about 10 feet long, was covered with a neatly arranged variety of socks by Rare Footage, In Step, Round the Clock and other vendors. Danskin, Palm Beach and Leg Scene offered six-packs of sport socks for $8, while most single pairs retailed for $3 and under. On a nearby metal fixture, knee-highs and trouser socks were promoted at three for $4.50. Key colors included black, navy and ivory.CENTURY 21 Located on the second floor in the innerwear department of this large Cortland Street store between Church Street and Broadway, the main hosiery department resembles most department stores except for the noise, crowd and sloppy displays. Except for the regular-price Hanes inventory, most of the items are discontinued merchandise and retail between $3 and $6. Calvin Klein and Donna Karan goods were well represented. Other brands included Evan-Picone and Christian Dior. Most of the six large kiosks were well stocked and neat. But large empty boxes, metal apparatus and other materials were strewn across the floor. Shoppers carelessly opened packages and left them on displays despite a nearby sign which read: "Do not open packages." A limited selection of irregular hosiery is sold in a separate section in the basement for 30 percent less than the items upstairs. In this downstairs hosiery department, displays were similar to the upstairs department, but there weren't as many shoppers. Key brands included Hanes, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein. All merchandise is marked irregular because of its color, said the cashier, noting merchandise downstairs usually changes every month. Salespeople were hard to find in both departments.
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