By  on May 7, 2007

Vendors are rekindling ties with lingerie specialty stores as the department store segment of the innerwear market consolidates.

Innerwear designers, also tiring of department store issues such as chargebacks and volume discounts, are refocusing some of their sales efforts on specialty retailers in a bid to recapture a piece of the business that once flowed through thousands of independent shops nationwide.

It's a move that is helping the stores in a variety of ways: Some vendors are offering more product exclusives, special treatment such as promotional perks and prices during a seasonal market, increased visits and interaction from vendors' sales staffs, and a more consistent communications effort. They're also offering advertising support and marketing collateral such as look books and graphics, as well as organizing trunk shows and coordinating sales associate training to familiarize store staff with new products.

"We're definitely experiencing more interaction with vendors and a growing level of support from them," said Rachel Clements, owner of La Mode Lingerie, a four-year-old Houston store. "It's a very smart move for the designers and vendors to target specialty stores."

La Mode Lingerie was recently expanded and refurbished at the tony River Oaks Shopping Center.

"Vendors are realizing there's a resurgence of women's specialty innerwear stores across the U.S. as customers seek out something unique and demand better personalized service that specialty stores can offer," Clements said. "Vendors are offering us some product exclusives, which helps to build brand loyalty among consumers, which in turns builds repeat business and higher sales. They are also realizing that as a store owner, I will invest more and spend more with their brand if they give me exclusives."

Clements said intimates designers were participating more in staging trunk shows, featuring gifts-with-purchase ideas, improving shipping methods and doing more co-op advertising.

La Mode Lingerie usually features co-op ads with vendors in Vogue, Allure, Lucky, Glamour and Architectural Digest to raise the profile of the store and the advertised brands.

"We're definitely seeing sales results in light of the added vendor attention," said Clements, noting sales are up by at least 50 percent compared with a year ago. "They've wisely realized that it's worth the time and investment to work with smaller stores."

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