By  on February 21, 2006

Trends toward casual looks mean opportunity for resort and swimwear vendors, even during this typically slow time of year.

Several factors, including the trend toward increasingly casual clothing and a desire to live a resort "lifestyle" regardless of the season, have led to an increase in resort-oriented retail doors, but the weather and consumer buying patterns still affect how much buyers are willing to spend.

Retailers, as always, have newness and added value on their shopping lists, and WWDMAGIC vendors, faced with many challenges, including a tidal wave of offshore companies and goods and mass retailers with private label merchandise, are adapting to meet these demands. Add to the mix shorter buying seasons, the changing merchandise mix in resort stores and on department store floors and the pressure to keep up with increasingly competitive and fashion-forward mass retailers, and WWDMAGIC swim and resort vendors have a lot to juggle.

The February edition of WWDMAGIC is always a smaller show for this category, as most of the resort season buying is done during the August show and other trade shows over the summer. Still, February is a time for retailers to freshen their current merchandise, update or augment their summer offerings and get their first glimpses of fall looks.

Some WWDMAGIC vendors who have shown in August since the beginning, such as Los Angeles-based swimwear giant Apparel Ventures Inc., have realized there are additional sales opportunities to be had with existing accounts in February, while some businesses just getting off the ground, such as Colorado-based Tangerine Temple, see the February show as a way to build a client base.

"The fall MAGIC show is really more sportswear oriented and not as swim driven as a show like ASR, but a nice resort in Colorado, for example, that's only buying one contemporary swim collection like our LaBlanca line, will want to add some newness. That's an opportunity," said AVI's vice president of sales, Ron Russell.

Still other veteran exhibitors, such as the Ronnie and Ellyce Sales showroom in Los Angeles' California Market Center, see the show as yet another opportunity to find new accounts. "In order to exist in this business you have to have many [accounts]. If you depend on one or two or three, you're going to have a problem," said partner Ronnie Nathan. "February is a lot about new accounts for us." The showroom carries Jennifer Kay Inc. swimwear lines California Waves, Pink Sands and Endless Sun; the slimming bathing suit Shore Shapes; cover-up lines Bing Bang and Cover Me, and the flip-flop line Issara, among others.Vendors also bring a wide variety of seasons and merchandise to the show. Some feature their strongest current sellers to provide immediately, such as Sauvage's tropical-inspired bikinis. Others bring their newest offerings for summer or bow lines they've just added or designed. Issara is one example, having just been picked up by Ronnie and Ellyce Sales. Still others, such as Tustin, Calif.-based Weekend Traffic, which will exhibit five apparel lines at WWDMAGIC, bring the first samples of fall, such as garment dyed combinations of corduroy, velvet and knits from its Weekend Traffic and Line Two labels, and bouclé sportswear pieces from its Weekend Clothesline collection. But mostly, everyone brings a little bit of everything to make sure they've covered all the bases.

"The more traditional your business is, the earlier you show it, and we've been around for 25 years," said Diane Knight, design and sales coordinator for Weekend Traffic, which is owned by her brother, Kevin Knight. "But we have been finding a lot of stores looking for more immediate goods because they underbought for spring. I would think that's because people have been cautious and not booking as much and are [waiting to see] what's happening with the weather in resort areas."

But she noted that while the company has a strong business in Florida, it also does well in the Midwest, where its items cross over into the sportswear category rather than the traditional concept of "resort." "Some of our looks are more cruise ship, but some you can also wear to a casual office," she said. The company's goods, ranging from dressier separates to golf attire to pajamas, are priced from $17 to $45 wholesale.

Anticipating buyers' needs is key, but so is the bottom line, so Nathan said he and partner Ellyce Zolt "don't show everything. We only show things we know are going to make people money, guaranteed."

He said this streamlines the individual appointment time with retailers from three hours in August to one-and-a-half hours in February. The merchandise, which ranges from $5 to $35 wholesale, is priced to help retailers achieve solid margins.

He said about 50 percent of his February appointments are with existing accounts, who are mainly looking to refresh their stock, and the other half are with new accounts from whom he expects bigger orders. "In general, business is very tough," he said. "You have to have the right product that is going to retail and you have to make sure you aren't just selling — you have to understand the nature of the business and be there for people."Some vendors who sell accessories, an increasing staple in resort specialty shops, find themselves at a crossroads this year. Companies such as the eight-year-old Austin, Tex.-based Earth Axxessories, used to enjoy steady traffic when the resort section was located next to the accessories section on the WWDMAGIC show floor. But this show marks the second season that the accessories part of WWDMAGIC will be located in the Las Vegas Hilton, adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Although there is plenty of business to be had from swim and resort specialty stores that are looking to increase their offerings with accessories, the sheer number of accessories-only buyers who will be buying only in the Hilton likely will eclipse that in the resort section.

"When the two were blended together, it was great," said Earth Axxessories' president Sunit Sikri. "But with those two categories separated, a TJ Maxx accessories buyer is not going to come to a separate hall to walk the resort section."

This could mean that eventually, accessories vendors could be forced to choose one category over another, but for now, resort vendors seem geared up to sell. "We've been going to this show for many years and we will continue to do so. We wouldn't come if we didn't get something out of it," said Nathan.

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