By  on March 14, 2005

NEW YORK — The changing dynamics of the lingerie and retail industries brewed a mix of anxiety and anticipation at last week’s fall-holiday market.

Several factors contributed to the apprehension of several large and small vendors, including the announcement March 1 that Federated Department Stores will acquire May Department Stores.

A majority of manufacturers believe this will further consolidate retail channels in a rapidly shrinking marketplace that includes the proposed merger of Sears and Kmart, and the disclosure by Sara Lee Corp. last month that it plans to spin off its Sara Lee Branded Apparel unit into an independent company.

At the same time, industry executives said the consolidation of major stores could open up an avenue of opportunity for smaller, specialty operations.

“This could be an opportunity for manufacturers to focus on specialty retailers once again,’’ said Tobie Garfinkle, vice president of merchandising for Liz Claiborne Intimates. “There’s a lot of business that could be cultivated.”

Retail turnout at the Lingerie Americas trade show here underscored that point. Patrice Argain, chief executive officer of Lingerie Americas, said attendance was up 15 percent compared with a year ago, totaling 2,475 visitors. The opening Sunday of the three-day fair pulled in about 1,000 visitors, he said. While the bulk were from specialty stores, there also were a number of major department and specialty stores as well as catalogue and e-commerce businesses.

“Buyers came in not only substantially larger numbers, they also spent an average of two full days at the show,” Argain said. “They came from outside the Tristate area, particularly from Florida and California.”

Meanwhile, executives at some of the major firms said they were pleased with the prospect of partnering with a new breed of retail giants and they applauded Sara Lee’s spin-off strategy. However, executives at smaller and midsized innerwear firms who are not big players on the Federated or May matrix said they were worried about being squeezed out. The main concern was being able to comply with a growing litany of requirements from huge retail groups that generate a profit for themselves, but little if no profit is left for the manufacturer.

“Either you go along with the demands, or they tell you to take the highway,” said one executive who did not want to be identified. “It’s only going to get worse for the little guys.”

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