NEW YORK — After 71 years, the Amerex Group, a privately owned outerwear powerhouse, is striving to be nimble in an unpredictable category.

The $200 million-plus company is now looking to leverage its proprietary brands Gerry, Weather Tamer, One Madison, Static, Alpine Studio and Mulberry Street, while growing sales at its licensed women’s outerwear lines for Jones New York, Gloria Vanderbilt, Rampage and Mudd.

Glenn Palmer, who joined the company less than two years ago as president and chief executive officer, has been working to build up Amerex’s own brands, streamline operations, restructure staff, install new technology and improve inventory control.

“This is an evolution not a revolution. We’re evolving the company,” Palmer said during an interview in his Empire State Building office. Key strategies include:

  • Reducing the number of manufacturing facilities to get a better handle on quality control.

  • Hiring new salespeople, merchandisers and designers.

  • Bolstering marketing to support and upgrade the image of its brands.

  • Editing collections to give labels a more defined point of view.

  • Considering new acquisitions and licenses.

  • Opening a new showroom on Seventh Avenue within a year.

“We’re in the business of theater and have to have a new show all the time,” Palmer said. “Retailers want to be excited about the product and the presentation. Certainly, if it’s executed well, that gets translated to the selling floor.”

Outerwear makers have added the responsibility of keeping current with fashion trends instead of just providing good, warm winter coats, he said.

“It’s no different than what’s happening with sportswear,” Palmer said. “Stores want new fabrics and something that will be compelling to differentiate a brand from what’s on the racks today.”

The company whittled 60 days out of its production cycle by upgrading its technology. Its Web site, amerexgroup.com, has become slicker, such as using magazine-type photos instead of standard online shots, under the direction of Monica Alvarez-Mitchell, who was recently promoted to vice president.To return Gerry to the strength it showed in the late Eighties, the collection now has a two-tiered approach. There’s performance-oriented skiwear for more serious athletes and a more volume-oriented group for recreational skiers. Palmer’s daughter, Samantha, a member of Killington Mountain School’s prestigious ski team, offers her insight and wear-tests the product.

Gerry has signed on as the sponsor of the NASTAR, a recreational ski racing program in 26 states and Canada. As the NASTAR sponsor, Gerry will suit up race officials and will have signage at NASTAR events. There are also plans for in-store displays through partnerships with select stores, Palmer said.

Founded in 1945, Gerry is the brand Sir Edmund Hillary wore on his first ascent of Mount Everest. In the Seventies, the brand built a following for its colorful down jackets, which have seen a resurgence in recent winters, especially among teenage city dwellers. Amerex bought Gerry five years ago, and the skiwear label now generates annual sales between $25 million and $30 million, Palmer said.

Last month, Amerex signed a deal with Debonair Creations, a Canadian import business, to market Amerex’s proprietary brands in Canada, as reported. Toronto-based Debonair is part of the Wertex Group. Amerex’s initial distribution in Canada will focus on its Gerry, Weather Tamer, One Madison, Alpine Studio and Static brands.

Also in August, Amerex inked a strategic marketing deal for Weather Tamer with Earthbound LLC, a brand management and licensing group that pitches several labels, including Isaac Mizrahi for Target and XOXO. In addition to marketing and brand-extension advice, Earthbound will look for licensing opportunities for Weather Tamer. Sportswear, hats and gloves are among the areas being explored, Palmer said.

“The most challenging thing is you still have to place the product at retail and establish partnerships to present a compelling story,” he said. “Otherwise, why should someone purchase Gerry or Weather Tamer or any other brand? It has to be a complete process.”

Manufacturers and retailers need to drop the barriers and communicate effectively about sell throughs, inventory and developing new customers, Palmer said. That is something that mass marketers have mastered, he added.Internally, Amerex employees are encouraged to voice their ideas instead of relying on senior management. Compensation is now based on division’s performance versus an individual’s. That has helped to create more of a team environment.

“Before, we had more fiefdoms,” Palmer said.

Palmer said the company’s owners, Ira Ganger and Fred Shvetz, have recognized the need for change.

“They grew up in this company, but they realized the need for some outside perspective to help move them to the next level,” Palmer said.

Amerex is trying to empower its 200-person employee base through new technology and accountability. The staff was reduced last year, but Palmer declined to give specifics other than to say it is “staffed adequately” now.

The women’s and men’s divisions were consolidated to centralize administrative functions. Amerex also has a significant children’s business and the combination is something that appeals to time-starved retailers, Palmer noted.

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