The resort category is seeking to recoup its losses, fueled by a poor economy and harsh weather, by launching new lines and increasing customer service initiatives.

Poor weather and a weak economy have dampened resort sales this year and forced many resort manufacturers to employ a mix of ideas to spur business. To bring sales figures back up, companies are relying on tried-and-true customer service measures, taking wholesale operations online to better reach budget-sensitive clients and upping order turnaround time. Some are adventurously expanding collections and forging new lines in order to grab the attention of new target markets. But some firms, though, are doing business one step at a time, remaining cautious and choosing not to shake things up too much amid a non-spending, non-traveling tourist-driven market. Here, a rundown of business tactics resortwear manufacturers are using to stay afloat as they head to WWDMAGIC:

  • THE MORE, THE MERRIER: Several resort manufacturers are pushing forward with new lines and extended groups, hoping expanded collections will not only hold existing customers, but also drive business into untapped niche markets.

    Fresh Produce Sportswear, a 20-year-old Boulder, Colo.-based label specializing in garment-dyed cotton loungewear, is responding to customers’ requests for additional sizes and fabrics — such as velour, denim and corduroy — by launching two separates collections. For fall, the company is introducing Extra Fresh, a plus-size line of velour hooded zip-up jackets and wide-leg pants styled similarly to Fresh Produce’s original line. Another addition is Splash, a swimwear-oriented line set to debut in spring 2004. Splash will offer swimwear in vibrant-colored prints and solids. In addition, the collection will feature a full line of resort pieces, including shorts and cover-ups, as well as hats, sunglasses and beach towels. Both new lines carry similar wholesale price points, ranging from $6 to $50.

    “What we’ve tried to do is evolve the line by freshening it up with newer styles and silhouettes that can stay in sync with our customers’ growing wardrobes and needs,” said company spokeswoman Kelly Pascal Gould. “Finding new accounts is, of course, a concern, but we’re also very interested in keeping our existing customers happy with merchandise they are familiar and happy with.”While the company has other new resort lines being considered, potential brand extensions for next year include a home goods line and a maternity line.

    Fresh Produce reported total sales of $50 million in 2002 and company officials anticipate performance for this year to mirror last year’s. Fresh Produce Retail, the company’s boutique division, plans to open 10 more company-owned doors in residential and tourist-laden resort cities on both coasts.

    Christina America, based in New York, also is adding a new line to its existing collection to better reach a size-sensitive market. For spring 2004, the company is offering suits with slimming stretch spandex knit bodies in a collection called FantaSizer by Christina. The line features a large selection of swimsuits and related cover-ups with contemporary styling; average wholesale price points range from $68 to $88.

    “We want to tap into a new niche that we’ve never really targeted before and that’s what FantaSizer by Christina does,” said Rita Mulloy, vice president of U.S. sales. “The suits are designed specifically with the Baby Boomer in mind and offer what our customer wants in terms of fit and design. Women want to look pretty and feel in style, but also enjoy a suit that is uncomplicated and actually wearable.”

    Currently available at more than 1,200 national retail accounts, including Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor, Mulloy estimates volume for 2003 will reach $80 million, with yearend sales up roughly 25 percent over last year.

  • SERVICE-MINDED: Many resortwear companies are basing business strategies this season around new and expanded customer services, from online wholesale catalogs to extended payment dates and quicker turnaround times on reorders.

    For 20-year-old Miami-based Ritchie Swimwear, customer service that exceeds expectations is a continuous concern. “As a company, we’ve always been known for our customer service, but now, more than ever, good customer relations is of the utmost importance,” said chief executive officer and designer Ritchie Berger. “So many companies in the apparel business have gotten away from actually working with their customers that one-on-one service seems to be a new trend.”

    Part of Berger’s plan to heighten customer service this year includes placing online full wholesale catalogs and line sheets for buyers to access for Internet buying. “Budgets are tight for everyone and I understand traveling is expensive,” Berger said. “This will allow more people to view and purchase the product without necessarily having to fly across the country to see it.”Berger also has adopted more lenient payment plans for buyers. “We’re giving accounts longer to pay for merchandise than in the past in order to keep business a little more relaxed,” said Berger, who is opting to use extended 180-day payment terms for regular customers. “Many of our clients are hesitant to buy big orders at one time because they aren’t sure if their sales will be strong. This gives them the ability to get merchandise in and not feel so rushed to complete payments or discount the product immediately.”

    Hatley Little Blue House, a Montreal-based line driven by novelty T-shirts and sleepwear sporting whimsical wildlife scenes and nature-themed patterns,uses biannual catalogs and direct-mail pieces to keep retail customers up-to-date with the newest items the company has to offer. “Our biggest marketing endeavor has been increasing our catalog reach,” said sales manager Tania Gauvin. “We produce two catalogs per year now and have started focusing on heightening our contact with accounts.”

  • SLOW AND STEADY: For some manufacturers in the resort market, a steady growth plan is key to surviving a lackluster economy, especially for young companies just getting started. By delaying plans to expand collections and producing concise, infrequently changing lines, many are taking a cautious approach to business by opting to concentrate on current collections and standing retail accounts. I.F. Where Girls Rule the World, a new division of eight-year-old New York-based It Figures, is focusing on building a strong brand identity by continuing to produce styles and patterns that have performed well during the line’s first year of sales. “Buying for fall 2003 has been good for us and we want to see that trend continue,” said company spokeswoman Melissa King. “We’d love to further expand the line but, as of now, we’re doing well with what we have to offer.” The company will continue to produce a mixture of transitional silhouettes with updated seasonal color palettes targeting a 15- to 25-year-old demographic.

    At Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Calispia, a four-year-old resort sportswear label, well-stocked inventory and less-frequently changing groups are helping drive business, said owner Lee Ann Stevens. The company has a high reorder rate with its retail clients, many of which are small boutiques operated within luxury spas and resorts. Calispia’s designs are seldom changed drastically and only two collections are produced per year. More than 75 percent of each collection is carried over into the next seasonal group, Stevens said.

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