Despite lingering doubts, sportswear and dress vendors are planning for growth.

A retail rebound and a recovering economy are helping to put sportswear and dress firms in a more optimistic mood, despite concerns about the impending election, ongoing war and a constant push to stand apart from the competition.

Vendors are making cautious growth plans by offering a broader assortment of products, including new styles and new categories, stepping up the fashion quotient with trendier collections to appeal to misses’ customers who crave a contemporary edge and revving up customer service with a diverse range of marketing tactics, such as colorful catalogue-style line sheets, Internet initiatives and intensified customer service programs.

SORTING THINGS OUT

Broader assortments are helping designers branch out and target specific customers. “You need a highly diverse product line to grow and focus on different niches within the company and fully service a diverse marketplace. We continue to grow the line each year with a collection that can dress a woman for work, a cruise or a New Year’s Eve party,” said Jeff Belluck, regional sales manager at Joseph Ribkoff, a Los Angeles-based dress and sportswear company that is planning sales volume gains of at least 10 percent in 2005. Wholesale prices range from $39 for a top to $160 for a three-piece dressy ensemble.

At Nina Austin, a formalwear company based in City of Industry, Calif., giving customers a choice is a key part of the growth strategy. “We’re offering a range of new styles for spring to appeal to a broader range of women, from age 20 to 55 and up. We believe in a diverse product range and catering to niche needs of women, from prom dresses to contemporary mother-of-the-bride,” said Sahar Rokhsar, principal. “We have at least five groups within each seasonal collection. It’s one of the ways we’re growing business.” Wholesale prices for the line range from $79 to $139.

At Von Saken, a Los Angeles-based sportswear firm, growth is all about giving customers a fresh crop of looks each season. “We’re always adding to the line, and for spring the newness includes more knits, including scarves, more cut-and-sew styles and adding accessories such as pendants to our sweaters,” said Joel Martinez, sales manager. “Newness is a way to excite buyers and bring energy to the collection.”

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