By  on August 8, 2006

Perhaps more than any other apparel category, swimwear depends on Mother Nature to propel sales. When it's cold and rainy, women don't buy suits, and when the beaches heat up, they do. So in the middle of a hot summer like this one, retailers often find themselves grappling for whatever merchandise they can get their hands on.

"The weather just kicked in for us, so we have to be in the moment and capture every bit of summer we can," said Diane Biggs, a retailer for 42 years, with 14 Diane's Swimwear stores in California. "Customers have been very cautious [earlier in the season] and they weren't prepared for this heat wave."

Partner Lisa Rovan of Karla Colletto said swimwear has been selling very well as summer has progressed. "We have definitely noticed a huge increase in summer sales. In June and July, our product is selling almost double what it was last year," she said.

In the past, such robust summer sales numbers may have signaled trouble for customers looking for that special suit. Typically, about 75 percent of stores mark down their merchandise by the Fourth of July weekend, so customers looking to update their swim wardrobes may be out of luck, finding little more than the picked-over remains of earlier orders.

Such markdowns may not always be in a retailer's best interest, according to Lisa Keen, sales director at Manhattan Beachwear. "There's no blanket way to define that because everyone has different clocks," she said. "There aren't any more sales now than before. What's difficult is how to predict buying with stores who promote swim all season long and those who mark down. But if business is hard and they need to move goods, they are going to mark down."

Either way, as swimwear stocks dwindle after Independence Day, retailers have to decide whether to reorder.

Many really have no choice. "We have to have the suits," said Biggs. "We are not ready to end our summer yet, nor is our customer. We are calling our vendors at 6 a.m. after the weekend and grabbing up as many suits as we can."

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