By  on August 6, 2009

As retailers prepare for market in Dallas next week, they are shaving budgets and focusing on fresh product and innovative ways to draw shoppers in a tremulous economy.

Color, print, dresses, softer silhouettes and slouchy boyfriend jackets are among the top trends for spring.

“I think right now consumers are looking for a reason to buy, and something new and exciting will definitely spark interest,” said Shannon Moore, contemporary buyer at Stanley Korshak. “The ‘boyfriend’ jacket is big. I’m definitely seeing a lot more skirts, but feel the dress is prevalent.”

Moore’s budget is down 20 percent from a year ago. She’s seeking comfortable silhouettes with color, print and touches of embellishment for monthly deliveries through the end of the year.

The Dallas-based Army & Air Force Exchange Service manages more than 3,100 stores worldwide exclusively for military personnel and their families, including 174 stores, which resemble a combination of Wal-Mart, Macy’s and Sephora.

AAFES is planning a 3.9 percent gain next spring in soft goods, according to Maggie Burgess, senior vice president and sales directorate. Excluding gasoline, AAFES’ total sales to date this year are up 1 percent, with soft-lines ahead 2.9 percent, she noted. The growth is in juniors, up 17 percent year to date, and young men’s, which is up 19 percent.

AAFES spends about $9.9 million annually at FashionCenterDallas on resources including Ed Hardy, My Michelle and Skechers, according to Louise Reza, divisional merchandise manager. For spring, Reza feels strongly about boyfriend jackets and feminine looks such as dresses, ruffled blouses and longer wrap and pleated skirts with tiers.

Designers are serving a diverse menu for spring, noted David Wolfe, creative director for The Doneger Group forecasting and buying service.

“The direction is an assortment of colors — not in great depth — just the idea that we need to feel better, and color [helps with that],” he said. “It’s pastel, bright, neon, washed — anything that isn’t neutral or black.”

Wolfe sees consumers shifting away from rock-star style, “dressing down,” and toward sleeker attire.

Gregor Simmons, owner of the namesake buying office for specialty stores and a frequent visitor to the Dallas market, noted “price point is selling, despite the tough climate.”

“Elliott Lauren is probably my number-one resource — it looks great and everything is $125 [at retail],” she said. “In the South there is still business. You have people who socialize, lives revolving around the country club and events. They will buy something new for a dance on Saturday night. It’s more competitive in social circles.”

Macy’s plans to add more updated dresses and social attire to its 11 stores in the Dallas area, said Betsy Zeino, senior vice president and regional director of stores.

Meanwhile, a group of six Dallas contemporary boutiques tried an unusual promotional tactic this spring with mixed results. They staged Drink & Deal parties in May and July at Hotel ZaZa that gave shoppers the opportunity to make offers on full-price current merchandise while sipping $5 cocktails.

“Everybody is looking for a deal, so this makes it more fun,” said Lisa Barnes, the owner of Kacky & Carl, who proposed the idea to her friends in retail.

Barnes said she didn’t get many low-ball offers, but some stores took 50 percent discounts to unload odds and ends, like a last pair of shoes. The first party attracted more than 150 to 200 people, participants said, but the second drew a fraction of that.

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