By  on February 26, 2009

DALLAS — Stylish sportswear took center stage at the Men’s Show Dallas Collective at the Dallas Market Center as buyers invested in purple, quarter-zip sweaters, patterned button-down shirts, denim jeans, V-neck T-shirts and versatile outerwear.

Retailers chopped budgets 10 to 30 percent because of soft sales in recent months and invested in proven resources while whittling down tailored clothing and marginal brands at the event, held earlier this month. Manufacturers responded to the tough business climate by keeping a lid on price, being more flexible and in some cases introducing less-expensive options, such as Martin Dingman’s crocodile shoes priced 29 percent lower than the same style in alligator.

There was “an increase in attendance despite challenging conditions,” said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the Dallas Market Center, adding, “A loyal group of buyers shop Dallas year after year [for] men’s traditional and contemporary resources.”

Michael Kern, who shows Ike Behar and other labels, said: “Traffic is slow, but they are coming to buy. The key is people will work with companies that have stock and are easy to do business with because you don’t want to miss any sales.”

Teena Hicks shopped for Coppley and Austin Reed clothing, plus casual shoes and accessories for her namesake men’s store in Oklahoma City.

Although her fall budget was down 10 to 20 percent, Hicks said, “I’m not that pessimistic because small retailers are more flexible. And we offer service — I have a tailor on staff who can get something out in 30 minutes, and we will iron their shirts and get them ready for work.”

Robbie Fowlkes, men’s sportswear buyer for Perlis Clothing Co. in New Orleans, cut his buy 20 to 30 percent.

“We have a challenge to focus on basics and solids and things we replenish to turn the merchandise more quickly,” Fowlkes said as he selected 15 button-down shirts by Ike Behar. “I’m buying great sport coats with jeans and sport shirts….It’s hard to find a great looking shirt that retails under $100, but we can’t just void that $75 to $85 market. We do private label, and I think we’re headed into a less branded era.”

“Everyone is downgrading a little bit,” said Lawrence Behar, executive vice president of Ike Behar. To capitalize on that, Behar introduced four licensed products priced at the low end of designer for fall — tailored clothing, belts, cuff links, hosiery and underwear. Suits, for instance, retail from $1,095 to $1,495.

“We raced to offer this now because the retailers are reevaluating their vendor mix, and a lot of our competition is unaffordable for a lot of people,” Behar said.

Danny Abraham, owner of Abraham’s Men’s Shoppe in Cleveland, Miss., planned to order every men’s jean by Big Star, especially aged styles with flap pockets retailing from $90 to $130. He expects younger shoppers will also respond to color in sweaters and fleece outerwear, slim shirts and elbow patches.

“People have money and they want to buy quality and they want to buy from someone they know and like,” Abraham asserted, noting his business was up last year. “You have to take care of that customer, shake their hand and know their name when they walk in the door.”

Rhonda Kaye selected striped and plaid button-down shirts and patterned merino wool sweaters by Peter Millar for her store, Jack’s House in Flower Mound, Tex.

“It’s tough,” she said. “My goal is to have only the minimum until it picks back up.”

But Kaye, who breeds labrador retrievers, has a surefire way to draw traffic: she brings a litter of puppies to the store.

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