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Retailers Seek Value at Men’s Market in N.Y.

At men's market in New York, retailers sought lower-priced and unique items as spring open-to-buy budgets were significantly reduced.

Retailers were on a quest for value at the New York men’s wear shows earlier this week, and most were successful in finding it.

Although their spring open-to-buy budgets were significantly reduced and they were holding back dollars for in-season fill-ins, stores were still hungry for new and unusual items to kick-start shoppers out of their recession-stoked malaise. Unconstructed sport coats, woven shirts, denim and updated accessories were among the most-popular items.

“I’m looking for imagination,” said Chuck Haidet, managing partner of Keepers in Austin, Tex. “The business climate is difficult but not impossible as long as you have unusual and creative items. You can’t talk about the same silhouettes and patterns. It has to be something different to capture their imagination.”

For Haidet, that included unconstructed sport coats that could work well with both denim and dress slacks. He was checking out clothing from Ravazzolo and ties from Dolcepunta. Additionally, he said he was “intrigued by shirts with engineered patterns” and was searching for “fresh takes on color.”

Haidet said with all merchandise, he was “looking for value and in-season reorderability. We’re all about keeping our inventories low and buying in-season,” he said.

He’s expecting a pickup in fall, if only because he will be going up against last year’s terrible numbers. But the biggest challenge for specialty stores going forward, he said, will be “changing the mind-set of the consumer through creative merchandising and a good, positive attitude.”

Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans in New York, said the most interesting thing he noticed at the shows was that “the market is cognizant of the consumer push back on prices. We didn’t see anybody with their heads in the sand on this: the higher-priced lines were more realistic and the lower-priced lines are trying to grab market share.” He was impressed by the sportswear offerings from Canterbury, Borgo Ognissanti, Shirt by Shirt and Parke and Ronan. Casual clothing from Voodoo Guru was also a standout, he said, along with Tsovet watches.

“You’re got to freshen things up,” he said.

Giddon said that although business hasn’t picked up yet, “things have stopped getting worse” and he’s expecting fall to look better — even if it’s only due to the comparisons. “Half the battle is feeling better and the other half is paying your bills,” he said.

Keith Kinkade of Kinkade’s Fine Clothing in Ridgeland, Miss., added a few denim brands including Agave, AG and Worn to complement his tailored clothing assortment. Cole Haan shoes and Southwick clothing were also on his shopping list, along with Tailorbyrd shirts. He was also shopping Coppley, Tommy Bahama and Ballin slacks, all of which are among the store’s top brands.

Overall, he said, “we’re keeping as lean as possible,” noting his business has been good in recent months. “We’re optimistic that the latter part of the third quarter and the fourth quarter will be strong. We’re not banking on that, but we’re shooting for it.”

Kent Gushner of Boyds in Philadelphia said business was “still lousy” since customers remain “reluctant to spend money. And even those who are spending are looking for value.” This requires retailers to “change the balance of our mix. It’s not a complete remerchandising, but we’re buying significantly less from top-end vendors.”

Gushner also has a wholesale line, Trussini, whose price points are more moderate. He said the line is being picked up by luxury stores for fall as they address the market shift.

Ralph Lauretta of Sal Lauretta for Men in Midland Park, N.J., said: “Our buys are not as big and we’re looking for tasty items — things out of the ordinary.”

Right now, “wovens are still driving the sportswear world,” he said, and Robert Graham is still selling well. At the shows, he shopped Ravazzlo sport coats, Dolcepunta ties and other sport coats that could bridge jeans and dresswear.

All in all, Lauretta said that when fresh goods come in, business improves for a time but then drops off again. He’s hoping holiday will see a sustained uptick in sales. “Christmas is an anchor and always helps,” he said.

Craig Andrisen of Andrisen Morton in Denver was “looking for value and unique items. We’re still offering quality goods, but the consumer has hit the reset button and so have we. We hope that the promotional world will change, but until then, we have to get our margin going in.”

Andrisen said everything he is buying these days is “softer and cleaner. The sport coat is evolving into more of a jacket and flat-front clothing is stronger. Before, we used to be 60 percent pleated, now we’re 70 percent flat-front.” He was also seeking to expand his private label offerings. “We had pretty much abandoned that but now we’re looking for a margin driver.”

Plans call for a continued decrease in sales for fall, after a double-digit drop in spring, and the store is planning its inventories “tight” and will spread deliveries throughout the season. “I’m afraid the open market for goods won’t be what it was in the spring,” he said. He noted the company recently closed its women’s store, which was located on the same block as its men’s unit, and will focus on men’s only “until we get through this time.”

His partner, David Morton, said the store is hoping for a better fall season. “There’s no real fundamental reason to feel better, but people can only feel bad for so long. It’s just the American temperament.”