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Faced with a difficult economy, erratic weather and reluctant customers, Southeast buyers are playing it safe. While retailers expect core lines to lead them through fickle times, they’re banking on special items to encourage clients to spend.

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

WWD asked several regional buyers about their fall strategies.

Camille Wright, owner, Kaleidoscope Boutique, Atlanta:

“Times are tough. You can’t afford to make stupid buys. I’m focusing on clothes that are transitional. People want more bang for their buck and something that takes them from day into evening. I’ll skimp on some of the sportswear, but not denim. People can go to Loehmann’s for sportswear, but they will always go to boutiques for denim. Joe’s [Jeans] literally pays my rent, Paige [Premium] is doing really well and J Brand is on everyone’s list. My customers tend to be buy-now, wear-now, but I’m looking ahead. At the Atlanta market, I’ll be looking for lines like Veronica M. It sells great and price points are fantastic. Ben Sherman Women’s and Triple 5 Soul also sell well.”

Seth Adams, owner, Village Sportswear, Birmingham and Decatur, Ala.:

“[Business] is holding its own. I’m set for spring and looking forward to fall. I’m trying to take what I’ve seen on runways and figure out how to use it in the real world. It seems to be all about [novelty] tops and jackets now. Nobody’s buying basics. Bottoms have sort of become insignificant. Jackets seem to be the way people are updating their wardrobe, especially with interesting bell sleeves. Lafayette 148 and Nanette Lepore are really stepping up to the plate with their jackets.

“I don’t think [fall business] is going to be a bust. People are still shopping, although they’re not spending as much as before. Things aren’t as stable. I’m probably going to take 10 percent off my buy as a cushion. You can always go back and get more merchandise.”

Stephanie Lindley, owner, James Gunn, Savannah, Ga.:

“We booked very light for July and August, so we’ll add a few last-minute orders to fill in and we’ll continue to book for fall. We will have to be very excited about something [this market] to book new lines. We always try to save a little open-to-buy for fun immediates, but as a buyer, you’re programmed to look ahead. Corey Lynn Calter, J Brand, Prairie New York, Julie Brown, AKA, T-Bags and Akiko are some of our favorite core lines; 291 Venice is a great line of chic T-shirts, converted sweatshirts and yoga-type pants. I’m not a huge fan of florals, so I went very minimal on that trend. Ombré is very cool and right up our alley, so I will take that through fall.

“Thankfully, dresses are still a huge seller and were shown in every line through fall. Skirts and shorts made a showing for spring and summer and we booked some from our favorite lines. We are seeing a slight shift from Ts and denim, but I think it’s just momentary. We made an overall cut of 20 percent for 2008, although we are trending up 26 percent for January and February combined.”

Diane Koch, owner, 5 Sisters Boutique, Jacksonville, Fla.:

“We will be shopping summer and into early fall at April market. I’m always looking at immediates. If there is something great available right now, why would you pass that up? Core lines are always denim: Miss Me — which has expanded into dresses, tops and pants — Infusion, J&Company, David Kahn, along with top lines like Scala and Papillon Blanc.

“Trends are leading right back to the dress this spring and summer. With our climate, you can do the same dress a hundred times during the year. We are selling them all day long. Summer is showing a long dress, and that should be interesting since we have been doing very well with a shorter version. [Business is] better this year than last and we are up for the first three months. I adjusted inventory levels about two years ago, and we have been doing much better since. We added more accessories and lowered overall price points.”

Jenn Ripley, owner, Luxe-Atlanta:

“I am looking for deliveries from late July through October. I’m pretty solid on my immediate deliveries and am looking for some independent collections for fall. We do very well with exclusive lines, like Norsah, Luxury Jones, Sherri Bodell, McGuinn and Nougat. This fall, I’m concentrating on interesting knitwear lines, including Marlova. I’m planning a trip to Brazil this summer and will be incorporating leather outerwear [by Brazilian designers] for fall. I try to buy exclusive lines from up-and-coming designers and one-of-a-kind vintage pieces.

“I’ve never strayed from gold tones, brocade, strong hardware, metallic or clean cashmere lines, so I am sticking with what works. I shop for solid wardrobe staples that can be resurrected season after season with updated accessories rather than slaving to the current trends. A great pair of jeans is classic. I don’t follow skinny versus wide [or other denim trends]. I think it is a waste of money six months later when the styles are outdated and overplayed.

“Rather than taking two or three buying trips a year, I source on a monthly basis. I think it makes the store more interesting to shop year-round. I love having the freedom to pull in designs I discover in different cities on monthly buying trips.”