WARMING UP TO E-COMMERCE

Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — Cyberspace, either as a vehicle for informational web sites or for actual selling, remains an elusive concept for most moderate apparel companies, especially when compared with junior and contemporary firms.
That is starting to change.
At least two big moderate makers — Jenna Lane Group and Delta Burke — have moved into cyber-retailing, with others looking to sell online within the next year.
Jenna Lane Group began selling its licensed Bongo junior sportswear collection; Jenna Lane; Jenna Lane Woman, its plus-size collection, and Smart Objects knitwear online Sept. 1.
“We expect that the missy customer will be doing more of her shopping online over the next year,” said Charles Sobel, president of Jenna Lane.
The company’s web site, jennalanegroup.com, offers 12 styles from Bongo and six styles each from Jenna Lane, Jenna Lane Woman and Smart Objects.
The site was developed in partnership with Styleclick.com, Sobel said. Annual cost of running it should range from $40,000 to $75,000, he said. He added that maintaining the junior category is more challenging than the misses’ area.
“We have to change the styles in juniors almost every week,” Sobel said.”With the missy customer, we plan to change them every six weeks.”
Plus-size apparel firm Delta Burke has rung up average monthly e-commerce sales of $10,000 to $15,000 since launching its site 1 1/2 years ago, according to Barry Zelman, senior vice president of merchandising and licensing.
About 25 percent of the company’s overall merchandise is offered on its site, deltaburke.com. The products range from sportswear to accessories, Zelman said.
He added that e-commerce sales now account for 8 to 10 percent of the business, but could eventually be 25 percent.
Zelman said the site needs constant fine-tuning. For example, Delta Burke had initially put some of its sophisticated prints on the web, but realized that they weren’t easily understandable to the consumer.
Now, the company focuses on solid-color fashion basics, such as denim pants and leggings.
It has also made some changes to its Florida-based fulfillment center, which handles orders from both its catalog and web site. The center has expanded its operating hours and is now open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m every day, Zelman said.
Delta Burke aims to add a chat room, featuring its namesake designer, as well as style consultants. Zelman said there might also be a newsletter.
The Generra Co. is testing e-commerce through its SNL25 web site, named after its licensed “Saturday Night Live” merchandise, which is tied-in with the 25th anniversary of the NBC show.
The Generra site, now informational, links up to the SNL25 site.
“We are using the SNL25 site as our laboratory,” said Alan A. Bobin, president and chief executive officer of Generra, who said he hopes to sell Generra products, including footwear, accessories and sportswear, online within the next year.
To promote its SNL25 collection, which made its debut at retail for early fall selling, Generra teamed up with Trimark Pictures to develop a 15-second spot spotlighting the merchandise. It is included in all six “Saturday Night Live” commemorative videos, which were distributed about a week ago to 250,000 retailers, including video and music stores. The spot directs viewers to generra.com, which then points to the SNL25 site, as well as Sears, Roebuck, where the licensed merchandise is available, Bobin said.
First-year sales of the SNL collection are expected to reach $10 million, with up to 40 percent of the volume coming from online, Bobin said.
Still, many other company executives say they won’t move beyond informational web sites because they don’t want to deal with fulfillment issues.
Lasting Impressions, which makes Tofy, a related separates collection, and Versailles, an updated line, is one of them.
The company contemplated selling its products online a couple of months ago, but decided to back out, according to Annie Perino, vice president of marketing.
The firm has now teamed with E-Marketweek Ltd. to develop a business-to-business web site, slated to be launched in November.
“We really felt that in order to support the [e-commerce] web site, we were going to have to make a huge investment,” said Perino.
“The question was, how were we going to finance overhead?” she added. “We decided to back off a bit, and rethink what we wanted to do.
“This business-to-business web site will be great for managers who don’t have the time to shop the showroom.”
Perino added that the site will also help promote Lasting Impressions in the marketplace.
Eventually, the goal is to create an informational web site for the consumer, she said.
Norton McNaughton is spending about $50,000 to launch a site.
The site, called nortonmcnaughton.com, is expected to be up within three months, said Lynn Fish, executive vice president of merchandising.
Fish said Norton McNaughton considered selling online, but decided that maintaining the stock would be too cumbersome.
Liz Sweeney, president of Kellwood Co.’s CLC division, which comprises Cricket Lane, Components and Cape Cod Sportswear, said the company is launching an informational site for Components.
The site, called componentssportswear.com, will include a store locator, and will show current fashions. However, CLC executives are not interested in selling online.
“Our marketing strategy is to sell through stores and through our own catalog,” Sweeney said.