Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Hosiery departments are getting in control.
Spotlighting contouring sheers designed to shape problem areas from thighs to waistlines is a key strategy for retailers this spring. And one that’s giving the otherwise lackluster sheer business a lift.
To foster growth in the category, executives at several key stores said they are prominently merchandising shapers on leg forms and educating salespeople about the products’ benefits. For some, contouring sheers account for more than 25 percent of their total sheer businesses.
No longer strictly targeted at overweight women, shapers are being bought by women of various sizes and ages, the retailers said. Aging baby boomers as well as young, fashion-forward shoppers are looking for shapers.
Bloomingdale’s plans to take shapers — “an already trending category — to the next level,” said Stephanie Zernik Doroff, operating vice president and divisional merchandise manager for intimate apparel, hosiery and socks. Sales of shapers make up 25 percent of the total sheer business — compared to 19 percent a year ago, she said.
Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and DKNY are the most popular labels for shapers, which retail from $12 to $50. The category’s popularity has boosted Bloomingdale’s average hosiery purchase, but Doroff declined to say how much.
“Women are going for the best product no matter what the price is,” she said.
To keep the momentum going, Bloomingdale’s is focusing more on talking to salespeople about shapers, setting up more shaper displays in its hosiery departments and targeting customers with direct mail pieces, Doroff said.
“It’s exciting to see that the industry and DuPont are reacting so well in developing product for the customers’ specific needs. A difficult industry is getting a lot of help,” said a Sears, Roebuck executive. “The control area looks like it has a lot of purpose. It’s positive, and it’s where the industry is going.”
Control products account for 30 percent of total sheer hosiery sales at Sears, said the executive, and that figure should increase to 40 percent in the next 12 months.
Baby boomers buy shaping sheers to cloak their aging bodies, and young women buy shaping sheers to wear beneath bias-cut trendy looks, the Sears buyer said.
Retail prices for shapers range from $3.49 to $5.99, with the chain’s private label Nice Touch sheers and Nice Touch Promise, which is a Lycra 3D product, the best-selling labels in control styles.
Shapers are driving the sheer business at Jacobson’s, said Jennifer Mezza, hosiery buyer. While control-top products are important, full-toner sheers are fueling sales as well, she added.
In addition to its private label, Jacobson’s offers Hanes Smooth Illusions and Donna Karan shapers that retail from $7.95 to $17.
In The Nudes Collection, Donna Karan’s Essential Toners are sparking sales even with a $17 price tag.
Sales for control products make up 75 percent of Jacobsons’s total sheer business, which remains flat compared to last year, Mezza said.
Jacobson’s is working to improve consumer awareness of its contouring products. To spotlight the benefits of shapers, the retailer is placing two torsos clad with Donna Karan Toners in each store. Next month the retailer plans to send videos highlighting specific products to each of its stores. The videos will be used to educate sales associates about the category.
At Lord & Taylor, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein continue to be the key forces in shaper sheer business, according to Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president and fashion merchandising.
Sheers that offer leg, hip and tummy control are doing particularly well. DKNY Contours, the newest support sheers to be offered at Lord & Taylor, have had a strong immediate reaction.
“Consequently, we’re planning aggressively for fall,” she said.
Shapers are also big at Burdine’s, based in Miami, said Terry Watson, senior vice president of marketing. Hanes Smooth Illusions, DKNY and Donna Karan are currently the hottest labels.
To spotlight the category, there are displays with signs in the retailer’s hosiery departments pointing out the problem areas for which the products are designed. Shapers need to be identified, since many women are not familiar with the products, Watson said. “There are other options besides control-top,” Watson said.
“Customers also need to know where the shapers are,” he said. “Displays serve as a reminder for women when they enter the hosiery departments.
Shapers, though, are not a strong suit everywhere. At Elder Beerman Stores, based in Dayton, Ohio, control accounts for only 4 percent of the sheer business, said Sue Perkowski, hosiery buyer. Smooth Illusions, Evan-Picone, DKNY and Jockey for Her are some of the labels offered at the store.
Aside from Smooth Illusions, which has a separate area in Elder Beerman’s hosiery departments, all shaper products are with their respective brands in the sheer hosiery area.
Shapers would do better if shoppers read packaging, which highlights contouring benefits, Perkowski said.
“Someone needs to treat hosiery like cosmetics,” she also said, suggesting that manufacturers’ representatives would be helpful on the floor.

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