INTERLINING SUPPLIERS SPREAD OUT
Byline: Stuart Chirls
NEW YORK — The big interlining makers are looking to global distribution and enhanced domestic service to boost business in 1997.
They’re also rolling out lower-priced components in an effort to attract new customers, while beefing up the ranks of their foreign sales agents and opening more overseas offices and warehouses, the better to supply burgeoning apparel manufacturing operations around the globe.
Diversification, too, has become a buzzword as these suppliers have ventured successfully into product categories ranging from sports logos to corrugated boxes. Many of these strategies helped interlining firms wind up 1996 on the plus side as well. In contrast, though, another key segment of components — shoulder-pad makers — saw a mixed year in 1996.
“For us, 1996 was a banner year; we hit all of our projections,” said Edward Lemack, president of HTC-Handler, one of the largest suppliers of interlinings, fusibles and other related components. “We did $60 million in volume, up 5 percent from the year before, in line with our conservative projections.”
The past year was one of change, Lemack said. “There was a lot of outsourcing. Apparel manufacturers are leaving the domestic contractor behind. For our core business, we are concentrating on adding value to the interlinings we sell and have turned our attention to the global marketplace.”
HTC has sales reps or wholly owned distributorships in India, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Continental Europe and also operates a joint manufacturing venture in the Dominican Republic. “We have focused our attention on the larger manufacturers and apparel organizations,” said Lemack, “where we can cherry-pick the most productive accounts.”
Lemack said that women’s wear manufacturers continue to look to soft, drapable styles. “So, we are offering circular knits, texturized wefts and stretch woven products. We are importing a stretch woven fusible from Japan that is exclusive to us. We must continue to innovate to keep our market share.”
That thinking led HTC two years ago to enter into a licensing agreement with Major League Baseball to produce embroidered logos, which Lemack said “has been a very large success.” The company is putting more emphasis on its established home crafts segment, including needlepoint, which posted a 30 percent increase in sales in ’96.
HTC held the line on component prices, although Lemack said increases are coming from his supplier mills, the first in quite some time. “Some will have to be passed on to the apparel manufacturers. We have to generate some gross profit.” Interest rates are also a looming concern, he added, and could affect how much inventory HTC is able to carry.
Global sales helped QST Industries to a “banner” year, according to Mark Dudelson, vice president of marketing for the interlining maker. “We were very fortunate,” Dudelson said, adding that “1996 was the year our worldwide distribution really came together.”
“The Far East and South America are all becoming very strong. We were able to deliver all of our domestic products overseas and posted double-digit increases in international sales,” he said.
QST has offices in Hong Kong and Mexico, reps in China and sales agents in London, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Peru.
Being able to deliver the right product quickly has become the mantra for component manufacturers. Said Dudelson, “We are an inventory company, and we have to have the item on the floor. Components are the last thing on apparel manufacturers’ minds, and it’s always got to ship the next day. That ties up plenty of money in finished product.”
In the second quarter, QST plans to offer an economically priced weft-inserted fusible. “There are more knitted products coming from designers, so wefts are more and more important for a soft look,” Dudelson said. “New technology allows us to offer that kind of product at a lower price than before.” QST has not settled on an exact price, but Dudelson said it will be “considerably” lower, to compete with more expensive nonwovens now on the market.
Dudelson said he was satisfied with his margins and expects to have a very good year. But QST, too, is bracing for price increases from mills.
“There will be nonwoven interfacings increases. We don’t know exactly how much. Certain [customers] will take a pass-on increase, and some we will have to absorb. It depends on how large the order is and how much they complain.”
Volume jumped 30 to 40 percent in 1996 for Apparel Construction Products, a supplier of shoulder pads, interfacings and elastics, and projections call for similar increases in ’97. “Service is our big thing, and relationships. We stay close to our customers,” said Richard Wisun, regional technical manager. “We added five salespeople last year, and business has been super.”
The biggest seller for ACP has been the straight foam shoulder pad. “Set-in styles have replaced raglan sleeves for the most part,” Wisun said, “and pads are not as pronounced as in the past. The thicknesses are ranging from 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch at the most for a softer look.”
ACP stocks a wide assortment of pads built on a core of five to 10 basic styles for next-day delivery, a must according to Wisun. “Service is the name of the game.”
Like other companies, ACP has ventured into other product areas and is now producing corrugated boxes. Said Wisun, “These days, you have to be diversified.”
Meanwhile, not all suppliers are looking overseas for new opportunities.
“Stores are buying closer and closer to season, and manufacturers have to be able to deliver,” noted Harold Lopato, president of Majestic Shapes, a shoulder pad manufacturer. “I am inclined to think we will be more useful to the maker than ever before, since more are being forced to source domestically by the stores. They have to be able to turn on a dime at a good price.”
Sales were flat at Perfect Shoulder Co., a continuation of a trend that has lasted three years. “It’s too early to tell for sure, but we think we will do approximately the same in ’97,” said Harold Greenberg, president.
“Our prices have been steady for the past two years, as have our costs,” Greenberg noted. “There have been no major increases, but no decreases, either.”