RETAILERS CALL FOR NEW PRODUCTS, DISPLAYS
Byline: Marilyn Nason
HICKORY, N.C. — The need for innovation was voiced loud and clear by retailers addressing the Carolina Hosiery Association’s annual “Focus” conference held here last week.
Retailers pointed out they were gearing up to capitalize on the growing trend to casual dressing, but added they needed help from their suppliers in the way of new product and appealing packaging and display.
Known as a retailer that specializes in casual sportswear, County Seat sold more than one million pairs of socks in 1995, but the company knows it can do more, said Pete Valetti, vice president of general merchandising.
The company is now developing marketing strategies for the street-active customer mainly through domestically made product, he said.
“What we are looking for from our suppliers is a newness that will create an impulsiveness in our customers to buy the product,” Valetti said.
“Suppliers have to help us break away from the boring wall mentality in displaying socks,” Valetti declared. “Let’s be honest, there is nothing exciting about the act of buying socks for the consumer today.”
Unlike apparel and footwear industries, he further observed, there is little regional or national advertising for socks because there aren’t many brands to fund such campaigns. “What the answer is I don’t know,” he added.
Bradlees has reflected the casual trend in its own private label business under the Pride’s Landing and Crescent Bay labels, said Lisa Waugh, hosiery buyer for the discount store chain, with socks an important part of the program.
“We are now expanding space allotments in each store to meet the demand in this category. What we want from our selected supplier is dynamic displays and new ideas,” she said.
Retailers have done “a very poor job” in the past of educating consumers about business casual, but part of the blame can be placed on suppliers, according to Steve Labat, divisional merchandise manager for men’s wear for Belk Store Services.
“No one really knows what business casual is. We are now taking definitive steps at the corporate level to define it and to create goals,” he said. Part of the plan involves inviting human resource managers from major industries to fashion seminars about corporate casual, he said.
“This way, we can find out from them what they consider the corporate casual look,” he said. “If they haven’t made any definitive decisions, then maybe we can help influence them.” Charles Haney, men’s hosiery and underwear buyer for J.C. Penney, noted that hosiery and underwear departments generally have the highest sales per square foot in most department stores, even though they have one of the worst return on investment figures.
“As buyers, we are very well aware of this dichotomy. We like the money sock departments produce for us, but we don’t like the amount we have to spend to get there,” he said. “We need to be shown by our vendors how a product or line can improve the return on investment for the space allotted.”
Statistics on recent sales trends in legwear, based on an ongoing survey of 16,000 households, were presented by Peter Simon, director of apparel for consumer research firm NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y.
From January to November 1995, dollar sales for women’s legwear were up 1 percent, and units were flat. Socks were up 4 percent in units and 6 percent in dollars, while hosiery was down 6 percent in units and down 4 percent in dollars. Pantyhose was down 6 percent in units and 2 percent in dollars, while sheer knee-highs and ankle styles were down 8 percent in units and 3 percent in dollars.