RICH’S TAKES AN INTIMATE APPROACH

Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — Bodywear appears to have only supporting-player status in the intimate apparel department at Rich’s — but it has moved up a notch or two since it was housed and merchandised in the main-floor hosiery area.
Rich’s shifted bodywear to the intimate apparel department at most of its 21 units about a year ago. Poor performance and growing competition from sports specialty stores led to the decision, said Sheila Kamensky, vice president of fashion merchandising.
The category now consists of two primary resources — Champion Jogbra and Speedo — with a focus on bra tops. Also included are matching bottoms, as well as a small selection of jersey shorts and oversized T-shirts.
Merchandise is featured on wall displays, and the presentation — which was not done on the main floor — has resulted in improved sales, said Kamensky. Bodywear had been merchandised on rounders next to socks in the main-floor hosiery department.
On a recent visit to Rich’s flagship at Lenox Square, bodywear was found ensconced in an alcove deep in the bra area. It was not visible from the department entrance nor was there a sign indicating the presence of a bodywear area.
Speedo and Champion Jogbra sports bras retailing from around $26 to $35 dominated the section. There was little focus on fashion items. Selections and colors were basic — primarily black, white and gray — with a smattering of blue, green and red. Coordinating T-shirts and bike shorts were mixed in with the bras.
One wall display offered Olympic-licensed products by Champion Jogbra and Champion logo coordinates, such as bike shorts, again mostly in basic colors, at $34. A visual accompaniment to the area was a framed photo of a model in a Champion Jogbra.
In addition to the two main brands, the section featured sports bras from Warner’s, Lily of France and Lilyette. Point-of-sale signs on fixtures saying “Buy Two, Take Home Three” topped the fixtures featuring sports bras by Warner’s.
Champion Jogbra — which is part of the Champion division of Sara Lee Corp. and a major player — is lobbying with department stores, including Federated Department Stores, which owns Rich’s, for space allocation to develop in-store boutiques. The shops would be in intimate apparel departments and feature expanded assortments of sports bras, bike shorts, unitards and coordinated fleece coverups.
“Department stores have a great opportunity for partnerships going forward,” said Hinda Miller, founder of Jogbra, who is now a spokeswoman for Champion products.
“We want to keep bras in intimate apparel, but we also want women’s activewear areas with good displays,” Miller said. “This is the way that department stores can compete with sporting goods and specialty stores.”
Still, smaller vendors complain that the big department stores — wedded to their matrix systems for resources — have narrowed their focus over the past couple of years to two or three bodywear labels. The move, they generally say, is pushing smaller makers out of bodywear areas at department stores.
“Department stores won’t look at anybody new,” said Mindy Solkin, marketing director at New York-based Attitudes in Dressing, maker of BodyWrappers bodywear.
“They often carry the exciting names like Speedo and Champion Jogbra,” said Solkin. “These companies can back up their lines with big advertising dollars. Smaller companies like us can’t fight City Hall.”
A reason, she contends, is that department stores “lack a basic understanding of fitness and sports.”
“Department store buyers are number-crunchers,” Solkin said. “Just focusing on two lines won’t help the education process.”

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Where’s the Bodywear?
This article is another in a periodic series exploring how bodywear is situated and merchandised in major stores.

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