BATTLE MOUNTS FOR RETAIL TURF
Byline: Karyn Monget
NEW YORK — The push for space may well turn innerwear departments into battlefields early next year.
Re-creating somewhat the crush of new sportswear lines seen this fall, innerwear firms are bringing out a batch of labels designed for in-store shops. Key entries for early 1997 are the licensed Ralph Lauren Underwear collection by Sara Lee Corp.; Halston Intimates, a division of TTI Apparel Inc., and Marilyn Monroe by Warner’s by The Warnaco Group.
So far, the main players in the shop concept arena have been the Calvin Klein Underwear collection by Warnaco and the licensed Donna Karan Intimates label by Wacoal America. Now, Warnaco is adding more sleepwear to its Calvin Klein offerings.
Some manufacturers are concerned because the established space for innerwear departments will not get any bigger as new competition moves into a field already saturated with labels.
The casualties, some think, will be the smaller innerwear companies that don’t have the financial and marketing muscle to satisfy the growing demands of major buying groups.
Linda J. Wachner, president, chairman and chief executive officer of The Warnaco Group, however, has a less harsh forecast: “I think there’s always pressure, and I think there will be pressure next year, but the intimate apparel department is one of the top-profit departments in stores.”
Wachner predicted that because foundations, daywear and sleepwear are so important, retailers will “reappropriate space.”
“It will happen,” Wachner said.
However, Richard Murray, ceo of Wacoal America, said, “You have to keep your eye on the tremendous amount of space that Calvin has taken, and now Ralph, Marilyn and Halston are all expected to be major resources. Everybody will want them.
“I don’t know who is going to be squeezed or pushed out, but intimate apparel departments are not getting bigger, so there’s greater pressure on all brands,” Murray continued. “Retailers definitely are making space for Ralph and Marilyn, and all brands will have to jockey for position and justify their margins. But we are concentrating on maintaining our own space for Wacoal, Parfage and Donna Karan Intimates.”
Marvin Bienenfeld, chairman and ceo of Bestform Foundations Inc., put it this way: “It’s become a game of fighting for real estate, and a smaller percentage of the total market. We’re fighting every day — no matter what the store.”
“The fact that more people are getting into the act makes it more important to stay in touch with consumers and what they want,” said Elisabeth J. Coleman, chairman and ceo of Maidenform Worldwide Inc. “That’s what we are working on and striving for.”
Representing a point of view from the sleepwear industry, Neal Hochman, corporate secretary of Carole Hochman Designs, said designer shops are “a fad that’s going to blow over. If all the stores are going to be showing the same merchandise, they’ll accelerate their own demise, because they have to have a selection for consumers.
“Consumers are not stupid, and they’re not cattle who will go out and buy the stuff because it says Ralph or Calvin.”
Asked if he thinks the new labels will affect his business, Hochman replied, “Calvin is known for its underwear. I don’t think these labels will affect our sleepwear business at all, and we are looking for significant gains next year.”
Other executives are feeling bullish about upcoming business, too.
“I think we are going to have a very good rest of the year,” said Wachner. “Our Calvin Klein and Valentino Intimates business, and all of our Warner’s and Olga businesses, are showing very good gains, and we’re kind of thrilled with it.”
Wachner noted the Nancy Ganz/Bodyslimmers shapewear division will “definitely be brought into Europe by next fall.”
“Nancy’s is a tiny business, and we’re starting to build it here. We bought it at the right time,” Wachner said. The Nancy Ganz/Bodyslimmers business, as reported, generates an estimated annual volume of between $30 million and $34 million. It was acquired by Warnaco in July.
As for Bestform, Bienenfeld said, “We are looking for a slight increase for the balance of the year. Retailers right now are still playing it tight to the vest. But based on the projections they’ve given us for spring, we are looking for some significant gains.”