SNOWBOUND VENDORS HOPE FOR FAST MELT
Byline: Karyn Monget
NEW YORK — It was almost the week that wasn’t.
Typically, the January market is an important one for sleepwear and robes, particularly warmwear, but last week’s snowstorm practically froze all business at Madison Avenue showrooms.
There was virtually no retailer traffic a week ago Monday on the three-block stretch of Madison Avenue between East 31st and 34th Streets — where the bulk of innerwear showrooms are located. Most showrooms were closed. Some reopened Tuesday for a few stout-hearted retailers such as those from Nordstrom and Mercantile Stores, who had arrived in New York before the blizzard.
Laurie Black, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Nordstrom, said Tuesday, “All but one of our warmwear and robe vendors came to our big meeting here Monday, even though there was a blizzard.”
The Nordstrom meeting was held at its buying office here.
By Wednesday, retailers began trickling into showrooms. Many of the appointments that had been canceled last week were rescheduled for this week. At least one major buying group, May Merchandising Corp., will conduct its buys here this week.
Vendors noted that the reshuffling of appointments made for an awkward situation, presenting a conflict with the Chicago and Dallas markets, as well as a meeting with Belk Stores in Charlotte, N.C., this week.
Some retailers who traditionally attend January market, most notably Neiman Marcus and Jacobson Stores, will attend two regional markets instead. Neiman’s will do the Dallas show, and Jacobson’s will go to Chicago. The Dallas show is slated to begin Thursday and end Monday; the Chicago show is Jan. 26-30.
Inclement weather conditions also put a damper on retail turnout at the Intimate Apparel Salon, a three-day trade show at the Doral Tuscany Hotel that ended last Wednesday.
Vendors said some stores seemed to be using the blizzard as another cost-cutting initiative, asking that the manufacturers come visit them or show at their local markets.
Following what was generally described as strong Christmas sales of sleepwear and robes at stores, vendors noted it was too early to get a more specific reading on business, and held back any sales projections. Bookings are generally expected to be completed over the next three weeks.
Still, the general mood of vendors was resignation mixed with disappointment.
Norman Katz, chairman of I. Appel Corp., said, “Total attendance was so small during the blizzard that it’s difficult to get any real picture of what the market results will be. By the end of January, we’ll have a pretty good idea of how our transition and fall business will shape up.”
Regarding Christmas sales of sleepwear and robes at department and specialty stores, Katz said, “Some stores had increases in the mid-single digits, and others met last year’s figures. I’m not aware of overall disappointments in intimate apparel, which was better than most apparel business.”
Niko Oreopoulos, national sales manager for NAP Inc., maker of NAP Essentials and Anne Lewin sleepwear and at-homewear, agreed that Christmas innerwear business was generally good, but said: “Retailers continue to be very cautious. Open-to-buy dollars are generally the same as they were last year, and in a few cases, they are less.
“We are very cautious, even though our business was good in ’95,” said Oreopoulos.
“It’s been a roll of the dice with the weather,” said Kitty D’Alessio, president of Natori Co. “But we were jam-packed with appointments Thursday and Friday.”
James Seldin, president of Miss Elaine, a St. Louis-based maker of sleepwear, said, “Even though our sales manager and his staff were in New York, a lot of business was conducted by phone. About 50 percent of our appointments were rescheduled because of the blizzard.
“A big problem, though, is this is a major import market, and it kind of puts us behind the eight ball.”
Another problem will be getting duplicate lines to the Chicago and Dallas markets.
“A lot of reps will not yet have samples to show,” said Seldin.
Kathy Weir, executive vice president of sales at Carole Hochman Designs Inc., said last week, “I think it’s a market in progress. We are packed with appointments this Monday and Tuesday with people who rescheduled.”
As for the general attitude among retailers, Weir said, “They certainly are a lot happier after Christmas than they were before Christmas. The last 10 days made a big difference for sleepwear and robe business.”
“Post-market has become market week,” said Bob Vorzimer, president of Intapp Group, maker of daywear under the Worn Out and Fiore Di Mimosa labels.
“Every one — some 50 appointments — has rescheduled for this week, but we’re concerned we’ll have to reschedule again,” he said, referring to the possibility of more bad weather.
Howard Radziminsky, national sales manager for the Cinema Etoile brand of daywear and sleepwear at Movie Star Inc., said, “It’s been a crazy week. We were virtually closed Monday, but strangely enough, one buyer came in from Liberty House, from Hawaii.”
Radziminsky said the “biggest difficulty” this week will be servicing accounts outside New York.
“Some of our sales reps can stay over for rescheduled appointments, and some can’t. They have to go to Belk’s,” he said.
Regarding market week results, Radziminsky said, “We usually hold a meeting to discuss the results. But what are we going to wrap up? We don’t know yet.”
Peter Keyloun, president of sales for the Ariel line of at-homewear at John David Associates, said, “This really was the week that wasn’t. I had 10 appointments cancel because they couldn’t get into New York. Some retailers like Jacobson’s decided to skip it all together, so I’m sending out a lot of photos of new merchandise.”
Robert Rosenthal, national sales manager for Mary Green Designs, a San Francisco-based specialist in men’s and women’s silk knit innerwear, said, “Eighty percent of our appointments were changed, and in some cases, retailers have even changed appointments for the March market.”
Traffic was so sporadic last week that “you could take the elevator from the 23rd floor to the lobby without stopping,” said Rosenthal, who was showing the line on the 23rd floor at 180 Madison Ave.
“It’s not often you can ride an express elevator during market week,” he said.
Marvin Backer, vice president of Flora Nikrooz Designs, maker of sleepwear under the Flora Nikrooz and Just Flora labels, said, “I’m planning to travel much more on the road over the next several weeks to see retailers who won’t be coming into New York.
“It’s also been frustrating because there continue to be cancellations, and I think it’s because TV and radio coverage of a second storm have scared other buyers away. I had three cancellations Thursday because of that.”
Berna Goldstein, executive director of merchandising at the licensed Donna Karan Intimates division of Wacoal America, said, “By a stroke of luck, we had already showed our fashion lines in November.
“We did have some solid appointments last week, but a lot of general merchandise managers were stuck on the West Coast. We did very well, however, with the basic programs we introduced this month.”
Scott French, a designer of C’est Cool, a moderate sleepwear brand at Richard Leeds International, noted, “A lot of appointments are extremely crunched, because of all of the cancellations, and buyers are feeling beleaguered.
“You knew who the out-of-towners were, especially those from the Sunshine states — they loved the snow. The Northerners, though, were upset.”
At Intimate Apparel Salon, Carol Bigman, show organizer and owner, said, “Most of our exhibitors did arrive on time for the show, and some 70 lines were shown. Traffic, considering the circumstances, has been respectable.”
Arthur King, vice president of marketing for Linda, a Montreal-based maker of sleepwear, daywear and robes exhibiting at the salon, said, “Traffic was fairly steady for us. We had a little more time to work with retailers.”
“We saw Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Takashimaya here at the salon,” said Linda Gottlieb, designer of Denier Chic, a designer collection of at-homewear. “We also opened new accounts with a couple of specialty stores.”
Nancy Wyckoff, president of the U.S. division of Calida, a Swiss maker of daywear and underwear, said, “I opened four new accounts at this show. Considering the weather factor, I’m very surprised we were as busy as we were.”