RUFF HEWN’S URBAN TOUCH

Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — Ruff Hewn, the High Point, N.C.-based better-price sportswear firm known for its country-style fashions, is broadening its appeal.
Ruff Hewn has been primarily associated with plaid shirts and denim skorts for its mostly Southern store clientele. Making its big push for the current spring season, however, Ruff Hewn has stepped up its offerings of sophisticated casual career wear such as white linen pants, pinpoint oxford shirts and black linen jackets.
About 70 percent of the business is in fashion, with the remainder in such replenishment basics as denim and twill pants. Two years ago, that figure was about 50 percent.
The company is also aggressively developing licensing programs, with plans to include fragrance and accessories. It already has licensing agreements for furniture, carpets and other home products.
“We are taking a broader approach,” said Jim Schenck, executive vice president of the company’s women’s wear division. “We have to — especially in this environment.”
Spurring this new merchandising strategy, he said, is the trend toward store consolidation, which makes selling regional looks impossible. The other factor, Schenck noted, is the acceleration of dress-down days at the workplace, which is creating a consumer demand for business casual.
Ruff Hewn’s merchandising direction is so far generating positive results. Last year, the company posted wholesale volume of $40 million, excluding its licensing programs; now it expects to generate sales of $60 million by yearend, according to market sources.
Fueling the growth will be the women’s business, which accounted for 45 percent of its volume last year. It is expected to reach 60 percent by the end of the year, according to Schenck.
The company is also broadening its customer base. Ruff Hewn’s Southern store accounts used to bring in 70 percent of its business, with such major clients as Belk Stores, Dillard Department Stores, Parisian and Rich’s. Now, that figure is 60 percent, with a ultimate goal of reaching 55 percent in two years, according to Gary Finkel, president of Ruff Hewn.
Over the last few seasons, Ruff Hewn has picked up such accounts as Saks Fifth Avenue and Dayton Hudson and is now selling to the northern and southwestern stores of such department store chains as Dillard’s and Parisian. About 50 percent of the company’s 3,000 accounts are department stores, and the remainder are specialty stores. The company has marketed its clothes under the Ruff Hewn label since its founding in 1982, but the merchandise has evolved into three groups — and company executives say they are considering separate divisions with separate labels for each.
The labels are Ruff Hewn, which offers core denim and twill basics and represents 30 percent of the woman’s business; Ruff Stuff, the fashion-oriented line of weekend wear that includes denim jackets and dresses and accounts for 25 percent, and Collection, the more sophisticated line that can be worn to the office or on the weekend. That category accounts for 45 percent of the women’s area.
For fall, the Collection group will feature rayon-blend jackets with velvet collars and cuffs and rayon blend or challis skirts and tattersall jackets.
The average wholesale price for fall is $35, an increase of about 10 percent over the last two years, Schenck said.
As for marketing the brand, Ruff Hewn just finished a $5 million TV and outdoor campaign in 15 major markets. The effort was created by Ketchum Advertising and ran from August through December.
The TV commercials featured 15-second spots. One showed a 1937 tennis tournament, with a woman in Ruff Hewn spliced in. Another depicted the chorus line from the Copacabana nightclub in the 1940s, but including a contemporary model in Ruff Hewn. The ads bore the slogan “Guess Who’s Wearing Ruff Hewn?” The company plans to continue the campaign for fall but will expand to other markets, Finkel said.

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