MAKERS EYE NEW PRODUCTS, PRICING TO LURE CONSUMERS
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Lower price points, merchandise strategies and a smattering of new product will mark this week’s legwear market.
Beleaguered by price-conscious consumers, retail consolidation and fickle buyers, manufacturers said they will be developing general strategies with retailers to build this year’s business, whether it’s looking back at what worked in 1995 or stressing basic points, such as the need to get new looks and ideas onto the selling floor quickly.
Despite sales increases up to double-digit percentages, some legwear makers said there is concern about the tepid retail climate. January market, which sees the least amount of buying and new products of the five markets, is an opportune time for drafting these game plans for 1996, they said. This week’s market centers on spring, but some vendors said they’ll begin discussing fall, the quarter that generates the most business.
“No one seems to know what kind of business climate we’re in,” said Bill Bell, president of Giorgio Armani Calze. “During January market, we get feedback about what went on in the fourth quarter. If business was good or bad, it helps us develop strategies.”
Despite the uncertainty at retail, Bell said sales in 1995 ran 30 percent ahead of 1994, due in part to the company’s lowering its opening price points by 20 percent last fall. Introducing more fashion basics in May and installing EDI with key accounts in August further propelled growth.
This week, 12 out-of-town buyers will preview about 20 styles from Armani’s early fall line, including new looks such as microfiber nylon and pima cotton blend tights.
Noting that retailers at all price points are offering variations of microfiber tights, Bell said vendors need to develop unusual blends to differentiate themselves from the crowd.
“Our challenge is to find what the next generation in women’s hosiery is,” he said.
Even though sales at The Hot Sox Co. were at least 10 percent ahead in 1995 compared with the prior year, executives are talking about dropping some prices as they look to fall.
To appeal to a wider base of customers, Hot Sox aims to offer tiers of sharper-priced merchandise for its own line, as well as for its Ralph Lauren hosiery, according to a spokeswoman.
The company expects to lower prices for some patterned Hot Sox socks by 15 percent. It also is thinking about reducing prices on a portion of the Ralph Lauren line or introducing a group priced 25 percent lower than current opening prices.
“We want to create levels that are acceptable for a cross section of stores,” the spokeswoman said. “We also want our current accounts to increase volume, while simultaneously making prices more accessible for consumers.”
Fall strategies will also be a key topic at the Kayser-Roth Corp. showroom, the maker of Hue and Calvin Klein legwear. Pat McNellis, vice president of sales for Kayser-Roth, said she plans to talk to retailers about merchandising and ways to increase sales for tights.
“Despite the somewhat disappointing retail climate, sales for Hue and Calvin Klein legwear didn’t follow the retail trends,” she said. “There were double-digit percentage gains last fall. We’re ready to get a jump on fall ’96.”
Some vendors are more concerned with spring.
By discussing the opportunities and challenges of last fall’s business, manufacturers and retailers can develop trends they can maximize for spring, said Barbara Russillo, vice president of DML Marketing, which represents the Legale and Kenneth Cole legwear lines.
“With the consolidation of stores and the way consumers are shopping, we need to jump on trends quickly,” she said. “We have to get the merchandise in the stores to get the business.”
DML, which saw a low double-digit percentage increase in sales last year, plans to maintain that growth by keying into a few spring items.
Multi-packs should be important for spring since retailers aim to increase the average retail sale for socks. In the Kenneth Cole line, a three-pair multipack of cotton and spandex anklets at $11 wholesale is expected to be a hit. Lightweight tights, Olympic-inspired socks, lacy pastel anklets and trouser socks should also be important for spring.
By concentrating on what sells, retailers can steer clear of markdowns, Russillo said.
Unlike most of its competitors, Hanes Hosiery will unveil new summer product during market.
Hanes Summer Sheers, lightweight sheer pantyhose in basic shades and nudes, will be offered in control-top, sheer-to-waist and thigh-highs. Available in stores on a limited basis from May through September, Summer Sheers will be offered at a special promotion for at least part of that time, a company spokeswoman said. Pricing has not been set, she said.
Having seen a single-digit percentage increase compared with last year, Pennaco Hosiery aims to maintain its momentum at retail by improving merchandising, said Mitch Brown, general manager.
Pennaco’s merchandisers are spending more time in the stores from Thursday through Saturday as opposed to the beginning of the week to get a handle as to what goes on during the busier shopping days.
“January market is typically the place for negotiating margins,” he added. “This year it will be a strategy session to see how to keep the business going where it is.”
Sox Land International, which launched the licensed Davco socks and tights last fall, is taking a different track to building business.
The company plans to make a major push for new accounts at The International Fashion Boutique Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which closes here Tuesday. In addition, next week the company will show the line to 15 specialty stores at its new 2,000-square-foot showroom at 347 Fifth Ave. First-year projected wholesale volume is $500,000, according to Susan Reese, national sales manager.
The company is focusing on specialty stores due to the narrow matrix maintained by most department stores, she said.
With wholesale prices ranging from $1.50 for nylon anklets to $2 for nylon turn cuffs, feminine looks in soft pastels should be key for spring, Reese said.