INNERWEAR’S FOUNDATION OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT

Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — In an industry that continues to shrink with more big mergers and acquisitions, innerwear manufacturers face fierce competition when it comes to maintaining retail partnerships with major stores.
Innerwear — foundations and panties in particular — is generally treated as a commodities business at stores, makers note. Because of the big demand for nonstop replenishment of basic styles — as well as substantial assortments of fashion items that are shipped seasonally — innerwear firms are generally old pros at product management.
In addition to big-time investments in EDI, makers also are providing services that were once the responsibility of the retailer — mainly merchandising and presentation and, in some cases, customized ad campaigns for specific markets.
Manufacturers also are beefing up their ranks of consultants whose task is to insure that key styles are fully stocked and product is properly displayed. The consultants, who generally visit flagship stores weekly and regional units every other month, also keep salespeople at stores up to date on new styles and trends.
Paul Cohen, vice president of sales for Playtex Apparel, a unit of Sara Lee Intimates, said highlights of Playtex’s business with retailers include state-of-the-art replenishment systems and a staff of account representatives who visit stores to manage the brand and store events and “make sure sales associates understand how to sell Playtex.”
“Our penetration at almost all department stores is significantly ahead of last year,” said Cohen, “and our nearly 16 percent share of the department stores market is based on the success of our Playtex programs, as well as our ability to work closely with retailers.”
Key examples that have “consistently outpaced the department’s growth” include May Co., Mercantile Stores, Belk Store Services, Carson Pirie Scott, Younkers and McRae’s, he said.
Assessing the general results, Cohen said: “We feel that our effectiveness in partnering with key retailers to manage inventory, improve in-store presentations, maximize store events and educate sales associates is a strong competitive edge for us and the retailer.”
Cohen predicted such programs will grow in importance, mainly because of retail and manufacturing consolidation.
“Clearly, our partnerships with stores will grow stronger, with our relationships moving toward an even closer marriage,” said Cohen.
Maurice Reznik, president of the Warner’s division of Warnaco Group, said, “We specialize in account specific marketing. We generally focus on a retail account, as opposed to doing national advertising, and we customize specific ad campaigns, including in-store visuals, to specific markets.”
However, Reznik noted, “There obviously are cost implications, but it gives us the ability to concentrate — at the point of purchase — our vision for the future.”
In addition to the Warner’s brand, Reznik said the strategy has also been a “tremendous success” with Speedo Sports bras, which are produced by Warner’s, and Calvin Klein underwear for men and women. Warnaco, as noted, acquired the Calvin Klein name in underwear in March 1995.
John Bowman, corporate vice president of sales and merchandising at Wacoal America, the U.S. arm of innerwear giant Wacoal Japan, said retail partnerships were implemented 10 years ago, when the Wacoal brand was introduced in the U.S.
“Consultants are set up by market,” Bowman explained. “It’s an extension of how Wacoal Japan works, where they typically have a large force of consultants who visit stores on a daily basis.”
Wacoal employs 50 consultants to oversee the Wacoal and licensed Donna Karan Intimates brands, he said.
“I don’t think our business would be a third of what it is today without our consultants, especially when you’re selling better merchandise,” he said. “A department store salesperson generally waits to ring up the merchandise behind the counter.”
As for replenishment systems, Bowman observed, “For retailers, it definitely allows them to turn inventories faster, and keep lower inventories on hand. The only disadvantage is that it makes the assumption that manufacturers will be able to service retailers’ reorder needs quickly.
“It sometimes becomes a problem with new styles, which are always a guessing game,” he continued. “We have to make sure we start at a reasonable level and assess where the product is going.”
Regarding competition, Bowman said: “Many manufacturers are doing similar things today, but we can be a bit more focused because our distribution is not as wide. Most domestic manufacturers have huge distribution in all U.S. department stores.”
At Maidenform Worldwide Inc., James Mogan, executive vice president of the Maidenform, True Form and licensed Oscar de la Renta divisions, said the company has a “specific program with department stores and discounters.”
He said the selling potential of individual bra classifications — such as push-up, demi-cup and underwire styles — is first evaluated, as well as how specific styles fit into a store’s profile.
“We establish which brands should carry which styles,” said Mogan, “and we look at the selling history of existing styles and the potential for new styles. We then come up with a dollar figure on what we need to carry in stock and agree upon acceptable terms for the season.
“Once that’s established,” he continued, “we generally know what will generate reorders and come up with sales projections.”
Maidenform management reviews the pros and cons of its program with its retail partners quarterly, he said: “It’s usually on their turf, because you can’t get it done properly at a manufacturer’s office.”
As for consultants, Mogan noted the company has over 120 who travel to “A-plus stores at least once a week and A and B stores every second week.”
“They make sure our racks are constantly filled, that the product is presented properly on the selling floor, and they educate the sales staff on bra fitting,” he explained.

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