KEEPING ARIZONA HOT WITHOUT SCORCHING
Byline: Rusty Williamson
PLANO, Tex. — The competition may be on its trail, but Arizona keeps moving ahead.
The Original Arizona Jean Co., J.C. Penney Co.’s private label powerhouse with the streetwise attitude, could well reach $600 million in retail volume next year, according to industry estimates. That would be almost 10 percent greater than this year.
Pretty impressive for what started in 1989 as an in-house boys’ and young men’s denim resource that was supposed to be a test and is now Penney’s biggest private label, covering juniors, young men’s and children’s denim.
It’s also got other merchants interested in a piece of the action, most importantly Sears, Roebuck & Co., which unveiled its Canyon River Blues denim label this year complete with in-store boutiques and splashy visuals.
But a recent interview with Penney’s executives showed that building a private label brand to the level of national recognition is no walk in the park. Generating such big bucks at retail involves an expansive team of merchandisers, or a brand organization, explained Don Scaccia, divisional vice president and director of women’s merchandise development at Penney’s.
Arizona lines are presented to a Penney’s corporate buying team by the Arizona brand manager on a seasonal basis, with the brand manager acting much as a vendor.
Prior to the presentation, which is broadcast via satellite to stores and also is available on CD, the brand manager distills trends from fashion services and fabric mills here and in Europe to formulate the line.
Merchandise is then planned as an assortment by the store, depending on its size and dollar volume. Arizona inventories are managed by stores, including reordering, with Quick Response utilized on popular items like jeans.
Merchandising and display are dictated by corporate policy, down to the tables and fixtures that change seasonally.
Nearly all Penney’s store carry Arizona, and many have Arizona boutiques, which vary in dimension and stock depending on the size of the store.
“It’s a shop concept — the largest ones will take more categories,” said Scaccia.
Arizona attracted loyalty quickly, with teenage boys soon referring to it as “Zones,” and junior customers buying the boys’ looks until the retailer introduced that category in 1993.
Value pricing, quality construction and fashion edge were big factors, said Penney’s executives. For next year, the Arizona juniors business reportedly is planned at $200 million, a third of the total volume.
For juniors, Penney’s now shows six Arizona groups yearly that track trends and seasonal colors as well as basic colors and popular washes. Medium-to-dark washes and sandblasted styles are hot now.
The retailer has not dropped its vendor brand names, though, and reportedly is still the largest customer for Levi Strauss & Co., which does more than $1 billion in retail sales with the chain yearly, according to sources.
While withholding numbers, Scaccia stressed that the Arizona jeans business wasn’t cannibalizing Levi’s sales.
“We need Levi’s,” said Scaccia. “We want to maintain a balance with private and national brands. One enhances the other. We build various price ranges to give customers a choice.”
The ability to identify trends and get them into the stores is crucial in keeping Arizona hot, said Scaccia. Currently the customer wants “fashion,” he said, noting: “Basics have slowed dramatically.” For spring, top trends include corduroy, knits, vests, jumpers, chinos, skirts and skorts and darker-tone denim jeans. For fall 1996, logo fleece items, yoke treatments, zippers and hardware embellishment are key trends.
Even though Arizona has been so popular with juniors, there are no plans to roll out the concept to misses’. Instead, Penney’s will expand its St. John’s Bay men’s jeans label to the misses’ side next fall.
“Arizona is a junior brand,” emphasized Scaccia, underscoring the vibrant and youthful images portrayed in its splashy television spots.
“The imaging is important. We want customers to think of Arizona as a national brand that they happened to buy at Penney’s.”