Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — A heightened emphasis on advertising and marketing, and a brace of new products, are key weapons as legwear makers face the uncertain climate of 1996.
Casual dress codes, which have boosted sales for socks and tights while simultaneously deflating the demand for sheers, should continue to impact the industry along with the general sluggishness of retail traffic, makers say. But they’re hopeful that they’ll have the right products and support material to stimulate at least moderate gains in the first half of the year.
The uneven pace of the business is reflected at Sara Lee Corp., the world’s largest hosiery maker, which, as reported, posted an 11 percent drop in worldwide units sales of sheer hosiery and a 10 percent drop in unit of sheers and socks combined for the fiscal first quarter ended Sept. 30. Nevertheless, the firm has been seeing especially strong profit growth and margin improvement in its U.S. hosiery operations. At the firm’s recent annual meeting, John H. Bryan, chairman, cited successful introductions “in upscale, value-added products.”
The company has already unveiled plans for new product introductions in its Hanes Hosiery units this year, including Translucence, a sheer product to match skin tones, and Smooth Silhouettes Ultimates, sheer pantyhose with extra support.
At Kayser-Roth Corp., the world’s second largest hosiery manufacturer, there will be an increased stress on ad programs. Pleased with the consumer response generated by its “Whose Legs Are These?” ad campaign this fall for its mass market No Nonsense brand, the company expects to develop new campaigns with unusual twists in 1996 to capture more market share, according to Gary Malloch, president and chief executive officer.
The “Whose Legs Are These?” campaign featured legs of celebrities and a contest that asked readers to identify the women. There was a drawing of correct entries for a $25,000 cash prize.
With a growing number of consumers turning to mass marketers for brand names, Kayser-Roth is putting this additional muscle behind its No Nonsense brand, said Malloch.
The company also plans to expand advertising for its licensed Hue legwear. Designed by Lois USA, the print campaign was launched in August, followed by the brand’s first outdoor campaign, which broke here in September. The company is considering featuring Hue ads in additional cities in 1996.
“We’re looking to other mediums to determine the most efficient way to reach customers,” said Keith Mabe, vice president of marketing.
For the first time, Jockey International will air a television commercial that features its Jockey for Her hosiery and innerwear. To coincide with the company’s annual Mother’s Day sale, the ad will break on April 21 and will run periodically through May 12. Created by Fairman, Schmidt & Cappelli, a Chicago agency, the 30-second ads will be aired in 35 markets, said Rachel Waller, assistant merchandise manager for Jockey for Her.
Casual dress codes have slowed down the sheer business, and Jockey For Her’s reduced ad budget for the fourth quarter also affected sales, she said. However, the company expects the new ads to improve business. Sales are currently running even with last year even though Jockey For Her’s seasonal sales events have been “quite successful,” Waller said.
Ridgeview Hosiery also is relying on advertising to bolster sales. Having doubled the ad budget for its licensed Ellen Tracy hosiery, billboards will be posted in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and Minneapolis this spring, the first time the hosiery company has used billboards.
The ad campaign should contribute to the 15 percent increase that Ridgeview has planned for the first six months of 1996, said Barry Tartarkin, vice president of licensing and product development.
In addition, Ellen Tracy’s spring orders are up compared to last year, as some stores have expanded distribution and are purchasing higher-priced goods.
“Stores are buying across the board,” he said. “The growth is not coming from opening price points. We have a very strong business on better products.”
Planning for at least a 12 percent increase for spring, Gary Wolkowitz, president of The Hot Sox Co., which produces licensed Ralph Lauren hosiery, is also confident about the full-priced business.
“The first six months of the year have tended to be promotional,” he said. “But now stores are looking to sell more full-priced goods.”
Sales for athletic socks under the Hot Sox and Ralph Lauren labels should bolster sales during the first half of 1996. In addition to expanding offerings for Ralph Lauren’s athletic socks, Hot Sox will launch bodywear and athletic socks, called “HS Sport,” at retail this spring. “With the Olympics coming up, sport is on everyone’s mind,” Wolkowitz said. “Retailers are responding to it.”
Another sock manufacturer is counting on new product to improve business in 1996. Last month Great American Knitting, which produces the Gold Toe socks and tights label, finalized a licensing agreement with Jockey International to develop and market socks under the Jockey For Her label. This month a 12-piece sock collection will be shipped to 74 retailers and in April a 24-piece collection will be rolled out to stores nationwide.
Retail prices will range from $3.50 for cotton any nylon turn cuff socks to $5.50 for cotton and nylon fashion crew socks, according to Michelle Cannon, vice president of sales for women’s and boy’s divisions at Gold Toe.
Planning for a double-digit percentage gain for the first six months of 1996, Gold Toe will offer more point of purchase displays, highlighting the benefits of the brand, and new packaging for athletic socks. New product is also an important part of the plan at Ithaca Industries, which produces the licensed Evan-Picone hosiery. Sheer Strength, Lycra 3D pantyhose that debuts in stores on Feb. 22, should help increase sales for the first six months of the year by at least 15 percent, according to Joni Zeller-Claxton, vice president of hosiery design.
Sheer Strength should account for 10 percent of the brand’s overall business in 1996, she said.
Having lost floor space in some stores due to shipping delays, Ithaca plans to focus on merchandising and educating sales associates to regain floor space in some stores. Breakfast seminars, product sampling and point-of-sale material will be offered to sales associates to build brand awareness.
Pennaco Hosiery expects to see a double-digit percentage increase by the end of the first half of 1996, said Mitch Brown, manager for legwear.
The company continues to focus on Round the Clock Solutions, a Lycra 3D program that was relaunched earlier this year. Having received tremendous feedback at retail when it gave away 36,000 pairs of Round the Clock Solutions Lycra 3D knee-highs in a sampling program this year, the firm will distribute another 36,000 pairs to consumers in March.
American Essentials, socks manufacturer, aims to reach more price-conscious consumers, by lowering its opening wholesale price point by 10 percent to $3, according to Jordan Lipson, president. Retailers have responded by placing larger orders and the company expects business to increase by 30 percent in the first six months of 1996, he said. American Essentials reduced wholesale prices by shifting 30 percent more of its manufacturing from Toronto to its production facility in Hickory, N.C.

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