SALES MINUS STORES
Byline: Marilyn Nason
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Changing distribution patterns — that may eventually squeeze retailers out of the loop — were spotlighted at the first annual marketing symposium sponsored here by the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers.
Jerry W. Armfield, vice president of consulting firm Kurt Salmon & Associates, pointed out that as global Quick Response becomes increasingly important, next-day delivery will soon evolve into same-day delivery. Many deliveries might be shipped directly to consumers, bypassing retailers altogether, he added.
The automatic apparel replenishment programs developed for retailers could lead to an Automatic Consumer Replenishment (ACR) program at the consumer level, he said. As interactive wireless technology becomes more advanced, new systems could be established between manufacturers and consumers to automatically replenish hosiery on a weekly, monthly or annual basis.
It is difficult to calculate how it would affect volume if consumers sidestepped retailers by purchasing items from their homes, Armfield said.
Another speaker, Michael Hand, vice president and general manager of NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., a consumer research firm, disagreed with Armfield’s theory. Hand pointed out that retail power is concentrated; the top 13 retailers account for nearly 56 percent of annual apparel sales.
Thus, Hand said, “I can’t believe that a Federated, Kmart, Wal-Mart or Sears will let such a substantial portion of their business go to an ACR or any other interactive electronic delivery system that they don’t have partial or total control of.”
The continuing trend to casual dressing got a lot of attention at the symposium. Hand told the group that only 20 percent of today’s workplaces require traditional business attire.
The hosiery industry, along with other apparel manufacturers, is being forced to create casual styles that look professional, since at least 80 million people are dressing casually at work.
The pervasive appeal of casual has had a tremendous effect on the apparel industry by blurring economical and demographic boundaries, said Maria Stefan, executive director of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
“Men and women are equally selecting sports and casual apparel for all facets of their lives,” she said. “This new attitude about clothing is changing more than how people look — it is affecting how they live and work. That is something retailers must recognize to meet consumers needs.”
Crew socks, running socks and anklets are among the most popular styles of casual legwear, according to a SGMA survey, she noted, adding there is a greater emphasis on comfort and fit than on price and style.
Anne Jardine, vice president of marketing for Kayser-Roth Corp., said hosiery manufacturers must improve the image of pantyhose, since most women consider it a disposable commodity, consider shopping for pantyhose a “chore” and question the product’s durability, value and price, she said. Disinterested salespeople, sizing inconsistencies and a lack of newness are all problems, she noted.
However, women who buy sheers regularly have great brand loyalty, Jardine said, and establishing national sizing standards would demonstrate to consumers how the hosiery industry is responding to their needs.
Introducing legwear accessories such as garters could make legwear more fashionable, she added.
Nancy Cassill, associate professor of clothing and textiles at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, noted that in-store body scanning for sizing could become an exciting marketing tool for the hosiery industry, since fit is a primary factor in every sale.
The American Society of Testing Materials is funding a national sizing study to develop its first database of consumers’ body measurements. After polling consumers about their preferences in size and customized products, the group plans to inform manufacturers about consumers’ needs.
Survey results could create criteria for industry-wide sizing, which is vital to brand loyalty, Cassill said. Such standards would alleviate consumers’ frustrations, she added. She pointed to Levi Strauss’ ability to customize jeans with a one-week turnaround time as an example of the competitive value of body scanning and sizing. “There’s no reason why the fashion side of the hosiery industry shouldn’t be doing the same,” Cassill said.