Byline: R. F.

NEW YORK — While automatic electronic replenishment from manufacturer to consumer was a hot topic at last month’s marketing symposium sponsored by the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers, Sara Lee Direct has been selling Hanes and other pantyhose brands on the information superhighway for years.
All of the merchandise is irregular and priced from 30 percent to 60 percent below
Sara Lee Direct, a division of the Sara Lee Corp. which owns Hanes Hosiery, initially went on-line about three years ago, according to a spokeswoman for Prodigy, the online shopping service. Sara Lee currently has a number of products being sold through Prodigy. Sara Lee’s hosiery is one of the top five best-selling products on Prodigy, which serves 2 million subscribers, the spokeswoman said. The first was hosiery, but the spokeswoman was unsure of the brand. A Sara Lee Direct spokesman declined to comment on the venture, which has not had much fanfare, saying he didn’t want to “upset retailers.”
Several retailers interviewed last week had mixed reactions to the venture, but said they had been unaware of the program and were surprised to learn of it.
Irregulars in Hanes Alive, Hanes Too, L’Eggs, Just My Size, Silk Reflections and Smooth Illusions are the hosiery brands currently available through Prodigy.
Unsatisfactory merchandise will be replaced “no matter what,” according to the computer program.
Most products must be purchased in 12-pair packs or six-pair packs, but single-pair purchases are available through monthly specials. For example, a 12-pair pack of Hanes Silk Reflections soft touch sheer pantyhose is offered at $39.36, compared with a listed $78 retail price. Through this month’s specials, one pair of Smooth Illusions leg-shaping pantyhose is offered at $4 — compared with a $7.95 regular price — and one pair of Silk Reflections soft touch microfiber tights are offered at $3.75, regularly $7.50.
Two weeks is the average delivery time, according to the Prodigy spokeswoman.
Jewelry, hosiery wash bags and other gifts with purchase are offered periodically, the Prodigy spokeswoman said. Last week, two strands of beads were offered with orders of $30 or more.
Debbie Hobbs, vice president of merchandising for Hanes Hosiery and its licensed Donna Karan lines, said the company has “no concrete goals” in terms of projected volume.
“It addresses a lot of people we can’t get our hand on in traditional ways. We’re exploring new avenues constantly,” she said. “It’s something that everyone has to keep their eyes on.” Among retailers, Darlene Takanishi, hosiery buyer for Gottschalks, Fresno, Calif., said she felt the program takes away potential hosiery customers.
“I feel the same way about their sending catalogs to everyone in the world. It hurts my business like any other discounter, drugstore or any other promotional outlet does,” she said. “We have no recourse. We can’t promote Hanes. We follow their guidelines to a tee.”
“It’s not a big deal,” according to Kim Cropper, hosiery buyer for Woodward & Lothrop, Washington, D.C.
“They sell irregulars through outlet stores and direct mail catalogs,” she said. “This isn’t different from any of the other ways they’re selling irregulars.”
Susan Flynn, hosiery buyer for Jacobson’s Florida division, said offering hosiery through online services makes her job more difficult.
“I don’t think my customers would be too impressed with seconds, but I don’t know about the average mall customer,” she said. “It’s very hard to compete with those prices.”