Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Shopping with the price-conscious consumer in mind was a key strategy for buyers at the International Fashion Boutique Show here this week.
Several retailers reported gains in business so far this year and attributed a great deal of this to maintaining competitive price points that attract customers.
Exhibitors rated traffic as moderate to light, which they said was typical of a March show, one of the five Boutique shows staged annually by The Larkin Group. The show’s four-day stand ran through Tuesday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
Looking for long rayon skirts, wool sweaters and transitional pieces, Nancy Woltman, buyer for Panache, with a unit in Bennington, Vt., and another in Westerly, R.I., was typical of the price-wariness that seemed to pervade the show. Price is a top issue with her customers, she said; consumers balk at dresses that retail for more than $100. Sweaters that retail for $38 and blouses around $45 are good performers, Woltman added.
“I’m still trying to keep prices down. We’re coming out of the recession slowly as far as I can tell,” she said. “The product has to be good quality and better looking than in the past.”
Urban Outfitters, Caravan and Star of India are some of the show resources that do well at Panache, Woltman said. While March sales are slightly ahead of last year, Woltman said, sharp price points should extend the growth.
Shopping for shorts, T-shirts and “other funky extras,” Sari Pearlstein, buyer for Exit 98 in Belmar, N.J., said she hoped to find items that wholesale between $10 and $25. Styles by Hard Tail and What A Tee do well in her store, she said.
Selecting unusual, reasonably priced items has contributed to the retailer’s 10 percent increase so far this year, she said.
“Customers are more knowledgeable; they’re comparing our prices to the majors,” she said. “I’m not looking for the typical trendy little skirt and little shirt that’s in every mall. That won’t sell.”
Cyrus, Fun & Fashion and Required Clothing Co. are important resources at One Way, a two-store operation in Chagrin Hills and Hudson, Ohio, according to Sandy Streicher, buyer. Fill-in summer items and early fall contemporary sportswear were on her checklist, she said.
Streicher said her show budget was up since business was 18 percent ahead of last year. Despite the growth, price continues a priority, she said.
“We try very hard to keep prices moderate to low,” Streicher said. “That’s what drives our business.”
With two stores in Ocean City, Md., Mark Pugh, owner of K-Coast Surf Shops, said most of his shoppers are juniors and young adults whose disposable income is limited. Scouting the show for skirts, little dresses, backpacks and other streetwear, he said he planned to spend $10,000. Pugh said he would order items from Urban Outfitters and other new resources. By offering more women’s apparel, Pugh hopes business will continue to grow even though it is already 30 percent ahead of last year.
“We’re tiptoeing into the women’s market. You have to have quality items that are different for women to buy,” he said. “Women don’t mind spending a little bit more for a dress they know they won’t find on 40 other people in town.”
On the lookout for long T-shirts, cotton camp shirts and other immediate and early fall items, Gene and Pat Smith, owners of Fads & Fashion, a 1,500-square-foot boutique in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., said they planned to place orders at Blue Print and several new resources.
“Business has been steady… Our sales reps told us we’re the only ones,” she said. “We’re doing all right, because we know who our customer is. We buy specifically with them in mind.”
Meanwhile, with all the negative publicity on corruption from organized crime and inflated expenses surrounding the Javits Center, some exhibitors were worried that it might even keep some buyers away.
“A lot of people who don’t live in New York are asking if it’s true,” said Sheila McKain, owner of Gumption, a Brooklyn-based T-shirt and accessories firm. “As a vendor, you see it, you feel it, you know it’s there, but you get around it. You play by the rules. You pay all the expenses.”