FURRIERS LAMENT SPOTTY SEASON
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Sales in 1994 were erratic for fur retailers, who were hindered by a hike in mink prices and spring-like temperatures in late fall.
Most furriers reported an increase of roughly 5 percent in dollar volume compared to 1993, but they had to pull out the big promotional guns to get it.
A boost in sales for shearling coats and short mink coats compensated for languid sales of classic full-length mink coats.
To combat the warm weather, some firms, like Kriegsman Furs & Outerwear in Greensboro, N.C., said they offered more promotions to gain more market share.
In a break with tradition, some retailers did not wait until Christmas to offer promotions on furs. In November, some furriers followed the course of other retailers who marked down outerwear earlier than planned.
For example, after Thanksgiving, Neiman Marcus offered savings ranging from 20 to 50 percent. Revillon, which leases salon space at 32 Saks Fifth Avenue stores, marked down merchandise — including some of last year’s coats — 20 to 70 percent.
In 1993, $1.2 billion worth of men’s and women’s fur coats, accessories and fur-trimmed outerwear was sold in 250 fur salons, according to a spokeswoman for the Fur Information Council of America. While the group projected an increase for 1994 sales, yearend statistics were not available at press time.
Sales increased by nearly 5 percent at Maximilian, which operates 12 fur salons in Bloomingdale’s, according to Jack Pearson, Maximilian’s vice president and general manager. The first quarter of 1994 was particularly strong because of the frigid weather throughout much of the country, but sales in October and November lagged, he said.
In 1994, short coats accounted for 40 percent of all sales — a 10 percent gain over 1993 — Pearson said, adding the growth might be attributed to the return of short skirts as well as the warm weather.
Meanwhile, sales of full-length mink coats were sluggish, he said. Retail prices for mink coats increased by at least $1,000, or 20 percent, he said. While the number of mink units sold was “slightly behind” last year, dollar sales were even, Pearson said.
Increased sales of sables, lynx and other luxury goods offset the drop in mink, he said. Shearling coats, beaver and raccoon apparel also bolstered sales, Pearson said.
Having seen at least a 10 percent increase, David Kriegsman, president of Kriegsman Furs & Outerwear, said he quadrupled the number of promotions to attract more consumers. Unlike previous years, weekly sales were held at each of the company’s seven stores.
During promotions, fur items were marked down by as much as 20 percent, Kriegsman added.
Sales for short mink coats increased because of warmer weather, more casual lifestyles and the increase in mink auction prices, he said.
While some retailers are aggressively promoting fur coats, Ted Kakas, vice president of Edward F. Kakas & Sons in Boston, said he has no plans to follow suit.
“They’ve taken the romance and magic out of furs and have put it in the same category as good cloth coats. They’ve made it too commercial,” he said. “We no longer promote our August sale on radio, TV or in the newspapers. We can’t get them off the beach in August anymore to buy a fur coat. They know they can find one on sale in October, November or December.”
Annual sales for 1994 inched ahead about 2 percent, according to Kakas. Despite last fall’s unseasonably warm weather, sales for each month excluding November were better compared to the previous year’s, he said. Private-label full-length mink coats and shearlings were bestsellers in the 15,000-square-foot store. Kakas said long coats that retail for $5,000 account for most of his business.
Even though a 35 percent hike in mink prices made the ticket price on new merchandise higher by 15 to 20 percent, it did not deter consumers at Dittrich Furs, according to Harold Dittrich Jr., chief executive officer, who said unit sales were up 8.7 percent. The jump in auction prices raised retail prices for mink coats by about $1,000.
Mink coats that retail from $8,000 to $12,000 were bestsellers at the company’s stores in Detroit and Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Dittrich said.
Janet Watson, Donald Brooks, Pierre Balmain, Valentino, Perry Ellis, Christian Dior and Givenchy are important resources, he added.
The trend toward more expensive items compensated for a 6 percent decrease in full-length mink unit sales and a 14 percent decrease in fur-trimmed cloth and leather coats, Dittrich said, but increased coat sales for long-haired beaver and sheared muskrat helped the overall unit gain.
Zuki, Mary McFadden and Perry Ellis are leading resources at Ribnick Furs in Minneapolis, according to William Ribnick, president. The company expects to wind up with an 18 percent increase compared to 1993 sales, he said. Casual mink coats and jackets with zippers are spurring sales, he said. “There’s been an increased demand for new styles and fresh looks. Some people still want traditional coats, but a lot want dyed mink, sheared beaver and other casual styles,” Ribnick said. “Women no longer want fur to wear just for dressy occasions. They don’t want it to hang in the closet. That trend should continue.”
Albert Furs in Woodmere, Ohio, saw a low single-digit percentage increase in dollar volume, according to Richard Goldman, vice president.
Mink coats that retail from $5,000 to $8,000 sold best, he said.
“I was very pleased and mildly surprised that we did as much business as we did in December. I think cloth outerwear manufacturers found the warm weather to be more of a deterrent,” he said. “A fur coat is more of a long-term investment.”
Unlike most retailers, the Fur Wholesale Center, a manufacturer and distributor of fur coats from budget to designer prices, saw a drop in sales, according to Peter Mimakakas, vice president.
In 1994, the firm sold 300 fur coats — 100 fewer coats than in 1993, he said.
Mink accounts for 95 percent of the Fur Wholesale Center’s annual sales, Mimakakas said. Most items are marked down by 50 percent and $2,500 is the average price for a mink coat, he said.
“We always try to cut retailers’ prices in half,” he said. “Most stores mark up fur coats three times, but it varies from store to store.”