MODERATE: CHALLENGING TIMES

Byline: ANNE D’INNOCENZIO

While some major vendors are benefiting from department stores’ push into moderate-price merchandise, the sportswear business, for the most part, has been tough.
Bruised by a difficult Christmas season at retail, stores are putting more pressure on their vendors to deliver fashion basics on time and at the right price. Vendors are also challenged by the fact that stores are buying closer to season and requiring more testing of items.
The biggest challenge, vendors say, is to offer more fashion, without price increases. Some well-worn brands are seeking new lives in the upper-tier moderate category with more fashion-forward looks, but the jury is still out on that strategy. Such vendors complain that it’s hard to grow at the higher end, since stores have not developed a specific home for them. Instead, they find themselves hanging with the traditional vendors.
Another challenge for the moderate market is to develop clearly defined fashion trends. While the spring 1995 runway shows touted a number of junior looks like cropped tops and HotPants, such looks don’t gel well with Middle America, moderate vendors claim. The average size range of a misses’ customer is 12 to 14. To offer newness to their customers, vendors are modifying such runway trends as retro Forties looks and updating hot items, including vests, rompers and tunics.
Other growth opportunities include:
Casual dressing for work, which vendors see continuing.
Knitwear, a category many moderate names are chasing.
Petites, in particular, plus-size petites.
Moderate vendors, such as St. Louis-based Kellwood Co. are among some of the vendors that are benefiting from department store expansion of its moderate-price resources. Kellwood Co., which posted sales of $1.2 billion in its 1994 fiscal year, ending April 30, expects 10 percent sales increases over the next few years, in part because of this trend.
However, analysts point out that vendors’ viability also depends on their partnerships with retailers, which are now trying to differentiate themselves from their competition with store-labeled goods.

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