Byline: Marilyn Nason

HICKORY, N.C. — As consumers become more and more demanding, they’ll have nothing on retailers, who will escalate their demands on vendors.
That message came through loudly at the Catawba Valley Hosiery Association’s recent annual seminar here. The program, “Hallmarks for World Class Hosiery,” also covered:
The growing role of Quick Response and EDI in easing intensifying pressures on the supply chain.
The increasing trend to nonstore shopping. One speaker predicted that by the year 2010 at least 55 percent of consumer purchases would be made outside stores.
The growth of casual dressing.
One seminar highlight was a panel discussion by retailers who made quite clear what they expect from their suppliers.
Ken Walter, divisional merchandise manager of men’s wear at Sears, Roebuck & Co., informed the audience: “Our vendors must deliver their goods to our receiving docks floor-ready, with proper bar-coding already in place. We have neither the manpower nor the inclination to redo an improperly bar-coded/tagged shipment. Anything that arrives mislabeled automatically is refused and returned, at your cost.”
Margaret Scott, hosiery buyer for Carson Pirie Scott, said maintaining a steady flow of goods between manufacturers and retailers is critical, and emphasized that goods must be shipped on schedule.
With the growing ramifications of Quick Response, retailers will look for vendors who offer additional services, according to Chris Scherm, soft goods buyer for Kids ‘R’ Us.
“We will be looking very carefully at vendors who will work with us and help us learn the ropes,” Scherm said. “Our suppliers must be willing to work more closely with us in planning for our traditional seasonal selling cycles.”
Turning to fashion, Walter noted, “For those of us in apparel retailing, the need to understand the relationships between the various apparel categories and hosiery in the ‘dressed-down workplace’ [must] be addressed very closely.”
Michael Silverman, marketing director for the women’s division of Mast Industries, the sourcing arm of The Limited, pointed out, “We as retailers are in the business of creating lifestyle choices for working women in a casual market setting. There is a definite correlation between her casual days in the office and her other nonwork-related activities. What she’s wearing on either those casual Fridays or Mondays to work influences her other wardrobe choices.
“Our task is to influence her purchasing decision — get her into our stores to buy. For this, we’re going to need your help,” Silverman said.
Summing up the panel’s general observations, Steve Labat, divisional merchandise manager for men’s wear for Belk Department Stores, emphasized the need for communication between vendors and stores.
“Don’t promise us anything you can’t effectively, efficiently deliver,” he said. “I’d rather you say no to a request that is out of your realm of expertise than have you deliver a less-than-satisfactory product. If you see roadblocks in our operation that are costing you and us money and time, let us know and we’ll work to make the changes necessary,” Labat said. “Compromise and flexibility on everyone’s part will lead us to our ultimate goal — increased consumer satisfaction.”
Joseph Siegel, the National Retail Federation’s vice president of merchandising, described the demanding consumer.
Siegel said the Roaring Twenties, the Sixties and the Eighties were sellers’ markets. During these periods of “conspicuous consumption,” customers measured value by quality, fabrication and fashion, he said.
However, in the buyers’ markets of the Seventies and Nineties, customers equated value with convenience, service, ambience and worry-free shopping, as well as quality, fabrication and fashion, Siegel said.
“In the Nineties, consumers want all of these factors in their shopping experience, and speedy delivery,” he said. “Thus, the concept of Quick Response — getting goods from supplier to retailer to consumers with timely speed and accuracy — was born.”
For Quick Response to be profitable, all parties must coordinate time, technology, common standards and strategic alliances, according to John Wilcox, vice president for Kurt Salmon Associates, a consulting firm. Describing the findings of a soft goods research study by KSA, Wilcox noted that participants saw a new supply chain emerging in the next 10 years, to more efficiently and quickly satisfy consumers’ demands. In the next decade, all aspects of production and distribution will rely on “core competencies” — each party doing what it does best, he added.
“Those new vendor and retailer partnerships, which you in the hosiery industry have been so instrumental in developing and implementing, will now find themselves on the fast track of the information highway,” Wilcox said. “EDI and ACR [Automatic Consumer Replenishment] communications between suppliers and retailers will become even more instantaneous. Traffic on this two-way street will be even more intensive than any of us can imagine.”
While consumers today make 85 percent of their purchases in stores, Wilcox said, “Our survey participants feel confident before the year 2010, this ratio will shift to a minimum of 45 percent in-store and 55 percent nonstore.”
“How and where the consumer shops for goods in this nonstore setting is still open to conjecture. Most feel the growth and usage of electronic retailing outlets will push these figures even further apart,” he said. “How all segments of the retail chain react and adapt to this change is going to make for interesting viewing and debate over the next few years.”
A more immediate concern was whether increasingly popular multipacks would dominate sales. Scott of Carson’s said that would not happen in fashion goods.
“Women want to select their fashion-oriented socks in a singular way. In most cases, when accessorizing a specific outfit or look, the woman only wants one pair,” Scott said. “They are expecting to get limited usage from the outfit and don’t need many copies of the same style. Or if they do plan on getting more than limited wearings from a main outfit, the hose is the easiest accessory to change to achieve another look to the same outfit.”