BETTER: BATTLING IT OUT

Byline: ANNE D’INNOCENZIO

The better market continues to be in a funk. While better-price vendors are plagued with retail consolidation and price pressures, they face their own market problems.
For one, better-price vendors continue to be squeezed by department stores’ push to develop moderate categories. Another knotty issue is the aggressive push by stores to develop their own better-priced private label programs. Such store-labeled lines are getting more visible real estate than they had in the past.
In addition, many major players, who occupy large amounts of real estate in the stores, continue to be hampered by lackluster sales. That has caused some buyers to shift their budgets in the better category to other areas, including moderate.
While some traditional companies are being forced to revitalize their brands with more youthful fashions, the jury is still out on whether they’ll be able to woo their customers back. Some retail buyers are now turning more heavily to some of the smaller niche players as alternatives.
Better-price vendors are also facing competition from such specialty store powerhouses as Banana Republic and The Gap, which are aggressively developing a dressier, fashion-forward look at better prices.
Coming off a lackluster holiday season, these vendors, bruised by the markdown frenzy, are zeroing in on certain fashion items and trends going forward. They include:
Knitwear, including sweater sets.
Rompers.
Chenille sweaters.
School girl looks, like cropped sweaters and tartans.
Retro Forties looks, like floral dresses as well as belted jackets with pants.
These vendors are also keying into certain market opportunities to pump up sales volume. These include:
Going after a new emerging category called “much better,” which fills the void between better and bridge. Vendors are capitalizing on two consumer trends in the marketplace: the reluctance to spend a lot of money and an ever-increasing fashion savvy. As part of the strategy, vendors are adding such bridge fabrics as 30-momie silk to their collections.
Casual workwear. Such uptight resources as Pendleton are aggressively going after that market with more fluid, softer looks.
Rugged wear, including hiking boots and flannel shirts. The look has become a hot fashion trend over the past year and many traditional sportswear companies are jumping into the fray, while such outdoor pioneers as Timberland are aggressively increasing their fashion offerings to maintain market share.
Special sizes, in particular, petites.
Dresses. Many sportswear firms are opening casual dress divisions, capitalizing on the fashion trend.

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