EXPANDING THE PETITE MARKET

Byline: G.C.

ATLANTA — Petite market retailers are stepping up to bigger sales, thanks to the new Petite Buying Group (PBG), a band of 40 retailers of petite apparel across the country who collectively approach apparel manufacturers to develop special merchandise for their petite customers.
PBG was formed by Bill Embry Jr., chief executive officer of the 91-year-old Embry’s, a family-owned chain of eight stores, and Kim Withers, Embry’s petite sportswear and dress divisional. The group has been effective since its inception in encouraging many leading manufacturers of misses’ apparel to produce special petite merchandise.
Almost two years ago, Embry became frustrated with the lack of fashion direction and product availability in the petite market. Even though his five Kentucky-based petite stores, which go under the name Embry’s Petites, were among the nation’s best, offering one of the most extensive selections of merchandise in the country, he couldn’t understand why the petite merchandise available to retailers didn’t measure up to misses’ goods. He and his staff wanted more for their loyal customer base, and decided to make a change.
Embry wrote to 60 of his peers to determine if they would be interested in working together to improve the availability of fashionable petite merchandise.
“The results were incredible,” says Withers. “Within days, 40 stores were ready to go to work.”
Withers contacts PBG members prior to each market to determine any special needs they may have. Armed with that input, she and a steering committee of four stores determine potential manufacturers to produce the goods. Embry then approaches those vendors.
“If embellished sweaters, for example, are an important item for holiday, our group seeks out a manufacturer we believe will provide us with a quality, salable product,” says Withers. “Information packages including product sketches, fabrication and price points are produced by the manufacturer, then distributed to PBG members to determine if the product meets their needs, and how many units they might commit to. After receiving that information, the manufacturer makes a decision about producing the product.”
Manufacturers complete all follow-up with the stores after orders are received. They are required to send Withers a list of stores that order so that those stores remain on the PBG active list to contact for input prior to markets.
“The program has brought Embry’s and other members of the PBG a very nice increase in business,” says Withers. “Being special by offering merchandise that really is different allows us to effectively compete with department stores.”
Withers says manufacturers’ reception has been positive, with many varied companies agreeing to produce merchandise. Among them are bridge lines Canvas Backs and Jeanne Marc; contemporary lines such as the California-based Peaces; Lauren Hansen and Ken Done, sportswear lines, and mainstream manufacturers including I.B. Diffusion and Anne French.
Retailers who are interested in becoming part of the PBG should contact Kim Withers at (606) 252-3461, ext. 257.

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