MAY CO. BUYERS SAY MEET US IN ST. LOUIS
Byline: KARYN MONGET
NEW YORK — The expected absence of another major buying group — May Department Stores Co. — at next week’s innerwear market has manufacturers on edge.
May Co. is not the first key retailer to pull its buyers from a New York market week, but it is one of the largest. Now, as vendors look at a shrinking list of major attendees at these markets, they wonder whether market weeks here will soon be a thing of the past.
Earlier this year, May Co. began reviewing its buy — or writing orders on merchandise it has already seen — in men’s apparel, home accessories and cosmetics at its St. Louis headquarters, and it will begin doing this next month with innerwear.
“During the week of Aug. 15, all of our intimate apparel buyers and executives from all of our stores will be in St. Louis to work with approximately 50 intimate apparel suppliers,” said a spokesman for the company.
The retail giant, whose eight department store divisions total over 300 doors, will also start reviewing junior apparel in St. Louis in September, said the spokesman. This approach has been “very successful” and it will be an ongoing policy, he said.
He noted that the vendors are selected by a steering committee of executives from May Co.’s various divisions who meet here with executives of May Merchandising Co., the corporation’s buying office. The committee later works with buyers and the May Merchandising staff in St. Louis to review merchandise and finalize buys.
This strategy is an aftermath of May Merchandising’s move from New York to St. Louis, a shift that was completed last year. May Merchandising still maintains an office at 1120 Sixth Ave. here.
In showrooms here, vendors point out that growing demands of retailers have turned the standard one-week innerwear market into a two- or three-week event, as manufacturers have to set up appointments around the country at retailers’ various home bases or divisional locations.
A year ago, Dillard Department Stores began reviewing innerwear in Dallas. Mercantile Stores, which shifted its buying office from New York to corporate headquarters in Fairfield, Ohio, in 1992, has been working in Fairfield with major vendors, although it still sends some buyers to market. Belk Stores Services began calling vendors to big merchandising meetings at Belk headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., about eight years ago.
While Federated Department Stores will shop the New York showrooms during market week, it has in the past few seasons been setting up formal team-buying sessions with vendors in New York after the close of the official market.
As manufacturers ponder the ultimate effect of all this, they see their overhead mounting. There is the cost of providing several extra sets of samples for each buying group, as well as the burden of more airfare and hotel expenses.
The average costs for travel and lodging for three to four executives are estimated at between $7,000 and $9,500 per trip, according to several vendors. Extra foundations or daywear items can be $20 to $25 each; sleepwear items can go from $25 to $50 for a basic look, and $100 or more for an embellished item.
Another sore point has been splitting of sales, marketing and merchandising teams to accommodate buying offices’ schedules.
Of immediate concern, the timing of May’s new agenda, vendors say, will create a conflict with the Dillard’s review, which is scheduled the same week in Dallas.
Moreover, the week of Aug. 8-12 will be another problem period, makers say, because Federated Merchandising Corp. will be reviewing lines here — just when Belk wants to see innerwear lines in Charlotte.
Jim Mogan, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Maidenform Inc., stated: “When you go off-site, you’re totally split up. You can’t be in Dallas and in St. Louis at the same time. It does cause a problem for manufacturers, and it’s very frustrating.
“It’s always beneficial for both the manufacturers and retailers to come to a showroom and see the product lines, advertising and promotional activity,” said Mogan. “It’s important for retailers to see the whole nine yards, coupled with meeting all of the company executives. It’s also very frustrating because vendors can’t have the input of their merchandising teams.”
Mogan said he will go to St. Louis with Maidenform’s national sales manager, Bert Jacobs, while Bruce Getz, Maidenform’s vice president of merchandising, will go to Dallas.
“We’re big boys, and we can handle it, but it’s not organized right on the part of the retailers,” said Mogan.
“This August market is going to be a new experience for the innerwear industry,” said Norman Katz, chairman of I. Appel Corp. “I think I’m going to rent out my showroom for weddings and bar mitzvahs.”
Katz, who also is chairman of the Intimate Apparel Council, acknowledged there was “frustration” in the industry over the issue. He said his company began reorganizing the sales staffs of its daywear, robe and sleepwear divisions in January to meet the demographics of the major buying groups.
“It’s very difficult for smaller companies and young designers to do business when major buying groups are not coming to New York,” said Katz.
“It ultimately could mean there won’t be a market week in the future,” said Ron Harris, national vice president of sales for Lily of France, Underscene and the licensed Christian Dior foundations at Bestform Foundations .
“This is a very big cost savings for the retailers,” said Harris. “I know it was a primary reason for Dillard’s a year ago.”
Jim Williams, vice president of sales at Bestform, added, “It’s an issue of pure economics. The buying groups are telling us, ‘We are the powerful people. Why send in our people at our expense?”‘
Anita Pagano, manager here of Cypress Apparel, a robe division of Russell-Newman Inc., which is based in Denton, Tex., said, “I feel badly for the smaller companies who don’t have the money to send their people to two places at the same time.”
Pagano noted that while the firm maintains a showroom at the Dallas Mart and has easy access to Dillard’s, it’s “hard for us, because we still have to send samples to Belk’s, Dillard’s, May and Mercantile.”
“It’s expensive,” she added.
Vendors say privately that they can’t afford not to do business with May Co., because of its clout.
“You don’t say no,” said one manufacturer, who did not want to be identified.
Nevertheless, the May Co. says it is “very pleased” with vendors’ reactions.
In its latest annual report, the company also pointed to the benefits it was seeing from the move of its merchandising offices to St. Louis, along with a consolidation of divisions — from 14 to eight over the last two years.
“With fewer companies and a single corporate center, we are making faster merchandising decisions, responding more quickly to merchandise trends and operating with more agility,” David C. Farrell, chairman and chief executive officer, wrote in the report.
“We have streamlined how we buy, leveraging our steering committees, benefiting from our new consolidated corporate office, and providing a better buying calendar to respond faster and more purposefully to important merchandising trends and ideas.”
May Co.’s eight department store divisions in 1993 rang up sales of $9.6 billion. The divisions include: Lord & Taylor, based here; Foley’s, Houston; Filene’s, Boston; Famous-Barr, St. Louis; Hecht’s, Washington; Robinsons-May, Los Angeles; Kaufmann’s, Pittsburgh, and Meier & Frank, Portland, Ore.