WHO ARE YOU CALLING ‘TRADITIONAL?’
WATCH OUT, BELOW: AMERICASMART’S 12TH FLOOR IS GIVING ITS DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBORS SOME COMPETITION ON THE CONTEMPORARY FRONT.
Byline: Kelley Buttrick
Just one flight of stairs can lead retailers to a wealth of updated classic, contemporary and women’s better wear resources at AmericasMart. Sales representatives, mart executives and manufacturers are encouraging buyers to make the effort to check out the updated image of the 12th floor.
While the ninth and 11th floors have been touted for contemporary and better wear, the 12th floor has often been labeled “traditional” apparel, which for some, can conjure up a negative image of conservative designs and prints adorned with cutesy cows. But the new “updated classic” category, as AmericasMart now calls it, has come a long way from its traditional roots.
“Buyers who never set foot on the 12th floor are missing a lot of good stuff they’ve never seen,” said Guy Bailey, a principal at Those Guys, a multiline 12th floor sales firm. “Retailers often think there’s nothing good here, but the 12th floor has some very powerful lines.”
Telluride Clothing Co., Central Falls, British Khaki, Cutter & Buck, David Brooks, Geiger of Austria, Susan Bristol, Sigrid Olsen and Belle Pointe, among others, are all on the 12th floor.
“The whole floor has evolved into not just updated classic, but betterwear and some contemporary,” said Glenn Bell, director of leasing for AmericasMart.
According to Bell, around 80 percent of 12th floor showrooms are independent sales representatives, with 20 percent corporate showrooms. The floor is the apparel mart’s second most leased floor.
Guy Bailey said that so much promotion of other floors in the mart has led to buyers’ sometimes overlooking the 12th floor.
“Our biggest challenge is to get better and contemporary stores to come up to the 12th floor,” said Bailey. “AmericasMart has spent so much time and money promoting the 11th and ninth floors, but now they’re recognizing us more.”
For the past two years AmericasMart has hosted two 12th-floor networking parties a year, in January and August, with tenants encouraged to invite potential buyers.
“For those who take the time to invite people, these parties are translating into sales,” Bell said.
In the tumultuous fashion business, many 12th floor exhibitors have ridden out the storm, emerging as long-term survivors.
“There’s a strong nucleus who’ve been on the 12th floor for many years. Some have gone out of business, but there’s still a strong demand for better, traditional merchandise,” said Rick Maley, principal, Rick Maley & Associates, an independent multiline sales firm.
The 12th floor has evolved alongside the transformation of the traditional category itself, as well-known established traditional lines have updated offerings.
“Stores are trading up, moving up the ladder in price and going after more updated product,” said Bell. “Traditional lines have updated to keep those buyers interested in their lines.”
Maley believes the industry is cyclical. Currently, traditional products are becoming more contemporary and item-driven. In addition, a line itself can dictate a product’s category.
“For example, take a traditional line’s blazer. The exact same item might be considered an updated jacket in a contemporary line, with the simple addition of [different] buttons,” said Maley. “But, the nucleus would still be a blazer.”
Independent sales rep Greg Kohls cites British Khaki as a resource that has updated successfully.
“Over the last few years, you’d still recognize it as British Khaki, yet it’s not as glaringly traditional as before,” said Kohls. “Now, certain items could hang in a contemporary store.”
Kohls said formerly traditional lines are now offering more related separates, rather than complete collections. But the challenge facing manufactures now is how to update without alienating existing customers.
“You move the classic customer forward,” said Jude A. Zimmerman, senior vice president of sales for Sigrid Olsen, a better-to-bridge sportswear line. “You give her a reason to buy a classic she’s familiar with, but one that’s updated and made new.” According to Maley, updating includes helping consumers find a fresh perspective on longtime favorites.
“Traditional used to be a blazer with a classic shirt and pleated pant. Now, those components have been modified,” said Maley. “The classic shirt is still in, but maybe with a new collar treatment. The pant has been revamped to flat-front or capri. A classic blazer, shown with a capri pant, is considered updated.”
Despite its current evolution, Maley believes traditional will continue to exist as its own category.
“We may add a button or two, add or subtract length, but classic merchandise will always be there,” Maley said.
Below, WWD interviewed five 12th-floor tenants on keys to success, and their predictions of upcoming industry trends in the changing traditional category.
GREG KOHLS Greg Kohls, principal, Greg Kohls & Assoc., a former college and professional basketball player for Syracuse University and the Buffalo Braves, applies his competitive drive to his apparel business.
The Atlanta-based rep invested in what he calls the “Showmobile,” a showroom on wheels to give him an edge while traveling.
“I consider myself a road warrior, traveling Monday through Friday. I can’t depend on stores to always come to markets,” said Kohls. Showmobile sales account for 90 percent of his business. He uses his 12th-floor showroom for the five annual apparel shows.
Kohls said his lines can hold their own with more contemporary fare. “Many stores come to me after they’ve been on the ninth or 11th floors,” said Kohls. I think the Mart likes to have me there.”
He represents Elliott Lauren, British Khaki, Windridge and Saguaro, all of which target specialty stores.
“I don’t carry lines that are in department stores or outlet malls. My business is with independent retailers, and they know it. Each line has a particular niche that fits into a category in a store. Other representatives carry 15 to 35 lines, but I zero in, so that one line doesn’t overlap or take business from another.”
His main line, Elliott Lauren, features better separates in casual and career.
“Most stores use it as a core line for good-fitting bottoms with related tops,” said Kohls. “The line was driven by jackets, but in the last few years, the look evolved to more casual, rather than just ‘matchy-matchy’ suits. The nice part is that it can look great in a contemporary, traditional or better store.”
Jackets retail for $150 to $180, with pants at $50 to $80, a value compared with lines of similar quality, said Kohls. Stretch fabrics and soft silhouettes have become key trends, with current bestsellers as cropped or capri pants, with soft jackets. Any length pants are outselling skirts he said.
Kohls the rep, like Kohls the athlete, has faced challenges.
“Every season is a new game,” he said. “You hope designers are in tune with the market and stay on top of business.”
Rick Maley represents what AmericasMart calls betterwear. But to him, it is a mere matter of terminology.
“Price is the main focus, rather than whether a line is traditional, contemporary, moderate or betterwear,” said Maley. “Retailers are looking for good, branded merchandise at a price that attracts customers. My job is to help them improve their bottom line.”
Maley represents Central Falls, Bushwacker and Knitting Needles. Bushwacker has more traditional-oriented collections, while Central Falls expands more on current trends, such as interpretations of runway looks. Knitting Needles products are better sweaters and T-shirts. All lines cater to lifestyle dressing.
“Consumers can take a casual outfit and update it with a contemporary jacket, and all of a sudden, it’s a new outfit,” Maley said. “Today’s woman has a blend of merchandise to mix and match for day or night, and it’s acceptable.”
Maley blends showroom and road work.
“There’s still a group of stores that don’t come to market. My show business is good, but I also do a huge amount of road work,” said Maley.
Maley said that while the reps’ biggest challenge is staying solvent in a changing economy, his marketing strategy remains the same as it has been for 27 years.
“I offer quality classic lines season after season, and product information that will help them continue to be profitable,” said Maley.
Presently, hot-selling items include beaded and or novelty work on capri pants, often with wider legs.
For seasons ahead, Maley sees a need for newness.
“Every manufacturer is looking for that winning combination to make their line the hot one of the moment. What’s in tomorrow will depend on how savvy companies develop a new item to take the market by storm.”
Distributed primarily at specialty shops and fine department stores, Sigrid Olsen offers upper-better- and lower-bridge-priced sportswear.
“Our ultimate consumer is looking for special, pretty, feminine, unique clothes that range from $100 to $200 retail,” said Jude A. Zimmerman, vice president, sales and marketing. Price points continue to increase as demand for more specialty pieces rises. Currently, a better-to-bridge sweater retails from $108 to $158.
Zimmerman said business is on an upswing in the last six months, as the company moves from contemporary to more updated classic. The strength of the line, said Zimmerman, is color aesthetic and special sweater knits.
Presently, soft, novelty sweaters with unstructured bottoms and bright colors are performing well. Leathers, suedes and sparkly sweater knits are also popular.
Upcoming, Zimmerman predicts more variety in citrus-inspired colors, along with natural fibers and subtle embellishments, always in Olsen’s easy, comfortable, sophisticated styling.
TELLURIDE CLOTHING CO.
Because Southeast business is strong, Telluride Clothing Co. has a showroom in AmericasMart and is represented by independent sales representative team, Those Guys.
Sam Boe, president, estimated that 25 percent of Southeast business is generated through the showroom and 75 percent on the road. The four-year-old line has shipped over $30 million of product this year, the majority to specialty stores. In 1999, the company won a DIVA Award from AmericasMart and in 2000 was honored with a Dallas Fashion Award.
Telluride’s end consumers fall into two categories, according to Boe. Telluride is for the casual customer, which often translates to a soccer mom demographic. The company’s newer second division, Tyler Boe, caters to the style-savvy working woman.
Currently, in Telluride’s product line, the strongest retail items are those with color, as well as those that have a novelty feel, whether in fabric, embroidery or trim.
“We are known for special details that make it a special piece,” Boe said, noting that one of Telluride’s bestsellers is its novelty knitwear line. “It has to endure.”
“Our great strength is in the strategic alliances we form. We ship product every 15 days,” Boe said. “It creates excitement, allowing [owners] to change windows often and to cater to loyal customers.”
Those Guys is a team effort between independent sales representatives Guy Bailey and his son, Guy Bailey. For them, the word family has a loose definition, which encompasses not only those related by blood, but anyone they meet.
“We have a family-type relationship with most of our customers. My mother serves 300 to 400 meals each show, and my wife does a lot of the baking,” the younger Bailey said. “That’s part of the charm of our showroom. It’s not wham-bam-business-oriented as soon as clients walk in.”
The father and son team represents Telluride Clothing Co., Icelandic Design, Rebecca Thomas, County Clothing and Nomadic Traders, among others. The lines are classified as mainly betterwear, with some contemporary.
Those Guys have had several lines for over than 15 years. Both men spend a great deal of time on the road, where 65 percent of their business is done.
“All our lines capture different aspects of what’s happening in the market,” the younger Bailey said. “One of the beauties of our package is that all the lines complement each other.”
The Baileys recently spent more than $8,000 renovating their 12th-floor showroom. They have faced weather-related challenges, such as unseasonably warm temperatures that have hurt the sweater business and hurricanes that devastated some retailers in the Carolinas.
Presently, best-selling items include fleece items, hand-knit novelty sweaters and related separates. According to the junior Bailey, spring will bring lots of colors in short and three-quarter-sleeve shirts.
“We’re constantly looking for new product, as a responsibility to our customers,” said the younger partner. “They don’t have to look so far because we do it for them.”