SILENT SALESMEN PITCH THE MESSAGE
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Given a glimpse of today’s activewear retail scene, Willy Loman would shudder.
Arthur Miller’s tragic hero from “Death of A Salesman” probably wouldn’t know what to make of stores’ reliance on silent salesmen — as in, the information-packed hangtags, posters and point-of-purchase material cropping up at retail.
The pitch is heavy on the fine print and light on human contact. To try to help offset the shortage of knowledgeable sales staff in big-box sporting goods stores and department stores, activewear makers are trying to attract potential customers with eye-catching photos and snazzy graphics. But they’re trying to keep their efforts in check, since concept shops weren’t a major hit with female shoppers.
Justin Knapp, retail marketing manager for Columbia Sportswear, said, “Overall, there are more requests for new and better offerings. In general, stores realize the value of having interesting displays that draw customers in.”
Knowing hangtags are “silent sellers” since salespeople can be hard to find, Danskin is overhauling its hangtags to try to simplify shopping for consumers, said Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer. The brand plans to spotlight three areas — dance, active and “everywhere.” The latter refers to a new yoga-inspired line that will be shipped to sporting goods stores in June.
“So much of our product is basic or black,” Hochman said. “We think it’s hard to differentiate our brand from other products on the floor.”
In addition, sometimes stores can’t see to it that all units are merchandised properly even if logo fixtures are provided.
“When you have so many stores, the execution isn’t always perfect,” Hochman said. Turnover among salespeople in outdoor specialty stores has prompted Isis, a Colchester, Vt.-based activewear and outerwear company, to provide more product information at its Web site, Isis.com.
Carolyn Cooke, who co-founded the company with Poppy Gall, said, “Outdoor stores are not facing a shortage of staff, but people are turning over quickly.”
Since new salespeople might miss seasonal clinics or training sessions, Isis is posting detailed information such as full-body measurements for individual sizes and benefits of various products. Information is updated regularly throughout the month, Cooke said.
In addition to Isis’s 100 retail accounts, consumers are also checking out the site, with 2,000 hits being posted each month.
Ellen Wessel, president and ceo of Moving Comfort, said retailers are requesting more visual packaging and displays.
“We’re hearing more and more from them, which is good. The one thing we don’t do is blindly send things in to retailers,” she said. “The chronic complaint is they get merchandise they didn’t request and never use. It’s wasteful to say the least.”
For this fall’s launch of MCW, a plus-size line of activewear, Moving Comfort worked with stores to develop point-of-purchase signs, sizing charts and technical sheets. Similar efforts were made for the brand’s underwear headquarters program, which bowed in a couple of hundred stores earlier this year, Wessel said.
Retailers have also given the go-ahead to the use of images imprinted with “A Fit Mother is a Powerful Mother” for Moving Comfort’s first Mother’s Day promotion.
J. Lindeberg, a golfwear label, is taking another approach.
When pro golfer Carin Koch landed on the April issue of Golf For Women earlier this week, Dave Corey, president of J. Lindeberg, decided to send copies to retailers. The company periodically sends press books to buyers, who in turn might post a clip for consumers to see.
“We are so influenced by what appears in magazines and what celebrities wear. It gets people excited whether they’re in Scottsdale or in Witchita,” Corey said. “If we have a lot of celebrities wearing our stuff, we want to show it.”
J. Lindeberg also sends look books to its 80 pro shop accounts, another visual that may wind up on the sales floor.
“It’s always important to tell your story to people,” Corey said. “We never assume that salespeople always have the opportunity to tell it for us.”
Nuala, a yoga-inspired line backed by Puma, plans to introduce look books for boutiques and their customers, said Rebecca Dobrick, sales and marketing manager.
“It will be an easy guide for customers to see how the items work back to the collection,” she said.
Nuala is also offering stores hangers imprinted with the brand’s logo, which is another subtle way to build brand awareness, Dobrick said.
Columbia Sportswear is offering retailers more focus areas and soft shops, Knapp said. Focus areas are smaller versions of concept shops or areas that focus on specific categories, and soft shops are customized set-ups that use a store’s existing fixtures.
For the first time this year, Columbia now offered focus areas and soft shops to most accounts instead of a handful.
“It used to be shops would cover all the bases,” Knapp said. “It seems they’re more and more dependent on vendors to use existing hardwear rather than having a ton of concept shops.”
Columbia is no longer providing funding to retailers to hire co-op employees to work in concept shops.
“That’s not been very successful,” Knapp said.
Lowe Alpine is considering stamping a seal of approval from the International Mountain Guides, a group it sponsors, on its most technical apparel, a company spokesman said. Hangtags and signs could be used to distinguish which garments were used by the guides to summit Everest and other intense expeditions.
Lowe Alpine is also looking into expanding its pack-fitting stations, which were rolled out in 30 Galyan’s stores last year. Shoppers stand against the refrigerator-size stations to measure their torsoes with a color-coded system. They then can test out the appropriate pack, based on the length of their treks and weight of their supplies.
The company is interested in fitting stations for apparel, but is concerned about the floor space they require, the spokesman said.
Diadora, a label that caters to runners, soccer and tennis players, is making more of an effort to offer clinics about the benefits of performance-oriented fabrics in activewear, said Kyle Mertel, national sales manager. The brand’s spring tennis line for women is highly technical and needs further explanation, he noted.
Diadora, which has a U.S. subsidiary in Seattle, has 45 sales reps that hold clinics in independent specialty stores.
“We don’t have the budgets for point-of-purchase material like a Nike or an Adidas,” Mertel said. “We try to be customer friendly and educate our retailers as much as we can.”