PROCEED WITH CAUTION
CALIFORNIA RETAILERS ARE PREACHING RESTRAINT WHEN IT COMES TO FALL BUYS, AS FEARS OF A DOWNTURN CONTINUE TO CROP UP.
Byline: Kristin Young
WWDMAGIC-bound retailers are stepping gingerly into the fall buying season.
According to a recent survey by WWD, they are very much aware of the slowing economy, sagging consumer confidence and reluctance on the part of consumers to buy big-ticket items.
West Coast-based retailers said they plan to either pull back on spending, make more selective picks or switch to lower price points. And in terms of trends, casual is the name of the game going forward.
“There’s an uncertainty over where the economy is going, and I’m concerned about it,” noted Adam Shaffer, the owner of Undercover, a contemporary specialty store on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Calif. Shaffer said he doesn’t believe his business will be much affected by the lagging economy, nor is he concerned enough to change his buying strategies. Still, the threat of a recession lurks in the back of his mind.
Shaffer declined to reveal sales figures, but characterized his business over the holidays as successful — though things did slow down over January.
For fall, Shaffer said he will keep an eye out for leather items, knits, sweater coats and anything else that’s “cozy and cuddly.”
“Maybe some fur would be nice,” he added.
Shaffer believes there are no clear must-have colors in the market for fall, so he plans to stock silhouettes in browns, bronzes, chocolates, camels — colors that will coordinate well with last year’s gold craze.
He said he will also zero in on some dressier items, such as suits, trenchcoats, and some classic evening dresses as well.
Lisa Kline, owner of the Lisa Kline men’s and women’s contemporary boutiques in Los Angeles, is equally cautious.
“I’m going on a budget,” she said, noting that although her business was up 20 percent during the holidays compared with the same period one year earlier, it wasn’t the increase she had hoped for.
“Retail is bad across the board,” she said. “This year for the first time, I will prevent overbuying. I feel that consumer confidence has fallen a little bit, so I’m going to be tighter than usual.”
Kline said that her customer is becoming more interested in casual, everyday items such as denim, corduroy jeans, tank tops, simple pants and T-shirts and cashmere sweaters. Kline will spend one day at the trade show scouting new denim lines, “cool” basic T-shirts and leather jackets.
“I’m going back to old-school Lisa Kline,” she said, noting she plans to stay away from trends such as cowboy hats, miniskirts or Eighties looks.
Kline said there’s an upside to a slowing economy. “[Adversity] helps you change your business; it makes you smarter,” she said.
Barkley Hope, owner and buyer for her eponymous store in Los Angeles, plans to snap up anything with an Eighties edge, such as cut-up T-shirts and low-slung denim.
Hope is especially keen on updating the rhinestone trend on belts and T-shirts, specifically.
“Rhinestone belts are off the hook right now,” she noted. “We want tons of detail. Eventually, we’re going to go toward preppy, but people are not done with detail just yet.
Hope said she plans to be a little more careful with her buys. “There’s not going to be any excess at all,” she said. “People seem hesitant right now. There are a lot of unknowns.”
But not all retailers are proceeding with caution. Some believe that business will pick up in the spring and continue to be solid through fall and are planning their buys accordingly.
Meghan Misaki, owner and buyer for Noni, a young contemporary store in the Larchmont Village area of L.A., said she’s optimistic about her business going forward. Misaki said her sales have gone up by 10 percent since she opened the boutique in October.
Misaki said she will be on the hunt for anything feminine, but with an urban or street influence from the Seventies and Eighties.
She plans to place orders for off-the-shoulder blouses, miniskirts and form-fitting pencil skirts. In terms of pants, both bell-bottom and boot-cut are on the list.
Susanne Zenker, owner of Horn in Los Angeles, is also upbeat about her business, but conceded she is looking for lower price points for her high-end young contemporary boutique. Price points range from $30 to $5,000.
Zenker said she has spent 70 percent of her open-to-buy in Europe and New York. But the balance is slated for WWDMAGIC and the Los Angeles markets. She said she’s specifically looking for lines with small distribution in the U.S.
“Foot traffic has picked up a lot — at least at my store,” said Zenker. “People are looking to shop. The winter season was different. Then, people were concerned about the [presidential] election. Things will get better.”
Chanita Harris, buyer for Backseat Betty and Sybil, said it’s business as usual at the four specialty stores in San Francisco.
“We’re going to buy tons of camouflage, tons of denim, western styles, tons of black and white, some neon, and a lot of rhinestone belts,” she said.
The economy is not preventing specialty boutique customers from coming in every two weeks to buy the latest trends, said Harris, so she is not planning on paring back her buys.
“They’ll buy clothes and not eat for a week,” she quipped.
That said, Harris predicts businesses in general are in for a hard time in the near future. “It will be rough for the next couple of months,” she said.