Byline: Rusty Williamson

When it comes to wholesaling women’s apparel, the Ritz Group believes in the theory of evolution.
Showroom partners (and real-life partners) Brad and Kelli Ritz take a dynamic approach in their outreach to retailers. They believe that continually fine-tuning the company’s image, show space and apparel offerings is key not only to survival, but to healthy growth.
Last market, Ritz Group expanded its presence on the mart’s fourth floor by 1,000 square feet, remodeling the showroom in a sleek, loft-like style in tones of red, black and yellow, and adding several contemporary lines.
In fact, playing up contemporary is a new priority, according to Brad Ritz, as the showroom expands its outreach to target younger and trendier styles to complement its prosperous mix of social occasion and upscale sportswear.
Sales at Ritz Group have risen by more than 10 percent for the past two years, and sales were up 30 percent at January market, where the company’s new look and offerings were unveiled.
“We’re trying to bring in more contemporary day wear and some lower prices,” explained Brad Ritz. “We’re planning for at least 25 percent of our mix to be contemporary, with the rest focusing on what buyers know us best for: luxurious, but modern social occasion and clean and sophisticated sportswear and dresses.”
Ritz Group has come a long way since its debut in 1986 as a moderate dress and sportswear showroom on the mart’s first-floor A aisle.
“We were looking at pictures of Brad in that old moderate showroom the other night, and he looked like a 16-year-old kid,” laughed Kelli Ritz. “Look how far we’ve come with the company.”
“Staying at the forefront of the industry is all about continual rejuvenation and change,” said Brad Ritz, an 18-year veteran of the apparel trade. “It’s a big responsibility to run the showroom and to find and constantly source new products.”
While Kelli Ritz and a small staff work from Ritz Group’s corporate office in 4A11 at the mart, Brad Ritz spends much of his time between markets searching out new lines or selling on the road.
Brad Ritz has transformed the company’s huge Born Free motor coach into a small showroom on wheels, and he is a common post-market sight at better-to-designer stores throughout the territory.
Shortly after January market, the heady Ritz itinerary included a two-week road trip through Louisiana and south Texas, followed by quick jaunts to California and New York.
“I heard about a new contemporary denim separates line in Los Angeles and quickly flew out to see it,” Brad Ritz recalled. “It’s called Bella Dahl, and it’s all about soft vintage denim that’s been through great new wash treatments.” Colors range from chocolate and avocado to lavender and indigo, and wholesale prices are $50 to $90.
Other contemporary lines at Ritz Group include Del Rosario, a fun and diverse collection of separates and dresses finding favor with a young Hollywood crowd; Dina Bar-El, a chic line of separates and dresses that hews closely to trends; Vakko, a trend-driven leather line; Sue Wong, a novelty knit, dress and evening resource that’s a perennial favorite among buyers; Fiona London, an edgy separates and dress collection that emphasizes color and novelty fabrics, and Casadei, a day- and evening art-inspired line from Los Angeles designer Eletra Casadei.
The contemporary lineup will be expanded in coming markets, according to Brad Ritz, who is planning on sales increases of about 15 percent at March market.
He believes the economy will stay strong and that buyers will continue to spend on trend-right lines that check quickly.
“While the euphoria of the past is over, I refuse to buy into the doom-and-gloom predictions about the economy this year that are coming from some analysts and industry-watchers.”
He added that expanding the product mix in the showroom is also a way to lure new traffic.
“We’ve always had a large profile in social occasion, and as we grow, we’re diversifying to meet the lifestyle merchandise needs of retailers. We’ve done a good job of ‘un-typecasting’ ourselves. I constantly hear from out-of-territory and new in-territory accounts that they love our mix. We’re now offering fashion for young women in their late teens to women of any age who wear social occasion and bridge sportswear.”
For fall, the Ritzes expect top trends to include leather, denim, evening separates and spare, but rich sportswear.
“Everything is becoming more and more lifestyle-driven,” he added.
Ritz Group plans to expand its sales and marketing staff this spring, as business swells and new labels join the room’s wholesale mix.
“We closely monitor every single style in every line we sell,” said Kelli Ritz. “Stores appreciate the attention to detail and making sure that the product gets to them on time. We’re online with many of our manufacturers.”