STAND AND DELIVER
STREAMLINED CUSTOMER SERVICE AND IMPROVED PRICE POINTS ARE AS IMPORTANT AS SALABLE NEW STYLES WHEN IT COMES TO BETTERING BETTER.
Byline: SHIRLIEY FUNG
Although better vendors are finding that the difficult economic climate is taking a bite out of revenue, they are realizing that it is still possible to ring in the sales with the right business plans.
WWD spoke with five manufacturers about their strategies for maintaining and growing their businesses. Herewith, their answers:
Lily & Taylor, the New York-based seven-year-old vendor of better suits and special occasion wear, is compensating for sluggish economic conditions by catering to one of the hottest segments of the market: the plus-size customer.
“Sales have quadrupled over the past six or seven years,” said Morris Elyas, co-owner of the firm that sells apparel in sizes 8 to 24 and 16W to 28W. “There is big potential in the plus-size market.”
Elyas said that business is still up 20 percent over last year, despite a season of slow growth. In light of the difficult economic climate, he hopes to grow his $7 million business 15 percent this year, partly through the addition of a career line that will debut in stores in March and partly through door expansion.
David Asherian, secretary of the treasury for New York-based Jessica Ash, said that business has been “a little bit difficult,” but that he is still aiming to increase his $8 million business by 20 to 25 percent, mainly by increasing the number of specialty stores he resources from 800 doors to 960 or 1,000 by the end of the year.
Asherian said that the 11-year-old vendor is willing to sacrifice profit margins to sell at a greater volume. “We’re going to keep the quality the same or even better, and make the service even better,” he said, adding that prices would be kept level as well.
Over the last few years, Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Globetrotter has been splitting its business into three stand-alone entities: its eponymous casual career wear division, the Christina Fairbanks special occasion division and the Spa resortwear division.
Sales manager Kathleen Whalen said that the separation will soon be completed and that, hopefully, it will lead to 50 percent growth this year — the same percentage the company grew in 2000.
“Each division can stand on its own because each is so comprehensive. It works best to separate the special occasion from the career because then they are placed specifically with representatives whose strengths are in those markets,” she said. “It’s mutually beneficial for the customers; they can go straight to the right representatives.” Whalen added that both the Christina Fairbanks and Spa labels have kept up in growth with the company’s core Globetrotter brand.
Novelty will drive business for New York-based Berek Knits in the upcoming year.
With merchandise in 3,000 specialty-store and department-store doors, the 23-year-old company hopes that its assortment of knitwear — featuring varied forms of stitching, yarn manipulation and fur and feather trims — brings in growth in the low double digits.
But the vendor is not relying only on product to fuel demand. Mercier said she believes the main challenge Berek faces in 2001 is keeping current customers happy.
To that end, she said that the company is “going to improve our deliveries and turnaround. We’re going to ship our styles complete. We have a new computer system and we’ve added two key customer relations people.”
The manufacturer will also keep prices affordable. The items in the Berek line typically run from $79 to $89 at price, but Mercier said that the resource will add some sweaters at $49 to $59 price points in order to bring in business. “We really want specialty stores to offer this price point so that they can offer a range to their customers,” she said. “People are always looking for something whimsical that’s priced well.”
Lucy Braha, president of New York-based Berkley Cashmere, a sweater and shawl resource, said that she hopes to grow her current 300 door count by 100.
The company, which currently produces mainly for the winter and fall seasons, is looking to diversify and take a bigger share of the market by selling warmer-weather offerings such as light twinsets and T-shirts in cashmere and silk blends.
“Eighty percent of our business is still winter and fall,” she said, “but we would like the breakdown to be 75 percent winter and 25 percent summer.”
To maintain growth in its cold-weather business, Braha said the vendor would be relying on Burberry plaid or animal-printed pashmina shawls as well as some embellished with crystals. Other offerings include fur-trimmed scarves and crocheted jackets and vests. “Believe it or not, everybody still likes the basics,” Braha said. “We’re just trying to update them.”
Los Angeles-based Barbara Lesser’s fledgling sportswear line, Fibers, will help fuel growth for the $8 million vendor in 2001.
“The newness and excitement in the market is in the sportswear business,” said Don Reichman, Fibers’ Western regional sales representative. “The dress business has been slower. As the market has shifted, it’s become more sportswear driven.”
Barbara Lesser, who has sold dresses for the last eight years under the label that bears her name, started a sportswear line 1 1/2 years ago because the dress business was becoming increasingly difficult — although Reichman did point out that this season’s new feminine prints are generating some market excitement. The line now has 150 lines, and Reichman said that the focus now is to increase its door saturation. He hopes to grow its current 1,500 doors by 20 percent this year. Reichman added that in the upcoming year the resource will work hard to satisfy its retail customers. “It’s a very competitive market,” he said. “We have to always be available to our customers. We’re aggressively trying to keep contact open. You have to be able to service and deliver.”