SMOOTHING OUT THE ROUGH EDGES
Byline: Marc Karimzadeh
NEW YORK — The legwear industry won’t put up with economic snags.
No strangers to struggles, hosiery and sock vendors said that while sheers sales continue to trend downward, fall bookings showed healthy increases for novelty tights and socks.
However, the overall economic climate, which has dampened consumer confidence and slowed store traffic, prompted some to cautiously rethink their projections for the second half, a time that constitutes a bulk of legwear volume.
“It is a challenge, so you have to be creative, get [customers] into the store and make sure you have products available so that you turn every customer into a purchase,” said Karen Schneider, president of Wolford America.
To prevent hiccups, most companies are implementing new strategies, including:
An increased focus on products with added value for comfort and well-being.
Clearer packaging that shows the items and explains their functions.
More advertising and point-of-sale material to alert customers to new products.
New delivery schedules that would bring in new merchandise frequently.
Increased communication with retailers, including adding merchandising staff to track displays and sales to minimize chargebacks.
Many executives pointed to inventory control as a key challenge in the next six months.
“Because retailers are trying to have as little inventory as possible, we made an investment in building inventory ahead of time,” said Barry Tartarkin, vice president and general manager at Pennaco, Danskin’s legwear division, which includes the licensed Givenchy and Ellen Tracy lines. “The challenge is to react to business as the economy turns around. We need to be able to support retailers and ship very quickly.”
However, such strategy can be risky and result in unsold merchandise. “Excess inventory at the end of the season can be very harmful,” said Wayne Lederman, president at Leg Resource.
To avoid this, Leg Resource is keeping up to 80 percent of inventory in an undyed state, which can be finished and shipped in two weeks.
With retailers more cautious, several vendors made internal adjustments to help distribution, sales and turnover. Royce Hosiery Mills, the maker of the Nine West and Dockers hosiery lines, implemented a new order management system last year that tracks items from order to selling.
“We have been very focused on chargebacks,” said Pat McNellis, Royce’s president of women’s brands, noting that the program has so far improved business by helping identify problems early to avoid chargebacks. “You take timely markdowns in order to flush merchandise through the market.”
With store traffic on the decline, several firms have reconsidered their POS materials to boost consumer interest.
“We need to highlight the newness, from color and texture to function, to make sure she takes another look at it,” said Howard Upchurch, senior vice president of marketing for Sara Lee Hosiery, which includes L’Eggs, Hanes Hosiery and the licensed Donna Karan and DKNY.
For fall, Hanes has redesigned its POS material, which will now showcase products or trends and their benefits rather than lifestyle images or generic Hanes brand messages.
“As consumers are not spending as much time in the stores, we need to be as clear as possible,” he said.
“Visual presentation is key,” said Jordan Lipson, president and chief executive officer at American Essentials.
This fall, the company is adding eight new in-store merchandisers nationwide. They will track stock, quality of display and analyze product flow. Also, the company is introducing four deliveries instead of two each season to keep the floor consistently “fresh,” Lipson said.
“Flowing goods in a more seasonal way can counteract negative business,” said Gary Wolkowitz, president and ceo of The Hot Sox Co.
Other firms also have rethought their advertising. This fall, Pennaco is launching its first print campaign for Ellen Tracy in four years, which, according to Tartarkin, will be “very focused on the leg and be product-driven. When a lot of people are cutting back, we felt it was time to get out there.”
Hue also chose to increase its advertising budget last May because “the climate is so tough,” said Molly Mott, vice president of sales. The company will launch its new Hue Sheers line with account-specific advertising, newspapers and catalogs. The Kayser-Roth Corp., which owns Hue, also will begin advertising its licensed Calvin Klein Collection sheers line in the fourth quarter to introduce consumers to new no-waistband products.
Wolford also stepped up its communication with consumers, offering two catalogs — a fall trend book and a second book for classics and new innovations — rather than the traditional annual comprehensive catalog. Schneider, at Wolford, is banking on Long Distance, a new line of tights and knee highs that stimulate circulation when seated to prevent swelling, to boost sales when launched at retail this August.
“If women can see that hosiery also creates well-being, it induces her to come back,” said John Flynn, vice president of sales at Levante USA, which is marketing some of its new comfort, toning and slimming styles as “Intelligence in Hosiery.”
For fall, Levante is changing its tights packaging from flat to banded with colored images of each packaged piece. Flynn said: “Our challenge is to find products that meet the demands of consumers.”