FEAR OF BUYING
TREPIDATION OVER THE RECENT TERRORIST ATTACKS HAS RETAILERS TAKING A CAUTIOUS APPROACH TO REPLENISHING THEIR WARES.

Byline: Kavita Daswani

Barkley Hope — Items for Princesses, a store on L.A.’s hip Melrose Avenue that caters to a trendy, fashion-forward customer, has seen a 75 percent drop in sales in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
So not surprisingly, owner Barkley Hope is holding off on all orders for holiday, waiting to see how her initial buy of fall merchandise does before doing any more purchasing.
“There’s a level of desperation, but at the same time, everyone — from reps to wholesalers — understands the situation,” she said. “We hear that most retailers are waiting until the last minute.”
Well, yes and no. Women’s fashion retailers in Los Angeles and other parts of the country are as varied in their approaches to the impending economic downturn as they are in the merchandise they try to carry. While most report that they prefer to scale back and buy much closer to the season, others are adopting a more optimistic outlook, doing what they can to improve fall sales and looking ahead to spring.
“Our sales doubled during the same week [of the attacks],” said Jenny Slaughter, owner of Bunya Bunya, a contemporary women’s store in Park City, Utah. Even so, she said that she would probably pace herself with future buys, going slowly and then filling in the gaps closer to the season.
“I tend to get excited, seeing new stuff and thinking I have to have it. I’m like a kid in a candy store, and then I end up being overstocked. What I’ll do now is pick up as [needed],” Slaughter said. She is also about to open a second branch of her store in Salt Lake City.
Slaughter, who carries names like Betsey Johnson, Juicy and Urban Outfitters, reckons it’s better to have new merchandise in the store for her customers than risk having no inventory.
“Our customer wants the name recognition and to have the right look for the season. So I order far out in some cases and then pick up more as I go along. It seems the best way to do things.”
Still, buying too much too soon seems to have become a thing of the past. Even if business is still buoyant for some retailers, many prefer to err on the side of caution.
“Business has been great, and we’ve had the most amazing month ever [in August],” said Barbie Herron, manager of Blonde in Santa Monica, Calif., adding that the store saw its monthly sales increase 13 percent in September, despite the shaky retail environment. “So we’re buying now for holiday, and if we’re running low and doing well that month, will buy more for immediate deliveries.”
Her buys for spring will include lines like Serfontaine Jeans and Rebecca Taylor.
Amber Gabbard, owner of Blonde, said that while vendors still drop in to show her fall merchandise, she would only consider buying more if “it blew my mind.” While she’s trying to move as many fall items as possible, she is looking ahead to spring, which she began buying a month ago. She predicts key spring trends will include “anything peasant, especially tops “and punky, edgier items.”
“Customers are waiting it out, and they’re scared right now,” Gabbard said. “But as they get more assured, [business] will be OK.”
Susan Collier, owner of Put Together in Colorado Springs, Colo., said the “purchase as needed” system may be the best way to go — but not at the risk of having no stock.
“I’m watching what I’m buying, but I still stay with a budget. I feel like you have to have product in the store to sell it — if you cut it down, you’ll miss somebody. These days, we need to be willing to spend money to make money.”
While Collier conceded her customers are spending less, they are still buying when they see something they just have to have. She hopes to tempt them with a wide mix of labels in styles, running the gamut from Votre Nom to Reality Check.
She has orders placed through December, although she buys minimal quantities and is leaving herself enough time to reorder.
“I’m not canceling orders, and I’m hanging onto the belief that things will turn around. People will get out there and buy things that make them feel good.”
The hope among retailers is that things will be back to normal by next spring. Some are optimistic enough to have already planned their purchasing that far ahead.
“People are trying to move on, so we are wanting to make our stock as good as possible,” said Suzanne Zenker, owner of upscale boutique Horn, on Robertson Boulevard, whose lines include Ivory and Crystal Jeans. “If you want early deliveries, you have to put orders in early. I’m trying to be positive.”
Barkley Hope has learned through experience that the fall and holiday seasons are short enough to warrant waiting a while.
“We’ve got a lot of fall merchandise in and have put a hold on the rest of it. In fact, some deliveries I have already gotten in could have been postponed. By January, girls in L.A. don’t want to wear sweaters anymore.”
This is the first year that Hope has found herself having to cancel orders — roughly 10 percent — “the non-necessities: extra denim and T-shirts that weren’t where fashion is moving and weren’t immediately necessary for November deliveries.” In keeping with the times, however, she is carrying plenty of “God Bless America” T-shirts and products.
Spring, she said, will provide less emphasis on T-shirts and denim and more on classic American styles. “The preppy-varsity thing will still be strong.”
“Our country is going to have to move forward,” added Hope. “While I’m worried about holiday, I’m sure everything will be fine by spring.”

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