Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — A stinging retail environment compounded by the recent terrorist events has caused a growing angst among vendors and retailers, as they prepare for an uncertain spring-summer market next month.
Open-to-buy dollars are expected to be cautiously allocated to key brands, items and classifications that can create a positive atmosphere on the selling floor. The strategy, said executives, will be to focus on basic merchandise, such as underwear, daywear, sleepwear and robes, which have been posting good third-quarter sell-throughs. They will augment this with fashion basics for consumers looking for comfort goods.
Major department stores also are attempting to fill the gap left by the licensed Ralph Lauren Intimates made by Sara Lee Intimate Apparel, which was discontinued last spring.
November is expected to be a smaller market than August, when foundations firms unveiled the lion’s share of spring collections. Plus, a majority of mass merchandisers have already completed spring buys and are setting their sights on back-to-school 2002 selling.
From a marketing perspective, it also is a pivotal time for merchants to reevaluate product and line reviews, finalize advertising campaigns and in-store events, and zero in on trends they believe will continue to be directional, especially for products that are imported.
Further depressing the general outlook is the continuing demand for markdown money. Some vendors, mostly small-to-midsized firms, are dealing with canceled orders from delayed deliveries.
On a positive note, a number of manufacturers said that, based on conversations with retailers, they expect a substantial number of out-of-town merchants will come to town, and they are approaching the Nov. 5-9 market with an upbeat attitude. But they do acknowledge that major buying groups are streamlining buying teams, and in some cases, plan not to attend New York’s innerwear market primarily because of budget constraints. A primary motivation for a business trip on the part of major stores and smaller operations will be a quest for immediate merchandise to fill low inventories going into the holiday season.
Industry observers also believe the tragedy in New York could stimulate business in regional markets that have suffered sporadic attendance over the past several years.
Best-booking ideas for spring-summer are expected to be:
Lively prints such as animal motifs, licensed characters, Americana looks, home furnishings prints such as florals or Provencal brights, and camouflage prints that have been feminized with lace trims and ruching, or rendered in fashion colors.
Classic pajamas and sleep gowns.
Sensual, comfortwear fabrics like brushed flannels and knits, fleece and a variety of soft microfibers with movement attributes, such as Tactel and Lycra Soft.
Contemporary camis and tanks with coordinating or contrasting thongs and boy-cut briefs.
Romance is a yearlong business and the demand for bridal looks and special-occasion fare has not waned.
Bob Pawlak, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and coats at Milwaukee-based Carson Pirie Scott, said: “Business has been tough, but not quite as tough as stores in other parts of the country. Our urban stores have suffered more than our rural stores.
“We are traveling full troop to the New York market for our typical spring buys, basically Mother’s Day business. Our budget is less than last year, but we typically have a tight budget. This year, we are adding a conservative sales plan, which will further reduce our open-to-buy. We plan reduced markdowns and increased turnovers.”
For Christmas selling, Pawlak added: “We expect it to be pretty tough. We are projecting it will be flat, but anticipating promotions will be heavy.”
Barbara Lipton, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and hosiery at Saks Fifth Avenue, said: “November looks like it will be a smaller market than it normally is. I’m sure a lot of people are planning on conference calling and digital e-mailing. There are so many ways a lot of people can avail themselves of this wonderful technology and get the job done. Obviously, being based in New York makes it easier for us at Saks.”
For spring, Lipton said Saks wants to capitalize on what has worked before.
“Business has been a challenge and we want to be in stock in core basics,” she said. “We have to understand who the customer is and what she wants. We will continue to do our bra-fitting events, which have been extremely successful, and we plan to go ahead with our promotion of French lingerie this spring.”
Donna Wolff, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Bloomingdale’s, said: “More than ever, this is a time when both sides [retail and manufacturing] need to be more creative and innovative, and take a proactive approach to the business. I’m going to maximize bestsellers and go after key items.”
Wolff gave several season-to-date examples of sales increases: a 20 percent sales gain on Calvin Klein sleepwear, sales of Wacoal bras are up 2 percent, Chantelle is ahead 4 percent and On Gossamer, 9 percent. In addition, Bali shapewear business is ahead 17 percent, while Jockey underwear is up 8 percent and sleepwear by Eileen West is 18 percent ahead.
“Retailers and wholesalers are in this together,” Wolff added. “We have to address our problems together. We as retailers need to merchandise our inventories. We simply can’t let apparel sit around that’s not selling.”
From a different perspective, Carol Bigman, owner and show producer of the Intimate Apparel Salon, said, “We do have some new exhibitors coming this market,” noting that key labels showing for the first time will include The Other Woman, Classics, Belabumbum, Markus & Coffman, Roberto Cavalli Intimo, Sleep by JML, Cotton Soul, Collection Jardin du Roi, Planet Flowers, Repose, Antinea and Moretta of Italy.
Bigman said the Nov. 4-6 edition, which will continue to be staged at the Millennium Broadway Hotel at 44th Street, will be the exact size of last November’s show — approximately 150 lines displayed in 130 booths on the fifth and eighth floors.
“We are proceeding with our usual promotion and advertising plans, but we are for the first time telemarketing buyers to reassure them that we will definitely be showing, and we have had a positive response,” she said. “Buyers who normally come to the November salon are telling us that they plan to attend.”