VENDORS TAKE SLOW STEPS TO THE NEXT

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Like the typical fickle shoppers they service, legwear makers are equally selective about how they are approaching the Internet.
Knowing that many women do not enjoy shopping for hosiery in stores, some manufacturers think that e-tailing is the way to go to invigorate hosiery sales. However, many legwear firms are hesitant to set up their own sites, preferring to sell to e-tailers specializing in the category and to sites of some of the major store chains.
Legwear executives feel shopping online can be a convenient, time-saving alternative to going to the mall and noted that the format has prompted multiple purchases in its short history.
Last month saw the launch of Gazelle.com and Alexblake.com, two stores that specialize in legwear. Earlier this month, Sara Lee Hosiery revamped its L’eggs Web site and plans to do the same for its Hanes Hosiery cyber-home in the next few months. Posting more information about the benefits of its various labels was a main reason for going online.
Kunert, a German label, is setting up an e-commerce site for the U.S. to go live in the next two to three months.
The Sock Yard is taking another route for Internet selling. Earlier this month, the company started selling its Be Fresh socks on Drsock.com, a site that caters to shoppers looking for items with health benefits.
Sara Lee Hosiery poured about $75,000 into the relaunch of Leggs.com, a five-year-old site, said David McBride, senior marketing director. The new site is easier to navigate and has community aspects.
In addition to upgrading Haneshosiery.com with more specific product information, Sara Lee plans to set up links between that site and Onehanesplace.com, which offers discounted merchandise. The links should be completed within the next few months.
On average, most online shoppers purchase $40 worth of product, and Sara Lee’s sites are profitable “at a low volume,” McBride said.
The company aims to at least triple its online sales in the next couple of years, he added. “These sites are really in their infancy,” McBride said. “We hadn’t made them a major focus until this year.”
Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer of Danskin, the maker of Pennaco Hosiery, is another advocate of e-commerce. “I firmly believe that hosiery is one of the product categories that will succeed on the Internet,” she said. “You can’t try it on in stores anyway, it has a loyal customer base, and no one wants to go shopping for it.”
Hochman said those women who still like shopping in department stores often can’t find their size there, or they prefer to shop for fashion and hard-to-find merchandise that can’t be found at online stores, Hochman added.
As department stores scale back on their legwear offerings, the Internet serves as an alternative to assure that shoppers can find their sizes, colors and styles, said Joyce Darkey, general manager of Pennaco.
Pennaco sells to Gazelle.com and developed a private label program for Controltop.com. The company is looking into setting up its own site, but definite plans have not been set.
L’s Wear NY, the U.S. distributor of Kunert, currently uses Kunert.de, its parent company’s site, to make American women familiar with the brand and its products. But there are plans to unveil one geared for the U.S. market within the next three months, said Ernst Lang, founder of L’s Wear NY. The new site will have a virtual store and a greater focus on the brand’s Wellness legwear, a group that generates 75 percent of the brand’s U.S. business.
In addition to being more affordable than outdoor advertising, Web sites are more customer friendly and provide customer profiles of users, Lang said. It’s also a great way to check out the competition to see the latest innovations in their sites, and to get some ideas, he added.
Negotiations are under way with Gazelle.com to sell online, he said.
It is surprising how many of Kunert’s accounts are inquiring about the company’s Internet plans, especially the option of selling online, Lang said.
“It’s another retailer. If a department store comes to you tomorrow and says they’re going to put your product in their stores and on their Web site, are you going to say, ‘No’?” he said.
With distribution in 320 stores, Kunert is working harder to sell to department stores and major specialty chains. Being online builds brand awareness, Lang said.
“We’re not on the Internet to undercut our [retail] customers. We’re there to help them and support them,” he said. “What easier way is there to explain what you have?”
Kayser-Roth Corp., the maker of Hue legwear and licensed Calvin Klein sheers, is selling its Hue brand with major existing accounts that have online stores such as Macys.com. The company has no plans to sell Calvin Klein sheers online, due to contractual restrictions, a company spokeswoman said.
Gary Wolkowitz, president and ceo of The Hot Sox Co., said he is “extremely pleased” with sales at Gazelle.com. One advantage of online selling is that consumers tend to make multiple purchases, he said.
Within the next three months, the company plans to set up its own Web site primarily for business-to-business. There will also be an area that shows consumers new products and a listing of stores that carry the brand.
“We think e-commerce is here, and we’ll be examining it closely,” Wolkowitz said.
The Sock Yard sells to Drsock.com, a site that requires a minimum purchase of $20, said Stanley Kreinek, ceo of The Sock Yard. There is, however, no shipping charge.
“We have no plans to set up our own site. It’s just another catalog,” he said. “We don’t have the time and personnel to manage that.”
Going against conventional thinking, he also said that he doesn’t think most people would buy on the Internet unless they were shopping for an item that was difficult to find.
Jordan Lipson, president and ceo of American Essentials, said the company is “testing” online sales with Gazelle.com. There are also plans to test its licensed Guess legwear on the Guess Web site this fall.
“We have no plans to go direct to consumers at this stage,” he said. “We are going to allow retailers to buy direct online and to look at in-stock inventories. We believe that’s the next stage.”

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