HAGGAR STEPS UP WOMEN’S

Byline: Rusty Williamson

DALLAS — Haggar Clothing Co. is shifting from first gear into overdrive with its new moderate-price women’s sportswear label.
The line was softly launched in January for fall selling and will start rolling out to mid-tier and better department store chains in August, including J.C. Penney Co. in the U.S., Mexico and Puerto Rico and The Bay in Toronto, plus more than a dozen others.
The trend-driven line, with wholesale prices from $29 for a stretch knit top to $80 for a fully lined jacket, was a veritable hit, according to the company, selling out for fall and making its sales plan.
But Haggar, a venerable player in the men’s wear market that had total company wholesale volume of $434 million last year, hadn’t produced a women’s label for the U.S. market in 10 years, though it has an unrelated, basics-inspired line for the Canadian market called Haggar for Her.
Haggar, along with its Jerell division here, which is responsible for the design, production, marketing and sales management of the new collection, used the soft fall launch to test the needs of retailers and of American moderate sportswear consumers.
Based on retailer feedback and ongoing consumer focus groups, the label is being fine-tuned for spring. It will now focus on basic items that can be quickly replenished, along with monthly fashion silhouettes that are more trend-sensitive, like knits, linens, novelty georgette prints and trendy colors.
The approach is expected to translate into first-year wholesale volume of about $5 million, according to Ed Vierling, president and chief operating officer of the Jerell division.
“It’s a big program and project for us, and we’re expecting a large return because of the national brand recognition of the Haggar name,” he said. “We have a three-year plan to do $20 million to $30 million wholesale business.”
The future merchandising needs of retailers played a big role in reshaping the line.
“Major stores have told us that they’re planning to move into the replenishable fashion basics segment in a big way, and that’s the direction we’re taking the Haggar women’s line,” explained Sam Klapholz, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Jerell. “We’re positioning the line for women 29 to 54 years old who like casual elegance and a misses’ fit. We think this approach, coupled with Haggar’s operating platform and Jerell’s merchandising skills, is a winning formula.”
Haggar purchased moderate dress and sportswear maker Jerell nearly two years ago, with the idea of producing a new women’s casual sportswear line.
Haggar’s operations include a 750,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center in Fort Worth, Tex., that opened four years ago in anticipation of burgeoning and diversifying growth plans at the company, including the new women’s line.
The $50 million customer service center is designed and programmed to facilitate speedy shipment of initial and replenishment orders, regardless of size, the executives said.
The center also helps to facilitate retailer partnerships called VMIs, or vendor managed inventory systems. Under these scenarios, Haggar works in tandem with retailers to stock and merchandise stores, including projecting apparel needs in advance and helping to reduce inventory.
“The customer-service facility allows us to ship quickly and accurately and assure retailers that they’ll have floor-ready merchandise for even the smallest of orders,” said Klapholz. “We have the capability to replenish one size of one color within 48 hours, and we have the goal of shipping 95 percent of orders within five days of order start date. Our customer-satisfaction index is now 94 percent of orders going out within five days.”
Such capabilities are pivotal considering that about 35 percent of the Haggar women’s spring line consists of fashion basics, specifically variations on seven signature silhouettes: tailored pants, short and long skirts, short and long jackets, a vest and a dress. All are cut from double-faced micropolyester twill.
“For fall, signature basics were about 5 percent of sales. For spring, they’re expected to be 25 to 35 percent of the projected sales and 35 to 45 percent of the bottom-line profitability to the retailer,” he added. “We’re going to run these seven pieces year-round. It’s a big part of the mix and an even bigger part of the retailers’ profit.”
Haggar plans to round out its mix with monthly shipments of edgier styles, usually numbering about 20, to complement and help drive sales of the basics. Trendier silhouettes include lab coats, long one-button blazers, three-quarter-sleeve jackets with notch collars, Seventies-style blouses and retro side-slit skirts.
The Haggar women’s line is manufactured offshore, mostly in Asia and Mexico.
In-store shops of 400 to 600 square feet are planned for most major retailers carrying the collection. The spare and angular fixtures are made of pale blond wood, steel and Lucite and bear the Haggar icon and visuals from its ongoing “American Generations” advertising campaign.
“Haggar’s past experience when opening in-store shops for men has been a 30 to 40 percent gain in sales,” said Klapholz, who thinks similar synergies and sales gains are achievable for the women’s line. “We believe that not only does the product have to be right but that there has to be a great presentation to create a destination and environment for this consumer.”

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