Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Looking to boost sagging legwear sales, vendors are rethinking the way they merchandise the category.
Makers are trying to attract additional interest by jazzing up their departments with colorful and innovative displays, by using more multipacks and by employing new pricing strategies.
Craig Chorney, corporate fashion director for Accessory Network, said, “What looks energizing are the displays. It’s not like the old days, where old players had their stodgy displays.”
During a recent visit to St. Louis, he noticed how retailers had made bold signs and unusual displays for hosiery, used shots of bright color and grouped themes together.
“Nothing was lined up like soldiers,” Chorney said. “The stories looked good next to each other. There were different themes going on. A couple of stores had set up their socks short to tall.”
Bill Bell, president of Surratt Marketing, the licensor of Rockport socks, pointed to multipacks, incentive pricing, more informational packaging and the selling of hosiery in apparel departments as examples of how stores are working to improve sales.
Highlighting the benefits and features of a product on its packaging, for example, helps to make shoppers more interested in the product and simplifies shopping, he said.
“Some stores take a more aggressive position in hosiery, so they don’t all look the same,” Bell said. “Barneys always finds new labels and makes the department look interesting.”
Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom also won his praise for housing hosiery in shoe or sportswear departments.
Donna Waxman, area manager for North America and South America for Fogal of Switzerland, said retailers are considering new concepts to merchandise legwear. She said she has been speaking with stores about the possibility of showcasing fashion-oriented styles with designer sportswear or ready-to-wear for a total look.
All this comes at a time when “big stores” are downsizing and eliminating hosiery departments, but hosiery is not going away, Waxman said.
“The question is, ‘What are they going to do?’ ” she said. “The obvious answer is to approach designer-sportswear buyers. They offer better service, and that seems like the natural course for the future of the business.”
Regina Littles, national sales manager for Gerbe, lauded Henri Bendel for its plans to get back into the legwear business this fall by offering sheers on three different floors with accessories, suits and sportswear. Small fixtures on wheels will be set up in the various departments.
“The advantage of doing it that way is that if the customer is not moving to it fast enough, the fixtures can be moved to where she can get it faster,” Littles said.
Henri Bendel also earned points from Littles for training sales associates to advise shoppers to purchase legwear whenever they purchase a suit, dress or pants.
Mark Heirbaum, chief operating officer of DML Marketing, the maker of Legale legwear, said there is more interest in various length socks. Footliners, ankle-skimming socks and quarter-length socks are getting more play at retail, since many junior customers are fashion-conscious. The continued popularity of capri pants and the influence of skateboarder and surfer fashion are contributing to the trend, Heirbaum said.
“The younger customer doesn’t mind showing a little skin. But it’s a little unsettled as to which looks will dominate the season,” he said. “There needs to be more direction from the stores to show the various lengths and what shoes, pants and shorts look good with them.”
Trish McHale, vice president of marketing for Great American Knitting Mills, the maker of Gold Toe socks, praised the use of silver yarns for antimicrobial socks; Blisterguard, a Teflon treatment to help prevent chafing, and CoolMax or Intera to wick moisture.
From a silhouette standpoint, McHale said she liked the look of “no-show” socks, such as the ones often worn with summer loafers, and backless styles worn with mules.
Tony Taylor, creative director of Look From London, said stores are turning to tie-dyed looks to liven up their sales floors. Retailers have been calling to find out what the brand has to offer for a trend that seems to be getting “very hot,” he said.
In October, Look From London will launch a line of tie-dyed tube tops and thongs designed to coordinate with its tie-dyed tights. Each of the undergarments will retail for $13 or $14. The tights retail for $18 or $19.
“Stores want to give people something different every few months,” Taylor said.
Helen Welsh, president of Liz Claiborne accessories, noted how the retail market has turned to multipricing to help offset the decline in sales of sheers.
“The casual-sock business is a healthy category. Innovative fabrics and fibers like Tactel have developed interest in the category,” Welsh said. “There are more feminine touches like ruffles and details, and ‘shorties’ have been well-received.”
Eli Levy, president of E&E Hosiery, also praised stores for using multipricing to encourage multiple purchases. Department stores, specialty stores and junior chains are all pursuing the strategy “to drive people into the [hosiery] department and to spend more on each individual purchase,” he said.

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