CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Executives spent much of their time addressing ways to revitalize the sagging hosiery category at the Hosiery Association’s annual marketing symposium held last month at the Hilton Executive Park here.

The symposium’s main topic was competitive marketing and merchandising techniques and how they will play a role in hosiery manufacturing. Several industry experts offered an in-depth look into merchandising hosiery, the differences in approaches of national versus private brands and the benefits and challenges of sourcing products offshore.

Among the key issues raised were increasing the focus on opportunities in special sizes and with Hispanic customers, competitively countering discount chains’ “owning” of the sock segment, becoming more aggressive in hosiery placements in stores, and developing standardized language on hosiery and sock packaging, bands and tags.

In addition, as the domestic hosiery industry struggles to compete against the rest of the world, manufacturers admitted they are looking seriously at outsourcing as a way to remain competitive. Speakers agreed that customers are less concerned with where the hosiery comes from than in the past.

Robe Miller Jr., president of Hickory Yarns in Hickory, N.C., said, “Outsourcing women’s [hosiery] got us into the business overnight. Without outsourcing, we could not have updated our plant to achieve the level of low-cost manufacturing we needed.”

Many agreed with Fritz Schulte, vice president of sales and marketing at Acme McCrary in Asheboro, N.C., who urged manufacturers to “become more like category managers to take the load off retailers.” This, he explained, would offer a way of staying competitive and “meaningful to your customers, in essence by running their businesses with them.”

Marshal Cohen, president of NPD Fashionworld, a business unit of the NPD Group, led an industry review of category trends, emphasizing that the footwear and denim industries dictate fashions in socks, and fashion footwear does the same with sheers, he said.

“Consumers have a treasure-hunt mentality when shopping,” said Trish McHale, vice president of marketing at Great American Knitting Mills, based in Burlington, N.C. “Store brands are gaining momentum as a way a store can differentiate itself.”

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