NEW YORK — The heat wave in the Northeast this month brought a much-needed boost to the swim industry as consumers finally started shopping for suits.

However, it may be too late for many stores and vendors to meet seasonal plans. Swimwear sales this spring have been disappointing, leading to markdowns, especially on the East Coast, where temperatures until the last few weeks had been cooler than usual.

Mark Sidle, president of the Miami-based Swim ‘N Sport chain, said the swim season can’t be saved by this late surge. The 32-unit company, which sells brands such as Gottex, Calvin Klein and Christina, was hurt last year by hurricanes in Florida, where many of its stores are based.

“The season is too far gone now,” Sidle said. “Our sales have absolutely been better over the last few weeks and it goes to show how weather-driven this category is. But watch what happens when the weather cools off.”

Bridget Quinn Stickline, general merchandise manager at the Owings Mills, Md.-based Water Water Everywhere chain, said business has been slow, but is starting to pick up.

Water Water Everywhere, which has 22 stores and sells brands such as Anne Cole, Gottex and Ralph Lauren, is not marking down yet and is hoping to match last year’s sales.

“Our margins will be fine, but volume is another story,” Stickline said.

While there has been a move in the industry to promote and sell swimsuits year-round, swimwear largely remains a seasonal business and stores depend on warm temperatures to heat up consumer demand. Women’s swimwear sales were about $2.2 billion for the 12 months ending in April, according to The NPD Group.

The industry adage is that if sales aren’t rolling in a significant way by Memorial Day, the season is a bust since there will inevitably be markdowns and lower profits.

Tuesday of this week, when the temperatures climbed to the high 90s, was Bloomingdale’s best day yet of the swim season, said Frank Doroff, executive vice president of ready-to-wear at Bloomingdale’s.

“The late-day surge could be enough to save (the season), but the clock is always ticking on you,” he said.

This story first appeared in the June 16, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The late surge in swimwear this year could also affect buying and planning for coming seasons. The industry’s biggest swim trade event, SwimShow 2006, will be held next month and could be a harbinger of lean planning and tighter inventory controls for the upcoming cruise season.

For those who are buying, top sellers at retail this season are tankinis and separates from junior and contemporary brands. Classic swim brands such as Gottex and Jantzen are also selling well.

Business has been better on the West Coast, which hasn’t had as much fluctuation in temperatures, and in general at stores selling upscale brands.

Bergdorf Goodman, for example, has had a strong swimwear season this year, said Robert Burke, senior vice president of the fashion office, who noted that sales spiked after June 4 with the onset of the hot weather. Among the top swim brands selling at Bergdorf’s are Malia Mills, Karla Colletto and Gottex, as well as designer labels including Pucci, Missoni and Gaultier.

Julie McMackin, owner of Molly Brown’s, an upscale swim store based in Newport Beach, Calif., said she has had “an excellent season.”

“The East Coast and West Coast seasons are two different worlds,” she said. “The weather hasn’t hurt us.”

While sales in the Northeast have been difficult, Bloomingdale’s has seen strong sales in other areas, Doroff said. “Our business in Florida and California is really strong; business in southern California has been better all along.”

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