Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 07/25/2013

NEW YORK — The summer doldrums have hit the men’s retail business, but merchants in town for New York Market Week are expecting sales to heat up when the temperatures drop.

This story first appeared in the July 25, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

With the Fahrenheit hitting triple digits in many parts of the country over the past several weeks, retailers have seen their sales slip as shoppers were more likely to hit the beaches or mountains than their local stores. But some early-fall goods have begun to garner interest among more fashion-conscious men, leading stores to be upbeat about their prospects for fall.

Many independent retailers were in New York this week to shop the trade shows, including Project, MRket, Capsule and the newest addition, Liberty, for spring goods. And they found plenty to buy. From soft sport coats and colored pants to unusual accessories such as silver-handled umbrellas and slim backpacks, buyers left plenty of paper.

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For Ken Giddon, president of New York City-based Rothmans, the key to bringing in business during the summer is to “create events.” The store recently installed a pop-up shop for Rebecca Minkoff, followed by another for Rodd & Gunn. In September, Herschel bags will replace that. “It creates noise and business,” he said. “It’s been a lesson for me — we have to give people a reason to buy.”

Giddon said sale merchandise at his store has been selling well. “We beat last year even through the heat wave because we had a lot of stuff going on. I can’t believe people were buying suits when the temperature was 100 degrees. So the macro picture may not be tremendous, but you’ll do well if you’re on your game.”

Giddon said he’s confident that fall sales will be strong. “The economy is certainly stronger than this point last year,” he said.

A trade show junkie, Giddon said he hit every show in New York by riding a Citi Bike between the venues, where he uncovered lots of interesting product. “The T-shirt companies went through a slump, but now they’re back,” he said, singling out Tailgate, Retro Sport and Sportif as among the most interesting. On the other extreme, he liked the tailored clothing offerings from Jack Victor. “The line looked really strong,” he said. “And with the whole situation with Joseph Abboud and Men’s Wearhouse, somebody has got to step up.” As reported, Men’s Wearhouse last week acquired the Joseph Abboud brand from its private equity owner and will take it out of the wholesale market after this season.

Giddon also liked the offerings at Peerless Clothing, which has it own Tallia label in addition to licensed products from Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY and others, and singled out Camplin, a line of Italian outerwear, as another standout. Andrew Marc’s Denim & Leathers, Benson, Jachs and Gant, along with Ben Minkoff’s bags, were also on his list. “There was an upbeat, creative vibe at the shows, but without a lot of the silly stuff that isn’t wearable,” he said.

“Business is just OK,” said Dan Farrington, general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Mitchells Family of Stores. “We’re ahead, but it’s not the kind of increases we’d hoped for.” He said the stores, which include Mitchells, Richards, Marshs and Wilkes Bashford, have seen “little spurts of action on fall,” particularly on the West Coast. “The East Coast has been more spotty.”

At the shows, Farrington said he was putting the “finishing touches” on spring purchasing, searching mainly for “items” to round out the mix. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of innovation, but I am spotting things here and there.”

Farrington said he remains optimistic about fall, kidding, “All buyers are, that’s what gets us overbought. But I think our assortment is terrific, with all the great colors and accessories. We’ve also found some new sportswear lines, and the fall tailored clothing looks beautiful and elegant. So I feel good. I just hope the traffic will be there.”

Mike Zack, owner of Circa 2000 in Plano, Tex., also characterized business as “just OK. It’s hot in Texas and people are on vacation. They need shorts and T-shirts, but that doesn’t amount to anything. It’ll take a while for the momentum to come back.”

As a result of the tepid sales, Zack said it was “hard to get excited” about the spring shows. “We’re buying linen shirts when we have linen shirts on our sale rack.” So he was shopping mainly for items — “something I can talk about that’s different.” He liked Paxson, a new line of underwear with hidden messages in the waistband and a variety of updated prints. “We’re looking for the little things.” He also liked Peter Millar, which has a strong in-stock program that allows him to test some new colors and patterns without investing too much. Soft sport coats are also seen as an opportunity for spring, he added.

Craig DeLongy of the six-unit, Florida-based John Craig chain said, “Summer’s not a beautiful time in Florida. People are heading to the ocean or the mountains.” Even so, the stores managed to post decent sales in June. “We started getting fall deliveries, and we’re seeing some action on fall sport coats from Canali,” he said. “People who like fashion shop early.”

At the shows, DeLongy was scouring the new footwear section at Project. “We’re totally revamping our footwear department with elevated price and look.” In addition, he liked the sport coat offerings from Armani and Hickey Freeman and was intrigued by the colors and luxury blends being offered.

“Tailored clothing hasn’t slowed up, and sport coats are on fire,” he said. “We just need a little cold weather.”

Robert Benkert of the Claymore Shop in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Mich., is also excited about the clothing business. “We’re up about 12 percent, our custom clothing business is through the roof and the off-the-rack clothing is right behind it,” he said. Sport coats are also strong sellers, so he was in the market looking for some “good ones” for spring. Despite Detroit’s recent bankruptcy filing, Benkert said the car business remains strong “and guys need new suits to wear in them.”

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