By Jean E. Palmieri
with contributions from Aria Hughes
 on June 24, 2015

Spring was a struggle for most men’s stores. But thanks to a solid Father’s Day, the season won’t be a total washout.

Sales for the men’s wear holiday came at the last minute for many retailers, but ultimately, consumers reached into their pockets for a wide variety of merchandise — everything from the requisite golf shirt to high-end luxury sportswear.

With this as the backdrop, men’s merchants are expecting a good fall season. Most purchased conservatively, so that — coupled with some tempting updated merchandise offerings — should result in a decent second half.

“We saw very, very strong results for Father’s Day,” said Tom Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Saks Fifth Avenue. He said the store saw a big surge in the last week “driven by the promotion we did with the Italian Trade Commission, where we featured some of the fashions of Pitti Uomo. We saw a direct correlation to the promotion and it drove a lot of business.”

Ott said accessories were the top performer, particularly small leather goods. “Belts led the way,” he said.

In addition, “pieces related to the promotion from updated Italian resources” including Brunello Cucinelli, Zegna and Canali, were also top performers, he said.

Leading categories included sport coats, trousers and sport shirts, which Ott believes were purchased as gifts. “We picked up a lot of business from the women who were in the store,” he said.

Ott said spring sales started off sluggishly, but “as the season progressed, business has gotten better.” As a result, he expects continuing improvement for fall with strength in outerwear, cold-weather merchandise and advanced contemporary labels. “We’re taking it one day at a time, but we feel good,” he said.

Lou Amendola, chief merchandising officer of Brooks Brothers, characterized overall Father’s Day business as “OK. Because of the shift in the calendar, it was a week later, but it was definitely a Thursday, Friday, Saturday event,” he said.

And it was promotional.

“No one is buying anything unless it’s on sale,” he said, noting that because of the date differential, Father’s Day “coincided with our semiannual sale,” providing a further boost to business.

He said the company posted a single-digit increase over last year, which fell below plan but “wasn’t as bad as the early part of the spring season, when no consumers were buying anything. There was no Easter surge.”

He said business didn’t kick in until the weather stayed consistently warm.

“The 30- to 50-year-old generation only buys when they need something,” he lamented. “It’s not like it used to be when people bought at the beginning of the season and held onto it. So we bring in merchandise before the consumer is ready to buy it, and then have to mark it down.”

For Father’s Day, Amendola said top sellers included the “more formal” categories including tailored clothing and dress shirts. “That seems to be doing better than sportswear,” he said, noting that there’s a proliferation of sportswear in the marketplace, where knit shirts and shorts abound at a variety of price points.

Looking ahead to fall, Amendola is hopeful, but not expecting a blockbuster season. Although the fashion trend toward soft clothing with performance attributes is sweeping the market, and that’s “great for the men’s wear business, I still think until we get into a buy-now-wear-now cycle, things are going to be tough.”

Brooks Brothers was “extremely conservative” in its buying for fall, “so we expect business to be in line with expectations. Our spring plan was more aggressive.”

Dan Farrington, general merchandise manager of Mitchells Family of Stores, said the retailer “sweated it out but came on strong at the end.”

He said up until the last minute, business had been difficult. Although clothing sales had been “better than expected, sportswear was quiet, so I was crossing my fingers. But the weather turned and sportswear started lighting up, too. There was a nice surge.”

Mitchells had success in its “middle zone,” Farrington said, which translated into golf-related apparel from brands including Peter Millar. “We also saw some action with accessories. And we did well with polos and woven sport shirts.”

Farrington said he was optimistic about fall although the company bought cautiously. “But we’re well-edited and will have a good mix of new and existing brands that are all very wearable. So we’re in the right spot, and I think we’ll have a good season.”

Don Weir, co-owner of Stag, a four-unit Texas-based specialty store chain, said Father’s Day sales were up 9 percent over last year at its Austin shop and were also strong in the company’s other three units in Houston, Dallas and Venice, Calif.

“We had a great week of sales with Birdwell Beach Britches, a classic California surf and swimwear brand that’s been around since the Sixties and hasn’t changed their trunks in decades. We always do well with coffee table books during Father’s Day and this year was no exception. The same goes for cologne, luggage — Filson, in particular — and wallets, especially Il Bussetto.”

He said the stores did not run any price promotions, but did feature a Father’s Day-centric grouping of items in its “Pop Shop” section, which “seemed to convert well.”

Weir said he was “encouraged” by the strong Father’s Day results and is “looking forward to a big fall in all of our stores. It will be our first fall in Dallas and Houston, so it’s difficult to predict, but we’re optimistic.”