Many are looking for gains, but they also have plenty of concerns in addition to the uncertain state of the overall economy. Several executives believe, for example, that retailers could take a more aggressive stand with new ideas and concepts, whereas they tend to do only minimal testing. Some say that cautious attitude is affecting manufacturers as well.
Some executives also say they see a current softness in the department store bra business. In addition, retail price promotions remain a sore spot.
Nevertheless, bras and panties, with tailored looks getting an increasing play, are expected to be a leading category over the next six months, although some firms say the growth is coming from volume price ranges, chains and mass merchandiser programs.
Daywear items with a ready-to-wear flavor — camisoles, bodysuits and body blouses, for example — are expected to see additional funding as well. A new breed of casual at-home wear is helping to revive an otherwise quiet robe and sleepwear business, with vendors turning out such looks as layered tunics, big shirts and dressy pajamas.
Foundations executives generally expect sales increases ranging from single digits to 30 percent to push on into the fall and holiday selling seasons. Some foundations and daywear vendors are even anticipating doubling overall business with a broader range of fashion assortments featuring such hot items as camisoles and stretch bodysuits.
Donald Franceschini, chief executive officer of Sara Lee Intimates, a Sara Lee Corp. division, said he believes a “sharpened execution of merchandising, presentation and high-value products that provide a unique, discernible benefit to consumers will provide double-digit growth for retailers and manufacturers in 1993.”
Franceschini noted that the line of Playtex Secrets bodyshapers is a prime example of a product offering a special benefit as a control garment that’s also seamless. After being successfully tested in Europe for two years, Secrets was introduced in the U.S. in March and is expected to reach an annual worldwide wholesale volume of $100 million by 1995.
Franceschini also expects sales growth in the Bali and Playtex brands to continue at 15 percent during the next six months. The Hanes Her Way underwear and bra line and Just My Size line of plus-size foundations are projected at maintaining sales gains of 20 percent.
Larry Karp, president of the Warner’s division of The Warnaco Group, said, “The bra category is still very strong, and we are looking for 10 percent sales increases in the Warner’s and Olga lines, and a 20 percent increase in Valentino Intimo.”
He said increased assortments of fashion are motivating women to step up their bra purchases, in basics as well as in fashion items.
Warnaco, as reported, will also try new distribution channels this fall, as it goes into a test program with an Avon Products catalog featuring exclusive styles from the vendor’s licensed Scaasi line of loungewear and sleepwear.
Tom Wyatt, president of Vanity Fair Mills, a VF Corp. division, stated, “The entire spectrum of newness is driving the business, from high-shine fabrics like Shimmereen to fashion prints and colors. The point is it’s a tough market right now, but the retailers and manufacturers who focus on newness will reap the rewards.”
Wyatt noted that Vanity Fair posted “solid increases” in the first half in total business, and projections are for gains in the high single digits for the remainder of the year. He said Vanity Fair plans major growth in the bra, shapewear and panties categories, with a particular emphasis on volume price ranges.
But despite the efforts made in innovation and more fashion goods, Wyatt accused retailers of being slow to capitalize on these trends.
“If more retailers would be more aggressive about planning — not just testing ideas — their business would generally be much better,” said Wyatt.
Norman Katz, president of I. Appel Corp., said, “We spent a large sum of money on design and we now have 12 designers. We focused on a lot more newness and a broader range of assortments at moderate prices in all of our categories. It’s definitely been a success for us.”
Katz noted, for example, that a focus on novelty cotton knits filling the at-homewear niche has helped bolster the company’s sleepwear business. It began the program last year and has since expanded it.
Katz said a continuing flow of fashion merchandise is expected to generate corporate sales increases of 7 to 8 percent throughout the year. In addition to its Appel robes and sleepwear, the firm makes the licensed Jones New York foundations and daywear and Myonne and Formfit panties.
John Heckler, chairman and chief executive officer of Heckler Manufacturing & Investment Corp., said the firm’s licensed Calvin Klein uderwear line for women posted a 30 percent sales gain in the first half and is expected to repeat in the second half. He credited new products, Klein’s fashion input, and a “considerable investment” in new retail fixturing and packaging for the surge.
Heckler also said he expects the repositioning of the licensed Adrienne Vittadini cotton knit daywear into solids to double the line’s sales to $3 million by 1994. The new look of Vittadini daywear, formerly a print program, was introduced at Bloomingdale’s in March and is now being rolled out to other department stores nationwide.
Mark M. David, chairman of Movie Star, said he expects daywear business in the better-price Cinema Etoile division to double by year’s end. He attributes the projected growth to a demand for stretch bodysuits and camisoles that have a strong rtw flavor.
A major sore point with manufacturers is the frequency of store-initiated off-price promotions in foundations.
Frank Magrone, president and chief executive officer of NCC Industries, maker of Lilyette bras, observed, “There’s still a tremendous lack of consumer confidence out there, and when it’s combined with all of the accelerated sales promotions at department stores, it’s disastrous.” Nevertheless, he said he anticipates a gain of roughly 12 percent in the company’s total bra business for this year.
So far, he pointed out, the company is 14 percent ahead of last year’s figures; he attributed the bulk of that growth to distribution of private label and the licensed Bill Blass line to chains and mass merchandisers.
Marvin Bienenfeld, president of Bestform Foundations, a subsidiary of Ithaca Industries, said his bra business has been running 20 percent ahead of the first six months of 1992. He added, however, that he is projecting it to taper off to 10 percent in the second half, noting the bra business at department stores is “soft.”
“A lot of people think price discount is the final answer,” said Robert A. Brawer, president and chief executive of Maidenform. “I don’t believe that. There’s still room for making brands and doing promotions that appeal to the consumer. We’ll be responding to the pressures the department stores are feeling right now.
Brawer noted that Maidenform will conduct a promotion in August that will give consumers one free bra directly in the store, following the purchase of two Maidenform bras. Maidenform’s Buy Two, Get One Free promotion formerly offered consumers a mail-in coupon for a free bra.
Maidenform will feature another promotion for the first time in the late fall. “Retailers requested it, and it should counteract the dropoff in sales in the late fall,” said Brawer.
In the sleepwear area, Neal Hochman, chairman and CEO of Carole Hochman Designs, said, “I have 95 percent of 1993 booked already. We’re projecting moderate increases, about 10 percent — nothing to brag about. It’s tough out there.”
Hochman added, however, that cotton knits in both the licensed Christian Dior robes and loungewear and Carole Hochman Knits have been the “shining stars” of the company’s business.
Summing up what was on the minds of many manufacturers, Josie Natori, president of Natori Co., commented, “We are being more cautious. I think like everybody else [retailers and manufacturers], we are being conservative with leaner inventories and buying up front from the suppliers. We wait for the orders.
“Everyone is playing it safe — too safe — and that’s especially dangerous for the stores. The industry needs a jolt.”