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NEW YORK -- Joseph Greco is betting on bridge.
Greco, president of Gruppo Americano, a $40 million bridge company here, decided last year that he wanted to take his label "to the next level," and compete with bridge heavyweights such as Emanuel, Tahari and Ellen Tracy.
His first move was to consolidate the three labels the company was using into one name.
Until last fall, Gruppo Americano had the labels Giuseppe, Tempesta and Gruppo Americano Studio. Tempesta, which had been the company's more fashion-forward line, will now be the name of a private label line Greco makes for Federated. Giuseppe is being licensed to a Japanese manufacturer for distribution there. That leaves Gruppo Americano Studio, which will now encompass all of Greco's bridge products.
Wholesale prices of the Studio line run from $34 for a silk knit tank to $150 for the highest price jacket. Most jackets are about $125. The line is sold in department and specialty stores such as Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom.
Greco's next move was to address the increasing taste for sophisticated casual apparel. He teamed up with Bern Conrad, a knitwear veteran, to introduce a casual line of apparel for this fall under the label "Bern Conrad for Gruppo Americano."
Conrad had his own signature knitwear company for several years until he closed it five years ago to spend more time with his family.
"I've never done relaxed clothing all that well," said Greco. "He's always done it. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to maximize the lifestyle business without watering down the Studio business. A lot of bridge companies try to do the casual business, but they've had to do years of research to figure out what the customer wants. Bern already knows what they want."
Gruppo Americano Studio is "a more serious product," said Greco.
"But when I say 'serious,' I mean that there are still circumstances where you can't be dressed down because you won't feel comfortable, no matter how successful you are. But we're trying to keep the two lines very separate. The only common ground will be our production facilities, so that the fit is consistent, there is proper sourcing and the deliveries are timely."
Conrad, meanwhile, said the new line will be "about 60 percent knit and 40 percent woven," using silks, cottons, viscoses and rayons with some wool or leather trim and outerwear. Prices will be slightly lower than those of the bridge line, with jackets wholesaling from about $90 to $150.
There will be 40 to 50 pieces in each group. Colors include primaries in the first group and jewel tones in the second, with related prints and neutrals in each delivery.
"The line is made up of key items that make sense together," said Conrad. "What I see in the stores is that women have to work too hard to look pulled together."
Greco said he's planning "conservatively" for the line to do about $5 million in wholesale volume the first year, and is planning an ad campaign to support the launch.
"I think that will be easy for us [to hit the goal], because we have the flexibility to adjust in the middle of the season," said Greco, who does almost all his manufacturing here. "If we're underestimating, we can readjust quickly."
The first delivery is for July 30. Greco said he sees the Bern Conrad label going to Gruppo's existing accounts as well as to a broader specialty store base.
He's not afraid of losing volume with the changes, he said, because it will be easier for his retail accounts to group the product in one area, and it will be easier to market and advertise one label instead of three.
"Besides," he said, "now the customer only has to remember one name."