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2009 Underwear Outlook

Four factors that will shape the men's business in the year ahead.

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Growth in men’s underwear sales has come to a screeching halt as retail volume nationwide continues to slide on fears of the growing financial crisis. But the news isn’t all bad. Here are the key trends to watch:

Men’s underwear sales are slowing down according to The NPD Group, men’s underwear sales dropped 5 percent to $3.6 billion for the 12 months ended in August ’08, compared with $3.8 billion for the same period last year. “As traffic declines in stores we see incremental sales declines in our men’s underwear business,” said Salomon Harari, president of underwear manufacturer Basic Resources, which produces men’s product under the Sean John and Body Glove labels, among others. “September was not such a good month, and October seems to be following September traffic.” 

Underwear sales at department and specialty stores have been the hardest hit, posting drops in unit share volume of 16 percent and 26 percent, respectively, for the three months ended August ’08. And while men’s underwear sales slid 8 percent at department stores and 6 percent at national chains for the 12 months ended in August ’08, all store channels except off-price retailers have experienced decreases. Sales of men’s underwear slid nearly 27 percent at online retailers and 6 percent at chain stores, while discount retailers bucked the trend, posting nearly 8 percent gains in overall dollar sales of the category for the 12 months ended August ’08. 

“The lag in the department and specialty stores comes from the replenishment cycle,” said NPD’s chief analyst, Marshal Cohen. “More underwear is bought as a commodity in mass merchants and discount retailers. Even in tough economic times, when you need new underwear, you need new underwear, and as more name brands become available at lower-priced stores, the lower-priced channels are perceived as offering enough value to fit the need today.”

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