Tough Times Call for New Tactics

Buyers and exhibitors at two New York trade shows last week said that during periods of economic stress the best defense is a good offense.

Nancy Shank, owner of DUGO, or Dress Up Go Out, in Minneapolis, said business is running ahead of last year. Focusing on special-occasion dressing has helped keep the cash register ringing. "For a wedding or any other big event in life, they are spending as planned. They have saved up for that."

Shank, who also hit the Essex House to see Mark Heister, said there is more interest in separates since they are not "one-time wears."

At the design firm Lourdes Chavez, Chavez's husband, Billy Busse, said he noted a slowdown in February and doesn't expect the economy to bounce back until next February. So the company is encouraging stores to stage more trunk shows, which they are inclined to do because they are stocking less merchandise. As a result, Lourdes Chavez expects to have its best year for trunk show sales, with 60 planned.

"We're trying to get stores to do three trunk shows a year instead of fall and summer," he said, adding that gives salespeople the advantage of being in contact with customers more frequently than they might otherwise be.

With 30 employees in its Vernon, Calif., offices, the company offers a four-to-six-week turnaround for its garments, which has been a plus with stores, Busse said.

At David Hayes, associate designer Enrique Santo Domingo noted that several out-of-state stores at the show in February skipped the May edition.

With consumers shying away from buying complete outfits, buyers looked for more separates, such as a fox-trimmed jacket and a jacket with silk organza trim, which can be worn with different outfits, Santo Domingo said.

Shopping at David Hayes for suits and evening clothes, Leslie Rigler, owner of Miriam Rigler, a boutique on Manhattan's Upper East Side, said: "People want something special and they are willing to spend money for something special. Quality is what's selling."

Suzanne Hendrix, who handles marketing and design for Linda Cunningham, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based eveningwear resource that also owns two signature stores in Jacksonville and Houston, said women are comfortable spending $2,500 or $3,000 but that is as far as they will go. She said she should increase her prices due to fuel surcharges that freight carriers and UPS have instituted. In addition, sourcing fabric from France has become more expensive.
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