Retail rewind

by Elise Diamantini

Retailers reflect on 2011 and plan for 2012.

A few factors are driving the high single-digit increases that contemporary merchants have achieved year to date: 1) a surge in non-denim bottoms; 2) more affordable pricepoints; 3) slimmer styling; and 4) a new focus on shorts and swimwear. These, combined with creative marketing (see sidebar) should allow retailers to attain increases planned for spring 2012.

Retailers are trying to find that replacement for denim (many reported denim sales as flat or “slightly up”) by taking a strong stand on non-denim bottoms and chinos. The way to transition the denim customer into chinos is by offering them in five-pocket models with a denim sensibility. Chord Bezerra of Universal Gear (who has two stores in D.C. and one in New York) reports a significant growth in brighter color bottoms. Ryan Huber of Context Clothing in Madison, Wisconsin agrees. “Chinos are exploding. We really made a conscious effort to get behind them and there are some really great styles out there. Prices range from $150 to $395 retails and we picked them up from brands like Left Field, RRL, Band of Outsiders and Wings + Horns.” And, though shorts as a category are a lower unit retail than denim, retailers are buying deep into this category for spring in hopes of selling multiples.

Working off of this momentum during the spring ’12 tradeshow circuit, retailers scoured the market for fresh product like shorts, interesting knits, swim and patterned wovens. Although heritage is still important for spring ’12, retailers are looking beyond it for fall ’12.

Says Bezerra, “Vendors have been playing it safe for so long but have finally stepped it up. I saw a lot of cohesive themes like ’50s and ’60s-inspired camp and color stories. There were pops of fantastic jewel tones and rich spice colors to dress up the floor. Topo Ranch came out with cord shorts in nine different colors as a take on the old school OP short but in a modified silhouette for $60 retail. Basically, they’re these beautiful rich colored shorts at an accessible pricepoint.”

Durand Guion, Macy’s fashion director, believes in slimmer, fashion-focused swimwear. “Print and pattern are becoming more important and that translates well in swim. Our guy’s wardrobe is becoming increasingly slimmer so why wouldn’t the same be true for swimwear? He can’t go to the beach wearing baggy swim trunks under a pair of slim shorts!”

Have some fun and take a risk in 2012: test out a new product category from a best-selling brand you already work with. If G-Star denim does well for you, why try out some of their hats for spring? Or get behind a new brand and make it happen, especially if it’s not yet broadly distributed.

Tips for Social Success

Connect with your customers online in different ways than you would when he’s in the store. If your customers (and their friends who you want to make customers) follow your blog, Twitter handle, Facebook page, etc. you already have a captive audience. As Universal Gear’s Bezerra says, “You can’t rely on your old forms of marketing anymore. It’s changed drastically over the past few years and there’s been a huge boom in social media. You have to conform to your customer, find out what sites he’s looking at and how he wants to be interacted with. It’s not just about posting things on Facebook but interacting with them, learning what they want and living the lifestyle with them. We ran a campaign on Facebook called ‘Show Us Your Levi’s’ (pictured left) and asked customers to send in photos wearing their favorite Levi’s. Then we picked the top three and had our customers vote on the best picture. The winner received a free pair and a gift certificate to the store. It’s a fun way to get people involved and interact with them.”

Use social media in a creative way to spark their interest. Context Clothing in Madison, Wisc. has a recurring section on their blog called Recaptured. They take vintage record covers as inspiration and recreate the look using product sold in their store. “That was actually a product of our intern,” explains owner Ryan Huber. “He came to us with this idea and we were all really into it. And it’s not going to be limited to album covers but to all iconic images that inspire us.”

Find out who the influential style bloggers are in your area and befriend them. Invite them in for cocktails and an exclusive after-hours store tour. The right bloggers are reaching not only your current customers but potential ones too.