It is no secret that consumers are scrutinizing every expenditure. Price matters when it comes to selling apparel in this market, according to suppliers across a broad spectrum. These same suppliers, however, single out pockets of apparel prosperity, cite new opportunities and also offer some ideas for marketing and merchandising apparel to consumers who are pinching pennies.
Above all, "This is not the time to freeze buying," says Lisa Sperow, president of Madison Avenue Closeouts, which specializes in upscale apparel from major department stores. Her counterparts at other companies agree. "Retailers have to keep things fresh and keep bringing in new product," she says, "in order to entice customers into the store." There is more great product available to wholesalers like Madison Avenue, Sperow points out, based (unfortunately) on the struggles of department stores. "We haven't seen this kind of availability in years."
Sperow says two contrasting areas of her company's business are doing well. "Our budget lots are very popular," she reports, acknowledging that, to consumers, "price matters," a phrase often heard by apparel wholesalers. "These budget lots are primarily private label brands sold at department stores," Sperow explains. "They offer good quality and styling, and can be sold at moderate prices." Typically, her company offers these and all of its products below the wholesale prices originally paid by the department stores. "Most are between 75 and 90 percent off the original retail price," she says.
"On the flip side, we are also doing well with apparel by higher end designers," Sperow reports. "It's a good time to get these designer lines at a good price. That is something bargain hunting, fashion savvy consumers are well aware of," she adds. "It represents an opportunity for retailers to lure these shoppers in."
Madison Avenue Closeouts carries women's, children's dresses and suits, career clothes, sportswear, dressy and intimate apparel and footwear. "We can special order men's apparel," Sperow adds, and on the basis of popular demand, the company has also added bedding and linens, which it sources from the same department stores. "We buy to provide a variety and range of styles, sizes and brands," she says. The minimum order varies by product line, but is usually 100 pieces. The higher end apparel is sold by the case lot, which includes 24 pieces.
Madison Avenue Closeouts sells by the case lot, pallet and truckload, and recently doubled the size of its warehouse at headquarters in Charlotte, NC. Everything that comes into the warehouse is inspected for quality. The warehouse stock is all first quality merchandise. "We try to give retailers as much detail as we can," says Sperow. "We tell the size ranges, brands and types of items. In addition, buyers are welcome to come into the warehouse and pick and choose the items they want. We can sometimes assemble custom shipments for our buyers," she adds. Larger orders for customer returns, which carry even deeper wholesale discounts, are often shipped from the distribution centers of the source of goods. This applies, "even on orders for a few pallets; not just truckloads," Lisa Sperow points out.
T-shirts are always in style and in demand. The wholesale market for blanks, however, is particularly competitive, which gives retailers an opportunity to obtain low wholesale prices. North Pines, in Salisbury, NC, carries blank Ts, sweat shirts, socks and other accessories. They include both first quality closeouts and irregulars, according to David Zirt, owner. The company calls for just a $50 minimum, which can include an assortment of items, although some are sold by the dozen or in prepacks.
The company's blank T-shirts wholesale for a range from $6 per dozen to $39 a dozen for the better quality goods. The former typically sell for $1, while the higher quality units generally retail, "anywhere from $5 to $15," says Zirt. His printer customers add value, but he also sells to stores that sell blanks. "More and more consumers are looking for price bargains," Zirt acknowledges. He reports that many of his retailer customers have found a way to offer bargains, while still raising the total ticket.
"Some stores offer them at five for $10," Zirt says. "Others that carry the least expensive models sell at ten for $10." White and black continue to be the number one and number two best sellers, Zirt reports, and those large urban Ts are still very popular.
Brook Textiles in Chattanooga also specializes in basic blank activewear. They include first quality and graded irregulars of T-shirts, sweatshirts, sport shirts, shorts and denim, according to Bob Brook, owner. "T-shirts are still a staple item and very popular," Brook says, "along with hooded sweatshirts." He agrees, "The market is very competitive. We give a significant discount. A white graded irregular short sleeve T from a major mill, for example, wholesales for as little as 85 cents. Colored Ts wholesale for $1 to $1.08."
Brook sells by the dozen. "We're flexible on what we sell to a beginning retailer," Brook says. "We try to find out about the retailer's business and recommend a mix that will do well for the buyer. We wouldn't send pink to a motorcycle store, for instance." In all cases, Brook Textiles separates goods by size and color, and allows buyers to order an assortment of sizes and colors, or, "If a customer just needs larger sizes, that's fine." Color choices vary by geographic area and type of store.
Most of Brook Textiles' sales are to screen printers, embroiderers, resort stores and others that embellish the products. The retail prices are, "whatever the market will bear," he adds. "Everybody wears T-shirts, and they wear them year round," Brook points out. After 22 years in business, he says, "we've seen a lot of changes, but not in the demand for Ts. Our goal is not a single sale, but the ones that follow the first one. If our customer makes money, we do, too."
Brook also confirms that the "Tall Ts," the oversized units that are often referred to as urban Ts, remain popular. "They became popular in Hip Hop culture, and that has spread to the mainstream," he says, adding, "they're selling well."
Belly dancer costumes are in increasing demand from HP Trading in Los Angeles, reports Haresh Patel, owner. "One size fits all," he says, "and a set consists of a scarf or skirt and a halter that attachés with Velcro, in order to fit anyone." These sets wholesale for $10 to $30, depending on the style. The suggested retail prices typically range from $29.99 to $80, and even $100. Many people have taken up belly dancing as an exercise, Patel notes.
In addition, HP Trading also supplies regular dresses, jackets and skirts, fancy scarves and several kinds of shawls, including Pashima shawls, which Patel says, "are very popular." He also notes that dresses are back in style. "Tie dye units are particularly popular," he adds. The minimum order is $200, and the apparel is sold in prepacks, with six pieces in a pack, including small, medium and large sizes. The wholesale range for dresses from HP Trading is from $8 to $16, and suggested retail prices range from $29.99 to $39.99.
Like other apparel suppliers, Patel echoes, "Price matters. Retailers should promote on price nowadays," he advises. "It is the factor that brings more customers into a store."
The inventory is shown on HP Trading's website. In order to obtain prices, retailers must fill out a form verifying that they are resellers. On approval, they can order from the website, however, "we prefer they call us," Patel says, so he and his staff can guide retailers to products that will sell best in their own market.
Leather is in fashion, reports Bill VanDeBerghe, owner of Fox Hill Farm Wholesale, a company that specializes in motorcycle riding apparel from Leather Gallery Co.. These leather items, from jackets and chaps to gloves, are popular among riders and many others who like the look, he notes.
Fox Hill Farm was founded five years ago, and VanDeBerghe says, "We cater to smaller retailers and rally vendors." For this reason, there is no minimum. The company carries from 750 to 1,000 different items, which are shown in an annual print catalog and on the website. It also sends emails to retailer customers, alerting them to new items and styles. "The best sellers are vests and chaps," he says. "With fall, jacket and glove sales pick up."
Among the Leather Gallery items, the least expensive units are fingerless leather gloves that wholesale for $2.50 a pair. The suggested retail is $6 to $7. The most expensive leather item is a beaded and bone men's leather jacket that wholesales for $180, and has a suggested retail price of between $350 and $400.
Fox Hill Farm also carries, "Close to 100 different styles of biker designed T-shirts, many of which have custom designs, exclusive to us," says VanDeBerghe. These are targeted, he says, to sell in a minimum of one dozen, which includes two medium, four large, four extra large and two 2X units. These prints, on a basic, pocketless, black T, wholesale for $74 a dozen, and on a long sleeve T the wholesale price is $92 a dozen. The retailer can make a markup of 100 to 150 percent, according to VanDeBerghe.
Retailers can pick the design, which is printed on the back and the front of the shirt. Short sleeve units typically sell at retail for $12 to $16, while long sleeve versions are generally sold in the $25 range. While a majority of the company's T-shirts are black, Fox Hill Farm also carries T's in fashion colors. "We also carry a large quantity of ladies' fashion tops, printed or blank," VanDeBerghe says, along with denim shirts for men.
Flexibility is a hallmark of these suppliers. All are willing to guide retailers to selections and assortments that will sell best in individual markets. More than ever, they recognize retailers' need to obtain fresh and appealing fashion merchandise to draw in customers, while also controlling inventory costs.
The following were interviewed for this article:
Bob Brook, owner
Brook Textiles Inc.
100 West 28th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37408
Toll Free: 800-251-6049
Bill VanDeBerghe, owner
Fox Hill Farm Wholesale
PO Box 860028
Shawnee, KS 66286-0028
Toll Free: 877-369-4455
Toll Free Fax: 866-768-9908
Haresh Patel, owner
120 East 15th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Toll Free: 866-944-0333
Tel.: 213-745-0333 and 213-745-6747
David Zirt, owner
North Pines Inc.
210 Hill Street, Ste. J
Salisbury, NC 28144
Toll Free: 877-637-3456
Lisa Sperow, president
Madison Avenue Closeouts
5400 West W.T. Harris Blvd., Ste. K
Charlotte, NC 28269
Toll Free: 866-795-7990, option 1 for sales
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