The Tide Will Turn

— May 01, 2003

These seemingly aren't the easiest of times for producing and selling apparel. As of this writing, the War with Iraq is raging, job losses are mounting and consumers are edgy about the economy and spending. And yet, there is optimism that the tide will turn.

We all know and intuitively understand the cyclical nature of business. It's just tough to hang on when you're riding those low curves. But the good news about having been through two relatively poor years of retail growth is that it's time for an upswing.

"Fashion wardrobes [purchased two or three years ago] are out of style and will be updated," predicted an upbeat Madison Riley of Kurt Salmon Associates (KSA), speaking before a crowd of apparel and textile executives at the recent annual meeting of [TC]2, the Textile/Clothing Technology Corp. "And consumers will have to replenish basics as well," he added.

Riley, a principal with KSA and the former president of the Children's Group of Stride Rite, sees reinvestment in the economy coming as soon as the third quarter. He says he believes consumers will take advantage of low inflation and additional discretionary dollars obtained through mortgage refinancing to spend on electronics, apparel, recreation/entertainment and the home.

Research from The NPD Group Inc. offers another positive spending indication. In a recent survey released by the market information company, consumers said that while they plan to scale back on discretionary items during the next three months, they are least likely to alter their spending on products affecting their appearance, including cosmetics, skincare and apparel. In fact, a full 45 percent said they plan to spend the "same as usual" on apparel.

That's great news, but it won't amount to better sales for everyone. As Riley observed: "A good economy will not help a poor performer."

With that in mind, the former retailer offered some solid advice for branded apparel manufacturers/marketers, which I believe is applicable to our entire supply chain. Specifically, he said brands and product vendors must differentiate themselves, improve their speed to market and improve operational effectiveness. Riley also encouraged all apparel vendors to step up to the plate in category management.

The latter point is a crucial one. Most apparel producers are justifiably confident, for example, that they know their product categories better than the retailer and are, in fact, in the best position to present and manage a line most likely to appeal to the consumer. But if a retailer cherry picks a line and/or offers a poor presentation, the line can lose its punch, resulting in disappointing sales.

How do you give your products the best chance at sales success? Riley says you become a category captain - you look for ways to help the retailer drive up not just your sales, but sales for the whole category, through more rigorous retail analysis, increased data sharing and collaborative planning.

No matter where you sit in the supply chain, it basically boils down to making your company, your products and your service indispensable. Keep persevering - because the tide will turn. And you don't want to miss that ride back up.

Editor's Note: Visit apparelmag.com for additional highlights from [TC]2's annual meeting.

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