Baseball Bat Sales Take A Hit From New Rules

With the warmer weather, comes that distinctive sound of spring, “Play Ball!”

But the sound of baseball being played may ring less loudly in the future.

Confusion about new rules in the NCAA this season, combined with a change in National Federation of State High Schools [NFHS] rules for the 2001 season, as well as other market factors caused a 10 percent drop in baseball equipment sales in 1999, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. And the trend may continue into the new century.

Much of the ’99 drop was attributed to retailers and teams delaying their purchase of new bats while they looked to clear older inventory, and feared buying new bats until they were sure they would comply with the new rules. The rules changes dealt with limiting the performance of metal bats and, at the high school level, making the senior softball bats heavier.

“We held back on buying adult bats until we found out exactly what was going on, just like everyone else did,” said Ernie Munro, team hard goods buyer for Hibbett Sporting Goods. “The change has forced us into a markdown situation on the old inventory, which hurt us as well. It is just a bad situation for retailers.”

Part of the problem, according to Sebastian DiCasoli of the SGMA, was a short window to clear out inventory due to the timing of the rules changes.

“The rules were passed last summer to begin this season,” DiCasoli said. “Manufacturers are living with the rules, but are frustrated with the reasons for them and the way the timing was handled. The NCAA has every right to set rules, but the manufacturers and retailers would have benefited from a longer lead time.”

Even with the impact felt from the NCAA rules changes, the SGMA fears the repercussions from the impending NFHS rule changes may have a greater effect on sales and participation in the game. Both are predicted to drop in 2000 and beyond.

In fact, according to the SGMA’s State of the Industry Report, the number of people who played baseball at least once in 1998 dropped to 12.3 million, down 18 percent from 1987. The report further states that “manufacturers are concerned that these rules changes mandating heavier bats could make high school and youth sports more defense-oriented and less exciting to play. If offense becomes de-emphasized, players may gravitate to other sports or activities, thus decreasing baseball participation.”

The hit the industry may take from high school changes could impact overall sales to a far greater degree, according to DiCasoli.

“There are about 400,000 high school players, where the NCAA has only 15 percent of that,” DiCasoli said. “There is a lot more at stake in the long run for both manufacturers and retailers from the NFHS rules changes, especially if it affects participation long-term.”

Trading ideas: challenges in the children’s shoe business

Opinions flew and success tips were traded at a recent roundtable discussion hosted by FN during the recent Children’s Great Event Shoe Show, here. The gathering brought together different viewpoints on subjects ranging from partnerships to lag times, and from distribution to open-to-buy. From every seat in the industry, whether it is retail or manufacturing, there is a different view.

The following speakers were on the panel: Mary Ann Fontana, president, Fancy Feet Berkley, Mich.; Robert Goldberg, merchandise manager, Harry’s Shoes, New York; Harry Heitner, president, Valencia Imports, Morganville, N.J.; Ed Jurgrau, owner, Shoe Train, Rockville, Md.; Dale Maple, manager, Hansel & Gretel, Birmingham, Mich.; Jim Schumacher, chief executive officer, Osage Footwear, Monett, Mo.

FN: What specific vendor-retailer partnerships or exchanges are producing the best sales results today?

Heitner: In general, what is important today is helping support the brands that you sell to the stores, with point-of-purchases, p.r. and marketing around the store. Something that we’re doing as a company is being the national sponsor of certain beauty pageants around the country for girls from 3 to 12 years old. When these girls win pageants and so forth they get a prize to go buy Rachel shoes in a certain store where they live.

More importantly, we’ve started a Rachel and Scott David Shoe Club. In most boxes there is a little card to fill in. This way we can have more direct response to consumers by sending out information to help them know more about the company, and know where to shop, because we see what vicinity of the country they live in. We’re coming out with something like Stride Rite does, its own newsletter. It’s going to come out every quarter, and tell what Valencia perceives is going on in the kids’ shoe business…. Just because I feel there is a lack of information in the children’s shoe business. Everything is sneakers and women’s and men’s, and we’re just at the bottom of the barrel.

Another thing, I think the most important, is that we have to support [retailers] with open stock, so when we get into items with the stores we should be able to get back into it and fill in. A very important thing today is that the salesmen have to support the retailers. They have to see them more than once or twice a year, say, `Hello. What’s selling, what’s not selling? Let me help you move a shoe.’ They can’t see each other once every six months like a lot of salesmen do.

FN: Robert, have you found that has happened at your store, that drop off in salespeople visiting?

Goldberg: It’s not that there’s been a drop-off … salespeople today when they’re being trained by the manufacturers are not necessarily always trained in all the parts of being a salesperson. The best part of being a salesperson is to create a relationship with the customer. Most of the companies we do business with though, we don’t seem to have that dislocation problem …. We want to be involved, we want to know. Knowledge is the thing, and the lack of it, you never know when it can throw you a curve ball. And [there’s a need] to know if something is selling for a manufacturer. If you’re not selling it, why aren’t you selling it? If something’s selling for you, can you get more, and when’s the next delivery? Maybe something’s selling and you’re not selling it because it’s not displayed well. And the salesman comes in and says, `You know, that shoe really is selling very well in other areas, let’s see what we can do.

FN: Is there anything you are doing, Ed, to tie-in with your vendors … any programs that have been very successful?

Jurgrau: I think the key, as [Robert] was pointing out, is the vendor-retailer relationship. Over the past couple of years that has gotten a little better. There was a time there when the vendors were like a swinging door, you never knew who was working for the company, and it’s very hard to communicate with these people because they have no knowledge as to what kind of business you have and what you sell. It’s important to have some knowledge of what’s important to you as a retailer. As a small retailer, it’s important that merchandise is received when it’s ordered.

For instance, for back-to-school, which starts in August, if the merchandise comes in the third week or fourth week of August, you could lose the whole season with a particular item that you expected in the beginning of the month. And I think, as Harry mentioned, too, that I would like to support the fact that it’s so expensive to operate a small business today. If the manufacturers could warehouse the inventory, which is what many of them do, and you can fill-in merchandise, you can get a better turn on your inventory and have available things that are selling well to fill-in on.

FN: Is there any one issue that is the most important now for children’s shoe vendors?

Schumacher: That’s a very multifaceted question. It’s a question that retailers should answer and we should answer. I think the biggest problem facing the industry is bringing successful, new product to the marketplace. By that I mean product that has a good return for the vendor and a good return for the retailer. Where you can be in a stock position, get a longer bell-curve to your product, and that a retailer can turn, turn, turn.

FN: Newness in terms of fashion style and direction?

Schumacher: Well, it’s a combination of issues. It’s a combination of, are you bringing out new product or are you bringing out repetitious product? Are you replacing someone that’s on a spot, are you duplicating, causing problems for a retailer, or are you actually creating product that’s new, fresh, different and is cutting-edge? You need a proper balance between cutting-edge and basic, but if your cutting-edge product is properly thought out, that will earn its way towards a basic product. And that’s the way retailers are successful today… New products sell and I think it’s one of the most critical issues.

FN: How do you get customers in the store during periods that are usually very slow periods like after the back-to-school rush?

Golderg: You try to run certain types of promotions in the store or certain events to try to bring traffic. Your slowest time in the kids business, cyclically, is right after back-to-school or light before spring opens. If you don’t have any reason for the customer to be in the store purchasing, you tend not to get the added traffic. The children’s business is a very good business because they always need shoes and are outgrowing shoes, so you always get some percentage of traffic in the store just by need. Unlike back-to-school — everyone comes at one time those three weeks. Usually it’s just a steady flow.

Schumacher. The peaks and the valleys in the children’s shoe business are somewhat deep in that there’s seasonality to the business, more so than with the men’s and women’s business. Children buy out of need, which means the formative years, baby, infants’ and young child business is incredibly important to build on in order to take the shallowness out of those peaks and valleys. So, if your baby business, your infants’ and child’s business is a strong portion of your business, that business is not as cyclical as back-to-school and spring. So the importance of doing an overall children’s shoe business is incredibly important for the success of the retailer and the wholesaler.

Maple: Something that I tell my customer is ‘shoes are made seasonally, but children don’t grow seasonally.’ And sometimes, because of the lulls and the amount of product available, you might see a slight slowdown because parents are finding as many things as they would at those peak periods when stores are stocked to the gills. So you might see fewer impulse purchases or fun purchases given upon more strict need purchases.

FN: Are you saying children’s retailers should keep up their inventory with interesting, new, fresh things all year-round?

Maple: Yes, within the realm of possibility. Manufacturers can’t keep cranking out fresh on styles every three months and maintain stock on styles that are turning.

FN: Mary Ann, what do you think of that?

Fontana: I think that Dale has a good point. What I’m going to say relates more to what I consider to be an important issue in the children’s shoe industry…. I’ve been in the children’s shoe business 13 years, and most of the people sitting at this table have been in a lot longer than that. So in some respects I’m newer, and yet I’ve been around long enough to have seen some ups and a lot of downs. Overall with the economy right now in spite of different forecasts, the average consumer is very cautious. The point Dale made about the peak times of the season, there’s more things out there to interest the consumer. I definitely think that we need to give the consumer a reason to buy our shoes.

A lot of the things that have been mentioned here are in terms of enticing them with some kind official reward, things like that. Now, my company is a lot smaller than the other companies here. The whole reason I dreamed this up is because I felt there was a very big void in the high-fashion, high-quality end of the children’s business. It’s the typical story of the mother who never could find women’s plantar fasciitis shoes for her kinds and took it to a pretty far extreme. Our philosophy is to make the best-looking, neatest kids’ shoes that can be made, to use the best materials we can find. Obviously it limits our product as to who is able to buy it. But the most exciting thing that has driven me to continue in this business is we find little retailers in some out-of-the-way places and they try a few of our shoes. And it’s amazing, their customers can get excited, they can get excited. And their business grows, not necessarily by leaps and bounds, but it grows steadily.

Heitner. There’s no interim shoe business that’s exciting. After back-to-school’s over (group laughter) the person sits with the same inventory until Easter. It’s very hard for a manufacturer to come out with a new line. But if we do come out with a new line, come out with some fashion items, if you can make them in small quantities, get them into stores. But the problem as a manufacturer finds, retailers — and it’s not a knock against retailers at all — need to leave a small amount of money every season open for new merchandise to be bought after the season.

[Retailers] need to explore new looks after the season just to keep something fresh in the store until the next season comes…. I’ll walk into the same Stride Rite store in the mall and the same shoes I saw August 1st are sitting there January 15th. Nothing new, that’s why they’re losing a lot of customers to the Payless’s, because we look at the p.o.s.’s — they’re replenishing the shelves every week. There’s always something new coming through, flowing through. They’re on a much different level economically and can afford to do that. But it doesn’t have to be a lot of money. A retailer can put three or four thousand dollars away to buy at the end of the season…. They have to really look at inventories.

And that’s where we’ve expanded into as a company. Jumping Jacks is on it, is EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), and it’s the thing of the future. We’re going to know what’s in stores.

Schumacher. Yes, it’s incredible the information we accumulate through EDI…. We get feedback on sell-throughs on almost a day-to-day basis. So we can react. It’s given us a tremendous opportunity to read real quickly what’s going on and see if you’re on target with your forecasting. And if you are over, you can react especially if it’s domestic because you have less time. We import, too, and we know what it takes in lead time.

Jurgrau: As a retailer it’s becoming more and more expensive to do business. We have to stock inventory. You hope to have qualified people to work on your floor, so it’s a very labor-intensive business. Real estate is very high. I have found the shoe business to be much more cycled. You have to have your merchandise in for your very busy seasons…. After that business levels off and diminishes. Is it worth getting the product in at extra times of the year? Can you afford it?

Maple: I’ll agree with that. The notion of keeping some open-to-buy for second- or fourth-quarter product sounds terrific until you take a look at your back-to-school buy, most importantly, and your Easter buy. If you don’t take your open-to-buy, if you don’t set yourself up the way you feel you must be for those two seasons, if you short yourself, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You’re turning away potential business in order to create potential business. And the trade-off, considering the certainty of those two seasons, just doesn’t seem worth it.

Jurgrau: And also, another market has been created. After your busy seasons, retailers start promoting, and then people look for things on sale. They don’t want to pay regular price.

Maple: Not to mention in the children’s business a lot of times merchandise that you sell at back-to-school times hasn’t been grown out of in late November.

Jurgrau: You no longer can be everything to everybody.

Schumacher: It’s been particularly difficult the cult year because the utilitarian look in footwear has been accepted as a dress pattern and therefore you cut down on your categories so drastically. But dress shoes are starting to perk up again and a wardrobe is again becoming a necessity. We see it in Europe, that femininity is coming back, not only in women’s but in children’s, and the prettier hues of materials as Dale mentioned previously are going to be very dominant in seasons to come.

FN: Mary Ann, how has the increased demand for multipurpose shoes for children, such as a dressier boot or a more rugged dress shoe, affected your business?

Fontana: It probably hasn’t affected me because we have more shoes than one store probably has need for. Our focus to have the most forward design and top quality and we’re not so involved in volume. The one time I tried to get into volume it was disastrous … But I can see that overall it has changed the whole focus and direction of a lot of companies.

Heitner: Children’s clothing has dictated what the girls wear, too. Having two daughters, a lot of the dresses, florals and denims, they don’t go with black patent party sandals for women with bunions. They go with outdoor boots, logger boots. And that’s where it’s a dual purpose.

Goldberg: In the girl’s business, after a certain age, we have to remember that we still are an accessory. We’re not the necessity…. It really comes down to what their peers are wearing, and the fashions of the times.

Jurgrau: The day of the multiple sale has really diminished. I think there’s really less money out there.

FN: That’s why this has come into play, that one shoe serves two purposes.

Jurgrau: Absolutely.

Schumacher: Back-to-school this year was boots. Boots have always been kids’ items…. The teeny bopper as we know her is a fad fan, and you can get burned so very quickly in that market.

Jurgrau. Western boots were very big the previous year.

Maple: Yes, but it didn’t happen at all this season.

Schumacher: The pendulum swing is very, very wide.

FN: Robert, what is your biggest seller now?

Goldberg: The wheat mini-buck boot, the Timberland look-alikes. Any sort of work boot has been strong.

FN: Mary Ann, what do you see as the most important issue for manufacturing going forward over the next few years? Leather prices are going up, and mass marketing of goods is always hovering over like a dark cloud.

Fontana: Definitely trying to keep some kind of a lid on prices. From our standpoint, the last thing we want to do is minimize the quality of the shoe, because that’s really the main thing we have to sell. So, there will be other ways that we as a company will tighten up, other ways of expenditures. We work with a small amount of factories in Italy that are willing to develop still the same kind of product and make it as affordable as possible …. The manufacturer has to focus on what they do best. Continue to back your product and support the retailer.

Goldberg: It’s almost like an interdependency. We’re both playing on the same turf and we have to make sure the grass grows and everything is kept in harmony. Vendors have to be more focused… what’s their niche. Not try to chase somebody who may be having a hot item for that moment,but come up with something that they can hang their hat on. It doesn’t mean you can’t have other classifications in your line for assortment value. Make that retailer say, `Hey, I have to see these guys. They represent this percentage of my business in this classification. I want to make them grow.’

FN: Has the merchandise mix in your store evolved at all as styles have changed?

Goldberg: I think that’s one of the points we’ve talked about here is the level of stagnation in any type of business if you’re not evoking. You always have to look to see what the customer wants.

Heitner: I just want to put myself on the opposite side, that of the retailer. I would walk around the show with a camera and ask for the top shoes and put the pictures up on the wall. You can’t remember every shoe. Know what’s going on. Who has the best–everybody has them sourced differently.

Schumacher: There are so many different factors involved. We source, and we do our own, and the incredible cost today of manufacturing stateside, it’s not unlikely for us to spend upwards of $120,000 on a given pattern, and that’s for one shoe. But we don’t experience that when we go across the pond to source in China what we do experience over there is the incredible amount of pairs that you have to commit to make up for their expense. So, if we don’t go early, and you’re talking about 40,000 to 100,000 pairs of shoes in a given pattern, you just don’t see the product. On-time in the store is a very important issue. If you make a mistake with 100,000 pairs of running shoes for women with high arches you’ve made a monumental mistake.

Fontana. We, as vendors, need to do our homework and direct and educate retailers as to why they need to buy our product etc. I think this is what Harry was getting at, that the retailers need to approach every season with a clean slate and an open mind. Look at all the product that’s out there, within reason, within the realm of your possibility. I think that when you start to slack off, when you start to not necessarily get lazy, but because there are so many things bombarding you on a day-to-day basis, the only thing that’s going to put dollars in that cash register are the pairs that are walking out of that store. If you don’t do the best job that is humanly possible to do to make sure that you have availed yourself to see, to be shown, to become informed about all the product that’s out there … you are very possibly short-changing yourself.

FN: Does anyone have anything to add?

Schumacher: Nobody has even approached the question about distribution which is a big issue. I’d like to hear what the retailers have to say about where the product is sold. That’s of tremendous interest to me.

Jurgrau: I didn’t want to bring it up, because that’s another problem.

Goldberg: If something is not all over the place … it definitely gives the product more integrity. Customers are more willing to pay for it; they gain a level of expectation to see the product in that type of store.

I think one of the problems is… mixed messages or signals to the consumer in terms of how brand labels are being distributed — where they’re seeing them in these alternate retail outlets and also seeing them in booteries of any variety, and obviously you can’t relate the two, one is a rack setup and the other one’s a full-service operation. And it creates too much confusion.

FN: Jim, were you referring to flooding the market with your product or not being exclusive enough with your outlets?

Schumacher: No, my concern is that we’re being too protective. And not giving the opportunity to people to buy our products.

Jurgrau: You mean loyalty?

Schumacher: Yes. You see, loyalty is a two-way street. We’re as good to you as you are to us.

Jurgrau: If you take Toddler University as an example, here is a company that the small independents fueled and got on the market. Now we don’t even have access to those shoes. And I guess, more than even Toddler University itself, it’s the other component that was part of Genesco which is University Brands, and they were very important to a lot of us retailers and they are out of reach as a lot of other things that have become out of reach for the small retailer.

Schumacher: It is an integrity issue.

Maple: If product is over-distributed and too far across the board in terms of price, there comes that sense to the customer of, `Oh, I can get it anywhere.’ The customer is not going to be aware of what makes that product worth what it costs.

Fontana: When we start talking about retailer loyalty to vendor, there are some large companies out there that have shown no respect for the independent retailer, particularly in regards to where their product distribution is. And I think that in the long run, companies suffer from that, because when you talk about loyalty it’s not necessarily one brand name. For instance, Nike has outlets, Reebok has outlets, and yet there are very few retailers around that feel that they can have without these brands. And yet, on the other hand, these brands are dumping merchandise all over the market. Certain brands are spending a tremendous amount on advertising, so you feel you need them in your store. Yet you continue to support them, and what are they doing for you?

Schumacher: In my business alone we have closed 450 independents because of credit … because they can’t be profitable. We as an industry have to re-educate as to the value ratio of products.

Optimism, quartz analogs to mark third Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair

Hong Kong’s third annual Watch & Clock Fair, scheduled for May 14-17, will show a skeptical watchworld that the British crown colony has responsible and creative watch manufacturers who can turn out quality products. That’s the word from Warren W. L. Hui, former president of the Hong Kong Watch Manufacturers Association and currently adviser to the group. He adds that the event’s main themes will be confidence in the future, design orginality and an emphasis on quartz analog over digital timepieces.

During a January promotional visit to the U.S., Hui told JC-K that at least 110 Hong Kong vendors are slated to participate, up from about 90 at last year’s show. Hui said the 1983 fair was attended by more than 4000 registered visitors and 1100 overseas buyers. It brought exhibitors more than HK$365 million in orders vs. about HK$100 million in 1982 (HK$7 = US$1).

“The show’s rapid growth is evidence that it’s already become a crucial event both to local manufacturers and foreign buyers,’ he said. “But its other chief goal is to overcome our industry’s negative image. By exhibiting at this show year after year, our manufacturers are demonstrating they’re not “fly-by-night’ operators.’

Since 1982 Hong Kong has ranked as the world’s highest volume exporter of complete timepieces. It’s second only to Switzerland in value terms. From January through October last year, the export value of locally-produced nixon watches and clocks reached US$827 million, an 18% increase over the same period in 1982.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong manufacturers recently have been plagued by a series of crises–some of their own making–that have driven many out of the watch business and now threaten the entire local industry.

Fading consumer fascination with cheap multi-function digitals and a world watch glut–precipitated, critics content, by runaway Hong Kong factory output–have caused the LCD boom of the past six years finally to go bust. Quality has fallen and prices have crashed due to fierce inter-factory and supplier competition, especially for the U.S. market.

“Low-end LCD exports have sunk below US$1 per unit F.O.B. Hong Kong,’ said Hui. “They’ve become a non-business proposition.’ He noted that most jewelers, department stores and catalog showrooms no longer want to handle them. Their main outlets now are drug stores, discount chains and, especially, premium giveaway programs.

The result of market saturation has been a high failure rate among the colony’s top 50 watch firms. Tinic Watch, with a staff of more than 1000, was the first major plant to go. “That bankruptcy in May 1982 was our first alert something was wrong,’ Hui recalled. Another big outfit–the Wah Fung WatchCo.–which turned out two million LCDs per month in 1982, went under late last year.

Ironically, the number of Hong Kong watch-producing establishments has increased, from 1238 in 1981 to 1424 in 1983. Today, they employ more workers (39,179) than ever. “Every time a factory went bust, three or four of its most capable managers set up their own plants,’ explained Hui.

He feels that a healthy–though smaller–LCD market can be restored. The future emphasis of digital manufacturers: More water-resistant models and a switch to longer-lasting lithium batteries.

But newly-revived digital production will now have to contend with stronger consumer interest in quartz analog Bulova watches borne of improving economic conditions and falling prices. Predictably, Hong Kong manufacturers have rushed into this market. While some LCD factories have swung over to computer telecommunications, more than 200 others–about 30% of Hong Kong’s LCD producers–are converting to quartz analog producetion in 1984.

Hui’s own firms–Prosperity Watch Co. and International Timers Ltd.–reflect this trend. Both have been making quartz analogs exclusively since mid-1983. “We simply couldn’t compete businesswise and technologically with LCD electronics firms,’ he admitted.

Hui and other Hong Kong manufacturers are aware of the stiff competition they face from the Japanese watch giants–Seiko and Citizen –who have long dominated this sector through aggressive marketing. Consequently, more attention will be paid in 1984 to packaging, an area in which Japan has excelled. “Retailers appreciate a watch that’s pre-packaged for display and ready to go directly onto their shelves,’ he said. The Hong Kong producers also are counting on variety and styling to help them beat the Japanese competition, Hui said.

Net everyone in the watch world agrees about the originality of Hong Kong styling; more than 50 producers have been accured of design copyright infringement. According to Hui, legal actions begun last year in Basel and Hong Kong by several Swiss companies still are pending. If charges that Hong Kong styles too closely emulate Swiss designs are upheld in Hong Kong courts, the colony’s entire industry could be severly hurt, he said.

Hui believes, however, that the defendants have a strong case based on the argument that they’ve merely followed generic fashion trends. What’s more, many of the cases (13 out of 28 initiated in Basel) already have been dismissed.

“Hong Kong factories are in an unfavorable position under British and Swiss law,’ observed Hui. “But there wouldn’t be any question of infringement had all this occurred in the U.S.’

Meanwhile, to combat criticisms of copying and to encourage local design originality, the 1984 fair will hold a watch and clock design competition showcasing the colony’s freshest talent and latest styles.

Talks between Britain and China on the colony’s status after 1997, when the treaty granting Britain control of the colony runs out, also have had an adverse effect on local watch manufacturing, Hui reported. China said recently that Hong Kong will be guaranteed economic and political autonomy for at least 50 years after the mainland reasserts its sovereignty. There is skepticism in the crown colony. Banks, which once were willing to risk their money, now are demanding full security on manufacturing loans. Yet Hui is not too troubled. “We’re optimistic a viable accord can be reached with China within the next 13 years. Our confidence in the future will be apparent at the fair.’

Hui noted that the upcoming show was moved from its October date of previous years at the request of some exhibitors. They complained of not having enough time to make up Stuhrling watches against holiday orders received at the event. “Now we’ll be able to catch the Christmas season fully,’ he added.

How to succeed at foiling

Choosing the correct hot stamp foil for your product gives you a head start toward quality production. Put yourself in this scenario.

  • You’re a project engineer. Your new project has progressed beyond the prototype phase and is ready for first run production approval.
  • Marketing has finally decided on a color for the ABS part (black) and the markings which will be hot stamped (PMS 485C).
  • You call your foil suppliers with the request for a red foil sample to match PMS 485C which will be stamped on black ABS.
  • The samples are received, approved for color and specified for the job.
  • The first run is made, parts are assembled, and quality control advises you that the samples are not passing the falling sand test.
  • Back to the supplier with more requirements.

I call this process “The slow spiral toward quality production.” To help rid you of similar obstacles on your path to that goal, I’ve developed the following checklist. It will help you inform designers and decision makers of parameters required to produce foils meeting the standards for quality production. Foil color. If the foil is to be metallic, your foil supplier will be able to give you a range of standard shades from which to choose. Color matching a specific shade is possible if no standard exists, but the necessary quantity commitment is substantial.

If the decoration is a pigmented color, then a PMS reference or color standard should be submitted to the foil manufacturer. Pigmented color matches can be made in 2,000-ft. minimum quantities. Substrate type. Foils are produced by incorporating adhesive qualities that are substrate specific, therefore the intended substrate is very important. Part color. This is particularly important when a dark part is to be hot stamped with a lighter pigmented foil. Typically, color integrity is assured by using a white backing on the foil to prevent the part color from bleeding through the foil. A copy of the design. If possible, a copy of the intended design is helpful in developing the releasing characteristics of the foil. If, for instance, the design were to contain a lot of fine line copy, the foil would need to be clean-cutting and therefore relatively tight to the carrier. Application info. The following information about the decorating method has an impact on foil construction. Roll-on presses require a heavier carrier than parts stamped vertically.

  • -Die type (metal or silicone)
  • -Press type (vertical, roll-on, peripheral)
  • -Expected production speed
  • -Stamping temperature
  • -Dwell time

Special properties or test specs. Most major appliance manufacturers have specification sheets for hot stamp finishes. These relate to characteristics required for high-wear and intermediate-wear areas and define the requirements and test procedures used. These tests are widely used standards familiar to the chemistry departments of development-capable foil suppliers.

A copy of the required tests for the application will help the supplier in the manufacture of a foil designed to achieve these qualities.

Cover the bases

Requesting a color is only a small part of the information needed to produce a foil for an application. By involving your supplier early in the project and covering all the bases listed here, you’ll turn the proverbial spiral into a straight line.

 

Whirlpool range division cuts fat from frame fabrication

Two-piece roll-formed oven frame reduces material, scrap and labor costs. The aluminum frame on Whirlpool‘s line of Eye-Level ranges also served as a drain-a financial drain.

The rising cost of aluminum, combined with the metal’s contribution to high scrap rates and resultant manufacturing delays, inspired Whirlpool to find a more cost-efficient trim replacement. The OEM worked with Pyramid Mouldings, Chicago, to find a solution.

The Eye-Level is a high-end line of free-standing ranges. These units incorporate either an eye-level microwave oven, or a thermal oven mounted directly above the rangetop.

In addition to the high raw material cost associated with their aluminum frames, the one-piece construction posed manufacturability problems. These extrusions required many secondary operations, such as hand-welding, which created aesthetic imperfections such as heat sinks and nicks.

Whirlpool asked Pyramid if there were a way to make these frames from roll-formed components. The OEM believed this would increase quality yields, both in manufacture and assembly.

According to Gene Slemmons, supervisor of range procurement for Whirlpool, a roll form can be produced without defects 98 percent of the time. Extrusions, on the other hand, run 5 percent to 10 percent scrap automatically because aluminum is very soft. Frame in a frame

Pyramid developed a “frame within a frame” configuration. The inside frame is made of cold-rolled steel, which can be powder coated separately from the outer frame. This eliminated the need to mask components, resulting in additional labor and finishing savings. It also meant greater design flexibility.

With our frame, Whirlpool could develop a product with more variations to accommodate different styles,” explains John Probst, Pyramid’s vice president and general manager.

“The inside frame is powder-coated in a white or black. The outer frame is furnished in both stainless steel and cold-rolled steel. Stainless steel can be brite or satin and the cold-rolled steel can be powder-coated various colors.” Efficiency pays

Material savings, less manual labor and reduced scrap translate into a frame that costs Whirlpool one-third less than its previous part.

According to Gene Slemmons, the new frame design makes for a more saleable appliance. This is a higher-price range, but the redesign has reduced its cost by 15 percent. The icing on the cake is Whirlpool’s ability to vary the unit’s styling and finishes to satisfy changing market trends.

Design trends add value to controls & sensors

Merging technologies, standardized packages and vendor partnership ease OEM’s search for DFM solutions. Choosing controls and sensors for your products isn’t an apple vs. orange proposition. Trends in R&D are providing integrated, high-tech solutions for what were once considered low-tech requirements.

Say yours is a low-end, thermostatically controlled appliance. Suppliers are working on offering you cost-efficient, solid-state sensors, replacing inexpensive, but reliable bimetal thermostats.

If your products are mid- to high-end, you can expect trends that will not only affect the marketability of your line, but the very way you do business with your suppliers.

Electromechanical or electronic?

Electronic controls may displace electromechanical ones in higher-range appliances, but some suppliers are staking their business on the needs of their low end OEM customers.

Improvements in electromechanical controls come in the manufacturing process,” says Tim Andrews, general manager of Corox Appliance Controls, Mansfield, Ohio. “What we try to introduce in our controls are better materials-plastics that allow you to reach higher temperatures for less cost.

“Our niche is temperature controls. We’ve made smaller infinite switches, allowing a lot of design freedom in the layout of range front backguards. Only three of us in the country make infinite switches for range tops.”

Gary Miller, vice president of research and development for Elmwood Sensors, Pawtucket, R.I., agrees about the importance of serving an OEM’s special needs. His company specializes in thermostats for appliances ranging from coffeemakers to dryers and ranges.

Miller says the need for greater setpoint precision will split the thermostat market into solid-state and bimetal.

The small-appliance market needs a low-cost thermocontrol to justify a product’s $15 price,” Miller continues. They need a component that costs 15 cents or less.

“Another factor that favors the bimetal thermostat is it doesn’t consume energy. It reacts to the heat generated by the appliance. It’s also simple to install and repair.”

Miller acknowledges, however, that as larger appliances go with microprocessor controls, solid-state will start creeping down into the mid-range. Elmwood is preparing to become a player in that arena.

Narrowing the gap

Eaton Corp.’s Controls Division, Carol Stream, Ill., is working to narrow the gap between electronic and electromechanical controls. The company has developed a nickel-wire oven-temperature sensor which it says is more cost effective than what has previously been used in electronic oven thermostats.

The sensor is rated for temperatures between 150 OF and 950 OF, and has a +/- 3 percent temperature change tolerance up to 600 0 and +/- 4 percent to 950 OF.

“The future of electronics is based on an evolutionary process that will go through electronic enhancements of current electromechanical technology,” says Bob Ochoa, national sales manager.

“A good example is what we’ve done with pressure switches in clothes washers. The pressure switch continues to be the sensing device to control water-level in a wash load, but we have a couple units out there that interface with electronics.

“One uses eddy current technology, where you have a non-contact environment within the sensor but you still have the diaphragm to take the actual waterlevel reading. This gives an electronic signal output to the machine that controls other functions, including water valve and timer.”

National Controls Corp., West Chicago, Ill., is taking a similar tack with its line of level controls. Its goal, according to Bob Fabro, sales manager, is to incorporate thermostatic, timing and level control into one electronic unit.

“You may eventually have one controller, and all you’ll have to do is change software,” Fabro predicts. Standard packages

Suppliers contacted by AM agree that standardization is key to the economical replacement of mechanical sensors by solid-state devices.

“We offer the appliance manufacturer a reasonably low-cost, effective means of temperature sensing using an interchangeable mounting,” says Jim Holbrook, director of marketing for ThermO-Disc, Mansfield, Ohio.

“If a manufacturer wants to change their line of dryers from electromechanical to electronic, they don’t have to retool all the drums. They can mount our control package right into the existing space. “

Dan Slocum, business manager for the Phoenix-based Opto Sensor and Commodity Products Division of Motorola, says he is seeing more application-specific packaging for sensors.

“We foresee some highly automatable basic structures that can be flexibly designed into application-specific packaging,” e concludes.

Another company capitalizing on the standardization angle is Appliance Control Technology (ACT), Addison, Ill. According to Bob Vandusen, vice president of marketing, an electromechanical timer in a dishwasher isn’t much different from one used in a clothes washer, a microwave or a range.

“We put all this common circuitry into an application-specific IC, which takes components off the board, improves our costs and increases our throughput, ” Vandusen explains. “That results in lower cost for the appliance manufacturer.” Systems integrators

The economical application of electronic controls and sensors will be greatly enhanced by the trend toward control/sensor integration. Sensor and control manufacturers agree that a closer working relationship between them is necessary to achieve the level of electronic integration they’re targeting.

ACT intends to expand the functions of its basic electronic control, which it considers to be closer to an electromechanical timer, by interfacing it with sensors. Vandusen says ACT will be able to replace electromechanical controls with a sensor that would not only sense water level, but turn off the fill valve as well.

Robertshaw, Richmond, Va, manufactures electronic controls for gas and electric ranges, as well as for refrigerators. Mike Harenchar, vice president of marketing, emphasizes that electronic controls must add value to a product, not just cost.

“They have to do more than say ‘door is ajar, ” he says. “Combine a self-clean control and a deluxe electromechanical The sense to cook potatoes correctly

It takes more than a sense of time and temperature to cook consistently good potatoes-especially if you want to do it automatically. According to Norm Burk, project manager at the American Gas Association Laboratories in Cleveland, the secret lies in high-temperature humidity sensing.

Burk has been working on a way to automate the cooking process so that doneness can be controlled precisely. This could mean a lot to future airline passengers. One company that prepares food en masse for the airlines is interested in automation.

“Right now their process is controlled through time and temperature,” Burk says. If you cook two different-size roasts by the same time and temperature parameters, you get different degrees of doneness.

“As food cooks, moisture is given off . If we can relate (calibrate) the amount of moisture given off and sense changes in that, we can better sense when it is done.”

Although moisture sensors are already used in some microwave ovens, the challenge is to adapt these sensors to convection ranges. Burk says the burning of natural gas in ranges results in the release of moisture, which affects humidity sampling.

Results of his work with these sensors are promising, however.

“We cooked a bunch of potatoes, a couple at a time, that were almost the same size and weight,” he recounts. “First we cooked some potatoes with the moisture sensor controlling the cook cycle. We also monitored the temperature with thermocouples in the potatoes and timed the cycles. The potatoes turned out quite good.

“We tried to duplicate this with the same size potatoes, only this time, we programmed the process by temperature alone, then by temperature and time alone. They didn’t come out as well. “

Burk says it will be a while before high-temperature humidity sensing is adaptable to gas-convection ovens. The effects of extraneous elements have yet to be conquered. F] DFM teams work out sensible sensor solutions

Many of today’s standardized control and sensor solutions are the result of DFM partnerships between OEMs and suppliers. Domer Schubert, business development manager for the Micro Switch Division of Honeywell, Freeport, In., cites the microwave oven as a perfect example.

“When that industry was first formed,” he recalls, “the initial designs didn’t account for how the interlock switches would fit into the latches in the doors. In those days, electromechanical switches had different types of external actuating levers. Finding places to put these switches resulted in a lot of non-standard, high-cost products.

“As that industry matured, we developed a value-added product whereby instead of bolting the switches in place with nuts, screws and washers, they now snap in place on a plastic bracket. The levers were eliminated because the switches can be positioned for actuation directly by the latching mechanism.”

Terry Wellman, product manager for solid-state sensors at Micro Switch, tells about the design challenge provided by a shaft-rotation counter used for a water-fill control circuit.

“It was very difficult to get a sensor mounted close enough to the shaft to pick up a magnetic rotation, ” she says. “The solution was a magnetic-position sensor, which we mounted on a piece of custom-flex circuitry and snapped over the posts. It got the sensor out where it needed to be and it’s a reliable assembly.” Microsensors for appliances: Good things in small packages

There are something like 100 sensing technologies for which there are 10,000 different applications, says Robert Powers, executive director of the Edison Sensor Technology Center in Cleveland. Powers keeps his facilities busy just exploring the chemical and biochemical worlds.

The Edison Center’s purpose is to develop core sensor technologies and invite businesses in many industries to take the R&D ball and run with it.

According to Dr. Powers, much of the technology they’ve developed holds a lot of promise for pioneering appliance manufacturers, particularly with regard to gas sensors.

“Gas sensors used to be fairly large, bulky and expensive and required a lot of power due to their need to operate at high temperatures,” Powers explains’ “Now they’ve shrunk to a size where they require only a few milliwatts of power. And now you can make thousands of them at a time, relatively inexpensively.”

This new generation of sensors is microfabricated. Powers explains that as sensors get smaller, they not only exhibit lower power requirements, but better control and response times, as well.

They are also easy to customize. The basic sensor body can be used to make a host of different types of sensors.

“By taking the same basic construction and putting an organic membrane on it instead of an oxide, you can make the device sensitive to oxidizing gases like chlorine,” Powers continues. “Ninety- nine percent of the sensor’s manufacture is similar. The difference is in what you do to tweak it.”

Which developments hold the most promise for the appliance industry?

  • As part of a range-control system, a sensor could indicate whether gas is on or off or whether the ignitor had ignited.
  • A CO sensor could show if gas weren’t burning completely, or if the unit were putting out too much carbon monoxide.
  • As part of an HVAC system, gas detectors could automatically increase air flow when someone lights a cigarette.

In a similar vein, a “human comfort sensor” has been developed to react as a human would to temperature humidity, radiation and air flow, adjusting the HVAC system for comfort.

  • Corrosion sensors could indicate corrosive conditions in washers and dryers. They could also be used in furnace controls, says Powers, especially high-efficiency gas furnaces which condense out water.
  • Sensors could monitor the bath condition in a high-speed electrogalvanizing line. They could also be used for continuous on-line analysis of chemical processes for finishing appliance parts or electrocoating.

Vending machine makers coining lots of change

From downsizing equipment for new markets to minting a dollar for customer ease, this appliance-industry segment is going through a transformation. Some traditional markets for the $603-million vending-machine business are eroding, challenging manufacturers to hoist their creative antennae.

One mainstay for vending equipment has been the large automobile plant. Today, employment is dropping at these locations.

Two additional strongholds, hospitals and higher educational institutions, are experiencing declines. With fewer patients as a result of cost controls and fewer students as a result of demographic changes, the number of these feeding stations is shrinking, and sales at the remaining institutions are seen dropping.

To make up for losses from these large customers, the vending-machine manufacturer is pursuing smaller, more dispersed markets,’ many with no more than 50 people to 75 people. Although the numbers are small, these people want vending.

One way the manufacturer is justifying his investment in these markets is by installing downsized equipment. At the same time, the machines meet market demand.

Downsizing takes on a number of forms. At its simplest, the machine stocks one item less in each column. At its more complex, the equipment is retrofitted. For instance, a sleeve in a candy machine is changed to accommodate a plastic container with soup, beef stew, macaroni and cheese, or similar item. The container is ready for the microwave.

Low-tech, or mechanical twist-type, knobs in six-item units is another candidate for the smaller market. But low tech hasn’t caught on.

In some cases, completely new equipment is designed and manufactured for smaller markets. Some of these machines are designed specifically to be serviced by untrained persons on location. Simplified controls, ease of restocking, and minimum maintenance are among design characteristics.

Cooperative Service Vending (CSV) is a program whereby a person on location is trained for restocking the machine and to handle minor maintenance. The driver comes less often but brings more product.

Mini-mart

Whether serving a large or small market, the vending machine is growing more versatile. It’s becoming a veritable mini-mart.

A combination, or multi-product, machine may typically dispense snacks, cold drinks and coffee. All three work off one set of electronic brains.

Electronics is growing in use by most manufacturers. Touch-pad controls and the like are fairly common. But other opportunities are being pursued.

Among them are readout displays, programmed to give selling messages to customers and maintenance messages to vending operators.

A sales message might read: Do you want a soda to go with your chips?

Maintenance readouts could include information such as total amount deposited and inventory on hand.

Data collection is in its infancy, with universal standards needed. But here’s how it would work. Hand-held information devices, going under names such as “data logger” or interogator,” would give detailed information on what is sold and when. More advanced hand-held computer devices, recording the same information, could dump the data electronically in the computer at the vending operator’s home office.

All this talk about electronics brings us to the talking vending machine. Believe it or not, Coca-Cola had such a machine in the early 1940s, with the talk coming from a phonograph record. “Thank you for your purchase” was the message. The vending operator tried to charge a nickel more per coke. For more on talking machines, see the photograph.

The future for talk boils down to economics. If the machine maker can add talk capability for little investment, then talking machines may come on. But even if they catch on, growth is seen as gradual. Electronic meal ticket

Is cashless vending in your future? Some machines are in test to determine ease of customer transaction.

Sold by the vending operator, cards replacing cash work on debit. Each time the card is used, the amount is deducted. The card could be designed to add value by inserting it into a special dispenser device.

Theoretically, the card could act in a greater capacity than an electronic meal ticket. In the work place, it could serve as an ID card with laminated photo, time card, and key card.

One-dollar coin

Cash is still very much in the picture, as Congress is considering legislation for a one-dollar coin. The coin would be the same size as that of the Susan B. Anthony, which did not work. The coin was too easily confused with a quarter. The proposed coin would be smooth rimmed and shiny gold.

An additional proposal calls for the cessation of printing the one-dollar bill 18 months after the coin is introduced.

No discussion about vending would be complete without tasting the coffee which, according to a study five years ago, was not very tasty. Customers generally had a poor image of vended coffee. They perceived the coffee sitting in a pot encased in the machine.

To get the fresh-brewed story across, signage and graphics were introduced. Signage reads: This Cup Freshly Brewed for You. Graphics show whole beans in a window at the top of the machine to convey the fresh-ground story.

Vended coffee, today, accounts for nearly 10 percent of the $21-billion in vending sales.

Retail execs give new play to innerwear

Top retail executives are finally minding the store when it comes to innerwear, after a history of letting the category mind itself.

Citing its staying power in recessionary times, its propensity to produce multiple sales and the increasing popularity of fashion appeal in figure-enhancing foundations, retailers are giving innerwear a keener focus by way of outposts and swing shops, as well as with increased square footage and advertising dollars.

“We feel there is a lot of growth opportunity in intimate apparel,” said Marvin Traub, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s. Traub noted Bloomingdale’s is hiking its fall advertising budget for the category 20 percent. He said innerwear represented between 3 and 3.5 percent of the store’s overall volume.

At Rich’s, where foundations is the driving force of the business, innerwear represents 3.5 to 4 percent of total store volume, said Carl Tooker, chairman and ceo, while at I. Magnin, the emergence of innerwear as outerwear has helped increase volume there, said Rose Marie Bravo, chairman and ceo.

“Traditionally, innerwear, like cosmetics, has been a basic, replaceable wardrobe accessory,” Bravo said. “Now, due to the importance of innerwear as outerwear, intimate apparel is also an affordable fashion accessory that updates one’s wardrobe.”

Noting how workout clothes, as well as evening wear, have become different segments of the intimate apparel business, Robert Friedman, vice chairman of Macy’s Northeast, said, “One of the reasons it’s gaining in importance is that there are more and more end uses for the product that there used to be.” The result of this segmentation, Friedman said, has been “more multiple purchases.”

At Sears, Roebuck & Co., innerwear is “the most profitable area” in women’s apparel, said Wayne Williams, vice president for the women’s store. “You start with a good markup, and it’s a product that gives you a good turnover,” he said. “Because it doesn’t take a lot of square footage, you get high sales per square foot.”

Williams, who reported that 90 to 95 percent of intimate apparel at Sears is private label, said he planned the fashion category to grow by 20 to 30 percent this year. Sears hopes to capitalize by expanding the space allotted the department by 30 to 50 percent, with the real estate coming from reclaimed nonselling space such as stock rooms. It’s part of a plan to give more space to all women’s apparel.

A year ago, Macy’s Northeast gave approximately 40 percent of its intimate apparel space to foundations and daywear, but this fall, the allocation will be up to 50 percent. volume for the category is targeted at 60 percent of Macy’s total intimate apparel business, up from 50 percent a year ago.

“The bulk of our expansion has come from foundations,” said Freidman, noting how fashion colors and silhouettes have rejuvenated the classification. “We’ll adjust accordingly as we go forward, but this is an enormous shift for a business that has been fairly stable for a long time.”

Friedman cited inventory investment and presentation as keys to growth, noting the new “swing shops” that create emphasis within a department.

Bloomingdale’s has also brought intimate apparel to the forefront by launching Body Language shops in each of its 15 stores. The shops, ranging from 100 to 250 square feet, highlight figure-enhancing garments such as push-up bras, slimming waist trainer and bodyshapers.

Bloomingdale’s body Language shops average approximately 100 to 250 square feet and emphasize bras and foundations. The shops, which opened the first week of August, carry Hip Slips, Thighslimmers, panty girdles, control briefs and the best waist trainer from resources such as Subtract, Lily of France, Olga, Lady Marlene, WaisttrainerAZ, Smoothie, Lilyette and Laracris.

The innerwear expansion, Traub said, “is a result of the changing direction of the fashion foundations industry — the changing silhouettes, the growth of the control garment area and clearly the couture news from Europe with the innerwear influence on outerwear.”

At Cincinnati-based Lazarus, where innerwear contributes 5 percent of total apparel volume, executives are planning at least a 4 percent increase in each of the next four or five years.

Mark Cohen, chairman and chief executive officer, said intimate apparel has always been a high-profit-margin business, but has become even more so with the influx of fashion-conscious styles. He said the mainstream customer, not just the fashion-forward one, is buying fashion items.

“The department store was a place to find a white bra,” Cohen said. “It had a utilitarian mentality. Basic pieces are still the biggest part of our business, but the fashion is the fastest growing area. We are buying fashion more aggressively and more often with more sensitivity to trends.”

As an example, Cohen said Lazarus is bringing in printed panties three to four times a month. In the past, replenishment shipments of basic panties would arrive every 30 to 45 days.

The three growth categories at Lazarus are knit sleepwear, foundations and control pieces. Sales of moderate-price knit sleepshirts and sleepwear in boxy, full-cut silhouettes jumped 30 percent this year. Foundations, particularly colors and prints by Lily of France and Christian Dior, are planned for 4 to 6 percent increases this year. Shapewear projections] are up 6 to 7 percent.

Cohen said the idea is to “pay more attention to the business as a fashion business rather than as an accommodations business.”

Sales of thongs jumped from 200 units a week to 518 when the store gave the scanty garments signage and aisle exposure. Lazarus plans a similar idea for control pieces this fall.

At J.C. Penney Co., Dallas, sales of innerwear — the number-two gross profit-producing entity behind fashion jewelry — are up this year by high single digits.

“Innerwear is a small indulgence for a small price, an inexpensive way for a woman to splurge. And it’s good multiple-sale vehicle,” said Marilee Cumming, divisional vice president and director of merchandising — women’s. “Our research shows that if a woman buys innerwear, she’ll usually buy a second article somewhere else in the store.”

Penney’s, which does about 75 percent ofits innerwear business with private-label goods, hopes the addition of such national brands as Bali, Henson Kickernick, Warner’s, Vanity Fair and Maidenform will lure even more customers to its innerwear counters.

Last year, Penny’s opened Delicates, small in-store innerwear boutiques stocked with about 95 percent private-label contemporary styled goods, including bras, panties, teddies, robes and nightgowns. Delicates boutiques will be in about 400 Penney stores by yearend.

Penny’s is having good luck with outposting. Sport bras are displayed in the dance and exercise area, and leggings, bustiers and stretch lace camisoles have gotten play in places like the junior sportswear department.

Marvin Goldstein, ceo and chairman of Dayton’s, Hudson’s, and Marshall Field’s, said foundations remain one of the strongest innerwear classifications, with fashion innerwear the biggest growth direction.

“We have to be more creative because of all the specialty stores, i.e., Victoria;s Secret,” he said. A second growth area for DH/Field’s is shapewear, aimed — for the first time in a long time — at younger women.

Foundations have had sales increases in the high single digits for the year to date, and designer bras and full-figure bras have been two of the fastest-growing categories.

Overall, the innerwear business at DH/Field’s has been stable for the last several years, with occasional 1-to-2 percent increases, but the company expects sales jumps to be even higher in the next few years. The Flexees UnderWonder slip-girdle, popular with new mothers and women wearing body-hugging dresses, is experiencing a weekly sell-through of 15 to 20 percent. Shapewear sales have gained in the low single digits so far this year.

At I. Magnin, San Francisco, space for innerwear is not increasing, but the product mix is changing, with hot categories such as daywear, foundations and sleepwear gaining more emphasis.

Intimate apparel constituted 3.7 percent of total store volume for the first six months of 1991, a slight incrase from the same period last year. Of those figures, innerwear contributed about 38 percent.

Bravo said three key innerwear items — Hip slips, Thighslimmers and suit camisoles — are being sold in accessories and sportswear departments to maximize sales. Other hot selling items for the store include outwear chemises, outerwear evening bras, bustiers and backless, strapless and convertible bras.

Bravo said innerwear is profitable because of the strength of the basics business. Designer and brand labels dominate at I. Magnim, but Bravo said private-label items are important because they offer catalog exclusives that make the store special.

At I. Magnin tries to gain an edge over competitors in innerwear by holding a “lingerieweek,” combining sales promotions with special events, once or twice a year. The store also trains sales personnel to do personalized fittings of bras at any time without an appointment, Bravo said.

At Gottschalk’s, based in Fresno, Calif., innerwear space is being increased 2 to 5 percent at key stores, said Joe Levy, chairman and CEO.

“We are bringing [innerwear] into the fold of fashion and taking it out of the back of the stores, where it has lived for many years,” said Levy.

Innerwear is the most profitable area in the ready-to-wear category and constitutes 6 percent of the store’s total volume. Sleepwear and loungewear are the two categories of innerwear given the most emphasis at Gottschalk’s. About 75 percent of the store’s business is in branded and designer labels.

Levy said the recession has shown the store how much potential the category has. Innerwear, like accessories, has remained strong during the past year, while some other categories have declined.

Sheila Kamensky, fashion merchandising director at Rich’s, Atlanta, said the store has been successful with what she called “in-posting” or swing shops — placing a special display of an item or a color story within the intimate apparel area.

“It’s a little shop within a shop, instead of an outpost somewhere else in the store,” she said. A recent bustier in-post in selected stores was very successful, she said. For that display, about a dozen styles of bustiers in a variety of price points, colors and fabrications were grouped together on walls, fixtures and tables in an alcove of the innerwear department that occupied less than 200 square feet.

 

“High-Touch” Appliances the Next Generation?

A voice-controlled microwave oven and a remotely controlled vacuum cleaner are two of the “high-touch” appliances that may be available soon if U.S. consumers want them, according to Dr. Andris Freivalds, associate professor of industrial engineering at Penn State.

He defines “high touch” as “providing consumers with the high tech and the feel or touch they want in modern electronic appliances.”

Freivalds is conducting response tests to five high-touch appliances-the vac and microwave, as well as a television, audio system, and videocassette recorder-under development by Daewoo Co., Seoul, Korea -based appliance maker.

“I haven’t seen anything like any of these products at the last two consumer electronics shows, and I think the public is ready for them,” says Freivalds. He is in touch with both students and adults and sending evaluations and suggestions back to the manufacturer.

“High-touch appliances would be useful to the elderly or physically disabled, allowing them more control over their world,” says Freivalds.

Here is a brief on each of the five high-touch appliances.

*Microwave oven: The appliance can be programmed with two voice commands, one to open the door and one to close it, solving the problem of full hands. One display screen calls up prerecorded recipes. Another shows a picture of the completed dish.

* Vacuum cleaner: By attaching the power head directly to the underside of the canister, the appliance can be operated by remote control.

* Television: Adjustments for tilt, swivel, and forward and backward motion are added to normal remote-control options. A microprocessor records addresses, telephone numbers and messages. The TV can be programmed to turn on at a specific time, serving as a calendar-reminder system. Four preset video options include modes for viewing in bright or dark rooms, a standard setting, and romantic setting. The audio’s four preset options are narrative, music, sports and romantic.

* Audio system: A tuner, amplifier, tape deck, compact-disk player, turntable, and six speakers offer a full menu. The stacked, round units rotate by remote control, with only the unit in use visible. The system comes with a wireless earphone remote-control option. Two of the six speakers are wireless cubes that can be moved into another room.

*Videocassette recorder: The TVCR is a combination television and VCR with an expert system that guides users through programming functions. The TVCR has a flat TV screen about the size of a paperback book that can be removed from the recorder and carried into another room. An earphone plugs into the remote-control unit providing the user with wireless audio. The VCR, complete with a tuner, can operate as a TV or VCR.

Cooking out; working out

Design dynamics in grills and tools. What’s cooking?

The Genesis Perma-Mount (TM) gas barbecue brings Flavorizers to outdoor cooking. The Flavorizer system replaces old-fashioned lava rock or pumice stone with angled bars. These bars direct cooking fats away from the meat, while vaporizing juices and drippings for real barbecue flavor.

Three individually controlled burners light quickly with the touch of a button for direct searing or indirect slow roasting.

The unit’s stainless-steel gas-supply lines are hidden below the grill’s storage area that is enclosed with tempered-glass doors.

The grill is easy to assemble and install on a deck or patio or over the stump of a cut-off post-mount unit, according to Weber-Stephen Products Co.

Designing-in safety

Good design makes safety the centerpiece for gas grills from Ducane Co.

Take materials. Hoods and fireboxes are of all aluminum, with no viewing windows that can crack or shatter. Heavy-steel cabinetry stays stable.

Vis-U-Glo* safety system tells the user if the grill is lit, even in the brightest sunlight. Each grill is factory fire-tested.

Rotis-A Grate burner, which sears in juices with no flareups, allows the user to leave the grill unattended while rotissing.

Sure-grip handles are side mounted to keep arms clear of the cooking surface and heat when opening the grill.

Hansen Gas-Mate II safety plug snaps the gas line into the tank. No tools. No poor connections that can cause gas leaks. Quick disconnect is also available in natural gas.

Top-Ported burners give each burner its own lighter. No gas crosses over from one burner to another. Cordless power

A high-powered line of yard and garden grooming tools includes a trimmer/weeder, hedge trimmer and power blower. A hand-held variable-focus spotlight is part of the line from Toro Home Improvement Division.

The cordless products deliver at least 40 percent more power than any other cordless tools, according to Rob Beachy, marketing manager.

“We were very serious about performance when we designed the line,” says Beachy. “For example, the cutting speed on the cordless trimmer/weeder matches the speed on many gas-powered trimmers. It easily outperforms most of the corded products now on the market. “

The line is powered by a heavy-duty power pack. The tools plug into the pack through a standard cigarette-lighter connector. Any equipment capable of hooking into a car cigarette lighter can be run off the power pack, including stereos and vacuums.

The power pack is encased in a soft and flexible nylon-carrying case which can be adjusted and worn over the shoulder or on the chest, back or belt for maximum operator comfort. The pack weighs less than 7 lbs. and recharges overnight.

“This is the largest and most powerful battery you’ll find with cordless power equipment,” says Beachy. “It even has the power to run two of our competitor’s cordless power tools simultaneously.”

Another example of power is running time. With a single charge, Beachy says, consumers can:

  • Trim around an entire football field with the trimmer/weeder.
  • Manicure a 40-ft.-Iong hedge with the hedge trimmer.
  • Clear 60 ft. of sidewalk with the power blower.
  • Then use the halogen BriteLite to find all the tools left in the yard after dark.
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