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.