Editor’s Letter: The Denim Dilemma

Weʼre not in a brand cycle and weʼre not in a denim cycle, so
how do we sell more jeans?

Karen Alberg GrossmanThere’s no question that denim business is tough these days. Despite tremendous strides in both technology (with lasers replacing many of the harsh chemicals that have been destroying the environment, and the workers) and the product itself (today’s jeans can be lighter, softer and stretch-ier than ever for a more perfect fit), denim business in the stores is flat at best. According to our recent survey of contemporary stores (in this issue), denim now generates only 12 percent of total sales, whereas non-denim five-pocket models continue on an upswing (now 10 percent to total contemporary volume).

From a merchandising standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with retailers trading volume and profits from one category to another. But theoretically, denim is America’s most iconic and authentic apparel category and should be a mainstay of the business, regardless of fashion cycles. So what’s the problem?

Denim execs maintain that the misuse of the term “premium” forced “bait and switch” tactics that killed consumer confidence. As one explains it, “Price is always the big issue. When most of the market was at $195 to $225, stores found a sweet spot at $175, which forced the status brands to cut corners to hit that price. What was Japanese denim became Turkish. What was once made in Germany using Italian fabrics is now made in Morocco using Indian fabrics. Even some Japanese mills started making goods in China…”

According to Jeff Shafer at Agave and Bluer, two additional problems in independent menswear stores are overly basic assortments and a lack of denim-savvy sellers. “Retailers are so afraid of excess inventory that they want only replenishment basics, which is digging their own grave. We’re failing to turn customers on. But product knowledge is also essential: merchants must know the difference between long and short staple cotton, between ringspun and open-end yarns. They need to know yarn counts and the different types/qualities/origins of the cotton. What’s the true value proposition in the jeans they sell? Ironically, the better menswear stores already have the customers who will spend more on jeans if given the inside story: where it’s made, how it’s made, the history of the brand. Yet as knowledgeable as these merchants are about clothing and furnishings, they’re strangely disconnected to denim.”

Ardie Ulukaya from Mavi and 34 Heritage agrees; he conducts regular seminars to educate sales associates. “Merchants who can clearly explain the difference between regular denim and gentlemen’s denim have been most successful. It’s all about retailers knowing the qualities and fit of each brand they carry, so they can sell the right jeans to the right customers. Otherwise we’d rather not sell them since they’re unlikely to maximize sales.”

To help maximize sales, the editors of MR have compiled our first-ever denim handbook (page 37), a comprehensive guide to everything stores need to know about selling (and romancing) denim. Even in this era of information overload, we believe that a concise, well-researched manual such as this can seriously boost volume and profits. Contact Elise Diamantini at EliseD@MRketplace.com for extra copies.

Bottom line: When business (both denim and contemporary in general) was more brand- and logo-driven, things were easier. Each brand had a somewhat identifiable image that could be readily communicated via advertising and in-store displays. Now that the look is less about branding and more about “simple design, good fabrics and perfect fit” (according to survey respondents), knowledgeable sellers are the retailers’ best weapon.

So fire away!

Karen signature

Share / Print

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Print

Speak Your Mind