Project, Liberty Fairs, Agenda and Capsule offered retailers innovative brands and trend-right merchandise.
By Jean E. Palmieri and Aria Hughes and Alex Badia and Luis Campuzano –
LAS VEGAS — The fourth quarter wasn’t pretty for most retailers. Pre- and post-election angst, unrelenting price promotions, pressure from aggressive online players and a distracted consumer all contributed to a rough end to 2016.
But retailers aren’t about to roll over. To fight back, they’re scouring the market for new brands and hot trends that will move the needle. They’ve also learned that it’s not just about offering men the latest in ath-leisure or technical tailored clothing. Today’s customer is seeking unique experiences and merchandise with an authentic story that will allow them to create their own unique style — and make a statement.
Trade show operators are also shifting their focus in the face of this new reality.
Case in point: Aaron Levant, founder of Agenda, upped the ante on experiences at his trade show this season by featuring more cash-and-carry than ever before — Generation Cool, a vintage store based in Tucson, Ariz., set up a lively booth for shoppers. Levant also created an area where brands, some that don’t wholesale, were able to design their own booth. The space felt more like an art fair than a trade show.
“It’s about experiences and community,” said Levant, who last year helped facilitate ComplexCon, a Complex-branded festival that featured live performances, pop-up shops, food and art. “We wanted create spaces where people could hang out and shop.”
As retailers take these lessons to heart, things are slowly starting to look up. Although business is still not exactly robust, stores are seeing signs of life and remain hopeful that the scene will continue to improve as the year progresses.
Dan Farrington, general merchandise manager for Mitchells Family of Stores, said, “We’re seeing a lot more bright spots,” noting that the holidays were “a little better than expected. It might be buyers’ optimism, but I feel good.”
He said he was shopping the shows for some “extra touches — fun things,” primarily in contemporary sportswear. “That’s a good area for us and I like what I’m seeing in the market.”
Todd Epperley, vice president for Halls in Kansas City, Mo., said holiday sales were “flat” after a tough start to fall, but there were some areas of strength including activewear from Rhone and casual sportswear from Bonobos. “So we’re here looking for new brands that aren’t sold on Amazon,” he said.
Scott Collins, vice president and gmm of DTLR, the Baltimore-based urban apparel and footwear chain, said the delay in tax refunds is eating into the company’s business. He said February is usually bigger than December for DTLR as young shoppers flock to the stores for the new sneaker releases and to update their apparel wardrobes. “We need it to get momentum,” he said.
Collins said he is expecting the tax refunds to be released shortly at which point the young customers will hit the stores. “We’re confident March will bring significant business,” he said.
Abby Doneger, president and chief executive officer for Doneger Group, characterized the current climate as challenging, but stressed that it’s also “a time of tremendous opportunity” for retailers who have survived the latest “correction. In the U.S., there are too many malls and too many stores, trying to sell too much merchandise,” he said. But well-run companies focused on the consumer will prosper, Doneger believes.
Here are some of the most innovative brands from the Las Vegas men’s shows…
Backstory: The world’s largest men’s accessories manufacturer is embracing the trend toward personalization. The New York-based company, which produces belts, small leather goods, neckwear, luggage, casual bags, jewelry and seasonal accessories for more than 75 brands including Kenneth Cole, Nautica, Dockers and others, has created a collection of pins, patches and stackable bracelets that is intended to appeal to the young shopper’s search to accessorize their outfits with unique messaging through DIY additions.
Key pieces: Pins offer “kitschy phrases” that can be added to jackets, caps or backpacks, according to Randa’s Richard Carroll, senior vice president of marketing and creative director. Iron-on patches include everything from pizza slices and beer cans to avocados and French fries. Bracelets are offered in a range of materials including leather, gunmetal or gemstones. Most of the offering is unbranded, Carroll said, although some of the higher-priced bracelets are merchandised under higher-end labels such as Kenneth Cole or Countess Mara. “It’s not about the brand,” Carroll said. “It’s about the look. The market is moving so fast and it’s all about personalization, multiple purchases and getting it to market quickly.”
Prices: Pins retail for $9.99 to $12.99, patches are $8.99 for a single and $12.99 for doubles and the bracelets range from $12.99 to $40.