OPINION: Claire Franks on stocking swimwear

Lingerie and swimwear business guru Claire Franks, founder of Intimate Apparel Consultancy, offers her regular insight into lingerie retail, fitting and design.

Swimwear retailers are already reporting a good start to the swimwear season, due in part to the recent good weather supported by much more positive economic news that overall retail sales increased for the fifth consecutive month in April, according to the latest data obtained from the Confederation of British Industry.

The Association of British Travel Agents also reveals that early bookings for Spring/Summer 2014 holidays have resulted in a 10% increase in sales year on year.

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So with sales on the up and with many established swimwear brands feeling very positive for the up and coming 2015 selling season, ask your self is this: is now the right time for you to consider stocking swimwear in your shop, and which brands should you be stocking to retain your existing customers and attract new business?

Full-cup swimwear

In April, lingerie retailer Leia Lingerie recorded a 44% rise in full cup styles compared to the same period in the previous year. Another retailer – one of my national accounts – even reported that full cup swimwear sales accounted for 46% of total swim sales last season.

When it comes to stocking larger-cup swimwear, however, you must be careful when budgeting and planning your OTB (open to buy), as more SKU’s and higher stock levels come hand in hand.

The best-selling full cup swimwear brands include Freya, Fantasie and Panache. But other competively-priced swimwear brands you may want to consider are Pour Moi and Lepel.

Depending on the type of intimate apparel business you have, I would recommend that 40% to 60% of your swimwear collection should be dedicated to DD+ styles, with some more experienced, specialist retailers committing to 80% or even 100%.

Expand your offering

When it comes to stocking swimwear, you should also consider expanding your offering to include add-on products like accessories, such as sun hats, beach bags, sandals, wraps, pareos and jewellery.

All of these lines should provide you with high profit margins, boosting the less-profitable garments. These increased margins can help businesses to offer seasonal promotions and support seasonal discount periods to give trade that extra boost when it’s quiet.

I would recommend allocating 10% to 15% of your budget to these add-on categories to start off with. Also, make sure all your accessories compliment your swimwear in terms of price and design, and do not underestimate how important it is to offer the matching printed pareos with your premium brands.

Think about it, if your customer is happy to buy a £130 swimsuit does she really want to be seen in a cheap wrap costing £15?

This part of the market is growing so try some new things. Experiment. This is what makes the independents so much more interesting and unique.

Stocking swimwear 365 days a year

From my experience, many retailers report that 20% of their swimwear sales are made between October and January and over 50% of annual swimwear sales are made over the entire Autumn/Winter season. From these statistics, you can see how important it is to provide an all-year-round swimwear offering to your consumers.

When looking to stock swimwear all year round, it is important to offer newness and variety to your customers, with regular new collections dropping into the store throughout the year.

Always prepare for a peak in sales and stock levels during the best-selling swimwear months. June and July alone should account for approximately 30% of your annual swimwear turnover.

There’s a misconception that darker colour palettes should be bought for Autumn/Winter, but we mustn’t forget that although it’s cold at home during this period, people are still jetting off to sunny resorts so colour and on-trend prints are very desirable with spots, floral prints and stripes selling well season on season.

Your Autumn/Winter swimwear offering should be more focused on what is traditionally known as “cruise” swimwear, with swimsuits, accessories and larger-cup collections offering deep or adjustable fold down bottoms that relate easily to those customers who holiday hard in the winter months and who have slightly deeper pockets.

Experienced retailers who stock swimwear 365 days a year report that they carry a 50/50 ratio of colour blocks and prints, with blue, purple and black being the best-selling colours. Spring/Summer covers a more extensive offering of swimwear, especially bikinis at lower price points.

Control swimwear

The shapewear category has translated very successfully into swimwear and should be a very important consideration when you are range planning and selecting your season’s collection.

To support my point, Debenhams announced that its new range of shapewear swimwear was flying off the shelves in May as consumers prepared for the holiday season.

Never will a woman be seen in public wearing so little, so it is so important that her swimsuit does as much as humanly possible to improve and enhance her body’s shape and make her feel comfortable.

There are many swimwear brands that deliver good shaping swimwear season after season and amongst the best sellers are Miraclesuit, Charmline, Marian Melhorn and Gottex profile.

So it is best to start with the best-selling lines, make your selection and then look elsewhere to compliment and enhance your range to ensure you have a fantastic swimwear collection for 2015.

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