Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief
ananas." This is the word that Bill Compton, chairman and CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based
Tropical Sportswear International (TSI), used to describe the nature of today's apparel business.
Not that business is out of control - rather, apparel manufacturers are in the business of supplying bushels of perishable product to market. With net sales in fiscal year 2001 of $436.4 million, TSI "markets, designs, manufactures, and distributes branded and private brand men[s and women's casual and dress sportswear through major distribution channels."
Cotton Incorporated’s Denim & Casual Bottomswear Conference, held recently in Pinehurst, N.C., and the forum for Compton's presentation, presented a sea of data, demographics and analysis of current trends in denim and bottomswear. As the future of retail appears to be "changing channels," leaving department stores struggling and discounters (read: Wal-Mart) gaining share, apparel marketers are looking for creative ways to move quickly in the marketplace. Fickle consumers make this a challenging mission by expressing brand loyalty, but with no supreme loyalty to one brand.
Apparently, consumers are attracted to brands, like the idea of brands, and purchase several - but will not allow one brand to significantly outpace others.
To the audience of denim and bottomswear fabric producers, one stating privately that "business has been like drinking out of a firehose," Compton’s reassurance that 80 percent of his manufacturing is targeted in the Caribbean Basin and Mexico, with 20 percent in Asia and elsewhere - came as good news.
With its focus on response time, reducing inventories for retailers and targeting retailers' number-one issue - stock outs - TSI is sticking to the core of fashion with quality, service and "best product" apparel offerings.
"Bananas?" Compton's interpretation makes sense. Think of the apparel business as a perishable product business, and the decision-making takes on a new perspective. The retailer places an order, TSI is on it and manufacturing the reorder within four hours. If made in Mexico, Compton's transportation is "seven minutes across the Rio Grande" to TSI New Mexico; with the Dominican Republic, it's two-and-a-half days into Florida; and with China, it is 25 to 33 days.
TSI intends to explore relationships in China for products that make sense, but it also needs fabric manufacturers to understand the business. With kind words for cotton fabrics, Compton's cheer of speed-to-market with innovative products is a heads-up for U.S. manufacturers - cost is an issue, but think - location, location, location.