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RETAIL FIRST LOOK

December 10, 2009

LEVINE’S LOW DOWN

For the first time in over a year, commentary suggests tourists are taking advantage of the weak dollar and beginning to return to the U.S. shores. Anecdotally, one only needs to spend a few minutes near the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree to observe this phenomenon.

  • For the first time in over a year, Neiman Marcus noted that it is seeing a pick-up in its Bergdorf Good man business. Management attributes the improvement to a return of their core customer (as measured by sales associates reuniting with their clients) and the increase in tourism driven by the weak dollar. This marks the first mention of a positive callout for NYC luxury commerce and is likely encouraging for others including TIF, SKS, and COH.
  • When pressed for insights into current product trends, Neiman’s CEO responded with, “Want to know some hot trends, buy some over-the-knee boots, buy some Uggs, any kind of Ugg.” Other positive callouts included women’s flats and cashmere sweaters. Management also suggested that inventory is light in both women’s shoes and women’s contemporary due to better than expected demand for both departments.
  • Bakers Footwear Group indicated that after a warmer November, sales have picked up in early December. Key to driving both the volatility and recent improvement is the company’s reliance on the boot category. With 60% of the company’s product mix focused on boots in 4Q, management is optimistic that positive trends will continue now that the weather has returned to more normal conditions. Bakers boot penetration is among the highest in the footwear sector…

MORNING NEWS 

Penney's Promotes Executives - J.C. Penney Co. Inc. promoted Jeffrey J. Allison, Steven Lawrence and Elizabeth H. Sweney to senior general merchandise managers. They were general merchandise managers and all continue to hold the title of executive vice president. Under the new structure, which was revealed late Wednesday, Sweney will lead shoes and women’s accessories in addition to women’s apparel. Allison will lead home, custom decorating and now fine jewelry. Lawrence will oversee children’s in addition to the men’s division. Penney’s said the changes take advantage of the depth of talent within the company, and position Penney’s to grow.Officials could not be reached for comment on whether the promotions are related to succession planning or to help fill the void left by the departure of Ken Hicks, the former president and chief merchandising officer who left in June to become ceo of Foot Locker Inc. The company did say it has discontinued its search for a new president.Myron E. “Mike” Ullman 3rd continues to lead all executive areas as chairman and chief executive officer.  <wwd.com>

UIL partners with Nike for equipment discounts - The University Interscholastic League announced on Wednesday a partnership with Nike that will make the sports apparel and equipment giant the outfitter of choice for Texas high schools. The partnership is a first between the Oregon-based company and a statewide high school organization. "We are extremely pleased to partner with Nike and to bring greater innovation and resources to the schools of Texas," UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said in a statement. "This partnership is a reflection of the desire of the UIL to bring new opportunities to students statewide." As part of the agreement, Nike will provide discounted rates to the roughly 1,300 UIL-member schools. Nike also will be an official sponsor at both UIL athletic and non-athletic events. <statesman.com>

Under Armour Opens NYC Pop-Up Store - Under Armour opened its first pop-up store in New York City. The 3,300 square foot store, at 3 West 57th Street, displays several of the uniforms for the U.S. team members competing in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. These include the USA Freestyle Ski team and USA Bobsled team, which are sponsored by Under Armour. The store also features a full line of hottest Under Armour athletic apparel, footwear and accessories. The company has four full retail stores in Washington, D.C., Annapolis, as well as 35 factory outlets throughout the country. <sportsonesource.com>

Saks.com bags the best November site availability rating - Saks.com posted the best rating in the Gomez Inc. high broadband availability tests for November. Web shoppers could access the mass merchandise retailer’s site 96.90% of the time last month. The average availability for the top retailers in November was 89.99% for high broadband, 79.21% for low broadband and 46.94% for dial-up, Gomez says. Rounding out the top five e-retailers for high broadband availability were Zappos.com (96.84%), AmwayGlobal.com (96.81%), Dell.com (96.62%) and CircuitCity.com (96.52%). AmwayGlobal.com had the most consistent low broadband availability at 92.49%, and Dell.com had the most consistent dial-up availability at 85.61%. <internetretailer.com>

Nautilus Sells Portion of Commercial Assets - Nautilus, Inc. has entered into definitive agreements for the sale of certain assets of its commercial business to Fit Dragon International Ltd. for $12.3 million. The agreements provide for the sale of certain assets of StairMaster and Schwinn Fitness, including the licensing of indoor cycling products of the Schwinn Fitness brand for use in the commercial channel. The company retains certain rights to the Schwinn brand and will continue to market Schwinn fitness products in the consumer channel, including both retail and direct to consumer. The transactions are subject to customary conditions to closing and are scheduled to close on or before December 30, 2009. <sportsonesource.com>

In Brief: Tiffany Taps Japan President - Stéphane Lafay has been named president of Tiffany & Co. Japan Inc. Lafay succeeds Michael Christ, who will retire in January. Lafay had been president of Bulgari in Japan since 2003. He has also had stints at Puig Group and Saint-Gobain Group. James E. Quinn, president of Tiffany & Co., said Lafay’s experience in luxury jewelry retailing is well-suited to lead the firm in Japan. He credited Christ with strengthening Tiffany’s distribution base in Japan and developing programs to build loyal customer relationships. <wwd.com>

True Religion Goes Sexy for Spring -True Religion Apparel Inc. is looking to up its glam quotient and showcase the label’s growing assortment of sportswear when it unveils its latest advertising campaign this spring. In a first for the Vernon, Calif.-based company, it has doubled up on the high-wattage-model front to feature both sexes. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue regular Tori Praver and men’s fashion face Gabriel Aubry appear together in a black-and-white campaign shot by Nino Muñoz at Milk Studios in Los Angeles. Jeff Lubell, chairman and chief executive officer, believes the campaign will make a statement about the brand’s progression from a strictly hippie-inspired aesthetic to a more refined and upscale look. “It is a lot more glam, more glitz, but not moving away too far from our roots,” said Lubell. <wwd.com>

Coalision Eyes European Expansion - PARIS — Bernard Mariette, chief executive officer of Coalision Inc., the company that owns apparel and outerwear brands Orage and Lolë, has Europe in his sight. His plan, after taking the helm of the Montreal-based company in August, is to raise the profile of Lolë, the youngest brand in the Coalision stable, in Europe. But Coalision isn’t in a rush to do so, aiming to widen its European footprint next year, according to Mariette. “Lolë targets women aged 30 and older, who like to practice sport and take an interest in their well being, but want to do it with style,” Mariette told WWD. As such, he thinks women in large European cities as well as Scandinavian countries, who are keen on stylish sportswear they can wear in town as well as during outdoor activities, are likely to be receptive to Lolë’s appeal.  <wwd.com>

A New Edun: Ali Hewson and Bono's Brand Expands - When Ali Hewson and her husband, Bono, founded socially conscious clothing brand Edun in 2005, they set out to create a business that would generate trade opportunities in developing regions, particularly Africa. Hewson is the first to admit that early on, the label’s mission sometimes overpowered the product itself. But with the backing of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which took a 49 percent stake in the label this year, the couple is looking to correct that. “We were so keen on our mission that we made compromises that maybe we shouldn’t have made with respect to our customer and the fact that they should have great clothes,” said Hewson, sitting in the loft in New York’s TriBeCa district that serves as the company’s showroom. “Without great clothes, we don’t have a business, so it’s important to get that end right.”  <wwd.com>

Modern Amusement CEO Exits in Restructuring - California-based sportswear brand Modern Amusement is undergoing a restructuring that includes the departure of its chief executive officer, the elimination of most of its staff and a likely change to its master licensing agreement, WWD has learned. Michael Boyes, who inked a five-year master license for Modern Amusement in December 2008 with brand owner Mossimo Giannulli, left the company last month. Boyes was the ceo and founder of Blk Brd LLC, a company he set up last year specifically to operate the Modern Amusement business. Boyes did not return e-mails seeking comment and Modern Amusement declined to clarify the status of the license agreement. <wwd.com>

Biotech Firm Genencor Adds New Denim Product - Biotechnology firm Genencor has added another item to its suite of PrimaGreen eco-friendly denim processing products. The PrimaGreen range of products relies on using naturally occurring enzymes rather than traditional bleaches to achieve faded, washed and worn looks in denim. The latest product, dubbed PrimaGreen EcoLight 1, is a liquid biodegradable enzyme that can be used in the laundering process to attain a vintage look in denim. When used with other PrimaGreen products that allow for low-temperature denim fading and abrasion, the company believes water and energy usage can be cut by 40 to 70 percent. The process of washing, bleaching and dyeing garments often requires a lot of water at high temperatures, meaning more energy usage. However, van Schoot said he’s seen brands and retailers over the past several years take more of an interest in how their goods are made. <wwd.com>

House Passes Tax Relief Bill - The House passed a broad tax relief bill Wednesday that would renew a provision that shortens the time it takes retailers to write off the cost of remodeling stores. The overall legislation, which the House passed 241 to 181, would extend $31 billion in tax breaks for businesses and individuals and renews almost 50 current tax laws that are set to expire after Dec. 31. It is unclear whether the Senate will consider the bill this year due to the debate over health care, which has pushed many legislative issues aside. Retailers are highly supportive of a provision in the House bill that provides for a one-year extension for certain leasehold improvements and sets a 15-year period for depreciation of remodeling retail stores that are owned or leased. “In the current economic climate, some retailers look at remodeling as a way to revitalize a failing store, but the anticipated return has to pay for the costs involved,” said Steve Pfister, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation.  <wwd.com>

UK: Retailers Breath Sign Of Relief As Chancellor Rules Out VAT Increase - Retailers breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after the Chancellor confirmed that the rate of VAT would return to 17.5% on 1 January but made it clear he had no plans for any further increase. Many high street stores had feared an increase in VAT to 20%, or the extension of the tax to food, as the Government seeks to plug a deficit expected to top £175bn this year. Stephen Robertson, the Director General of the British Retail Consortium said, "It's a relief that VAT won't increase beyond 17.5%. Consumer confidence is weakening. Big price increases would fuel inflation, make people less likely to spend and hold back recovery”. The BRC also welcomed the announcement that retailers will be given four weeks instead of two to update price labels in stores after the VAT rate changes on 1 January. <kamcity.com>

Online holiday shoppers grow more conservative in their spending - With their Thanksgiving weekend shopping spree behind them, online shoppers spent more conservatively on their holiday gift lists last week, says comScore Inc. For the first 36 days of the holiday shopping season–Nov. 1 through Dec. 6–comScore estimates that spending increased year over year 3.3% to $15.977 billion from $15.473 billion. That suggests shoppers grew more careful about their purchases after increasing their spending year over year by 11% to an estimated $595 million on the Friday after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, and 5% to an estimated $887 million on the Monday after Thanksgiving, often referred to as Cyber Monday. <internetretailer.com>