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Small niches are out there for children’s apparel

Small niches are out there for children’s apparel

Byline: Brian Anderson

There’s a “small” market that often gets overlooked: Kidswear. Perhaps you walk past a booth full of children’s apparel at a trade show, thinking to yourself, “that’s cute” when one tiny item catches your eye. But still you walk on by.

You don’t sell to kids, you think to yourself – if you even consider the prospect for that long.

But perhaps you should think again. If the vast majority of your competitors never think about selling kidswear, maybe you should. There an undeniable markets who use the stuff and you have access to tons of suppliers who make it.

Most manufacturers of children’s wear who sell in the imprinted sportswear market sell primarily to decorators – screenprinters and/or embroiderers who buy blanks and put their own designs on them before selling them to specialty retailers, often independent stores specializing in kidswear or shops in tourist areas.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of promotional applications for kidswear that any enterprising promotional products distributor can capitalize on with a little effort.

Paul Kunitz of Valtex, L.L.C., a Scottsboro, Ala. supplier which makes the Kiddy Kats line of imprintable playwear in infant, toddler, and youth sizes, says the majority of their sales are to decorators.

Sales to promotional products distributors, Kunitz says he has noticed, tend to be for company store programs. Company stores are an ideal outlet for kidswear, as many company store catalogs tend to include items like tees, fleece, rompers and bibs for the children of employees.

Another common promotional use of kidswear is hospital maternity wards. Newborns and their parents often leave hospitals with diaper bags, bibs, infant caps, hooded wraps and baby blankets adorned with the hospital’s name and logo. Suppliers such as Aprons, Etc. have complete lines of infant items such as these.

Michael Schnell, director of imprintables at supplier Gerber Childrenswear, says that while the volume of Gerber product that ends up at hospitals and daycare centers has grown steadily, there is another relatively untapped market for infant and toddler wear that Gerber is encouraging PPDs to explore. That market is municipalities. Small-town America is passionate about its children, and logoed apparel is a good way to show it.

“That’s a market that is growing for a lot of distributors who are aware of it,” he says.

Gerber to get message out

In 2003, Gerber Childrenswear will be making a concerted effort to make more distributors aware of “where you go to sell baby goods and what kind of markets use it,” Schnell says.

The Gerber line, which specializes in Onesies, lap shoulder tees and basic tees in infant and toddler sizes, has expanded its distribution network to 19 wholesalers for next year encompassing 27 locations from coast to coast. Schnell says Gerber is putting together a promotion that will include some printed materials which the wholesalers will mail out to customers explaining what to do with baby goods.

“A great number of these (PPDs) are focused on a few products,” Schnell says. “They don’t think about the baby area, which is not a very competitive market. That means the margins are high. The ones that dismiss baby wear are missing out.”

Greenville, S.C.-based Gerber, Schnell says, is taking a “very aggressive” stance in the market in the wake of an ownership change. Gerber Childrenswear was acquired in June of 2002 by Kellwood Company, a $2.1 billion marketer of apparel and consumer soft goods. Kellwood specializes in branded as well as private label products, and markets to all channels of distribution with product specific to a particular channel.

Gerber will be adding additional styles in 2003, and Schnell says Gerber’s pricing has become much more aggressive in its tees.

Classic Baby growing up

Gerber isn’t the only one in an “aggressive” mode when it comes to kidswear.

Los Angeles-based supplier American Apparel’s line for infants and toddlers is “growing up” to include youth sizes and additional styles. The company, known primarily for its “Classic Girl” line of fashion tees, tank tops and even panties, launched its “Classic Baby” line in 2001 with one infant style and three toddler styles.

American Apparel is currently making the transition from “Classic Baby” to “Classic Kids.” The new line will offer a broader selection of styles, colors, and fabrics in high-quality T-shirts and apparel for infants ranging from 3 to 24 months, and will also have boys’ and girls’ styles up to size 6. Eventually, the Classic Kids line is expected to include sizes up to 14.

American Apparel’s charismatic Senior Partner Dov Charney says the company is encountering a rare phenomenon in the blank T-shirt marketplace, compelling the company to build on its kids division. American Apparel will expand on its popular adult line, designing and manufacturing a wider variety of items including a Kids Jersey T, Long Sleeve Infant Lap T, Lil’ Cap Sleeve Raglan, Kids 2×1 Rib Tank, Infant one Piece, and Reversible Baby Ribs.

“I foresee that expanding on our kids division will be very rewarding for American Apparel, as we have found that there is quite a definite demand for good quality blanks for the little ones,” says Sandra Martinez, children’s wear manager for American Apparel.

Give your sales a growth spurt

While kidswear is traditionally thought of as a “small” market, there are plenty of large opportunities for enterprising distributors.

Many public schools have joined private schools in going to dress codes for their students, expanding yet another market for kidswear that is often served though this channel. Youth team sports are a huge market. Not only are there hundreds of thousands of school and recreation district teams to outfit, but consider all the camps for various sports. Basketball camps, football camps, soccer camps, volleyball camps, cheerleading camps and more all provide T-shirts and often other wearables for participants.

We’ve got suppliers with expanding childrenswear lines, a relatively uncompetitive market, and plenty of niches that need the product. Bet your sales could grow faster than a toddler in a growth spurt.

Brian Anderson is Sr. Managing Editor of Wearables Business.

Some potential uses and users of logoed kidswear:

*Daycare Centers

*Team sports

*School or group fund-raisers

*Hospitals

*School uniforms

*Company stores

*Church groups

*Restaurants

*Summer camps

*Recreation districts

*Amusement parks/centers

*Toy stores

*Company picnics

*Municipalities

Suppliers mentioned in this article:

American Apparel: 213-488-0226 Aprons, Etc.: 800-467-1996 Gerber Childrenswear: 800-642-4452 Valtex/Kiddy Kats: 800-259-4699 Newport Kidz: 800-835-1221

For complete listings of youth apparel suppliers, see the 2002 Wearables Business Buyer’s Guide.

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