29 April 2009

Recession puts holes in sales of men's underwear

OK - this is an American article, but what happens in the US economy is often reflected in the UK, and so we still found this article very interesting...

Report by: Mark Albright, St Petersburg Times Staff Writer In Print: Friday, April 10, 2009

Blame slackers, cheap imports or the recession, but industry analysts on Thursday dropped their forecasts for men's underwear sales.

Turns out this is another one of those quirky tales like Groundhog Day, women's skirt lengths or Joe Kennedy confirming the 1929 stock market bubble when even his shoe-shine guy was spouting stock tips.

In this case, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Green¬span reportedly monitored sales of staples like men's underwear for clues about spending that drives the economy.

Greenspan figured a consumer who trims the underwear budget must be truly pinched. After all, underwear needs don't change. Styles change at a glacial pace. The duds are mostly out of sight, so why splurge?

After a weak winter, Mintel International reversed its December forecast for a modest gain this year to a decline of 2.3 percent, or minus 3.1 percent adjusted for inflation.

Men's underwear sales are among the first products to recover from recession, so Greenspan would regard the lingering decline as a bad sign.

"This is the first time I heard that one," said Chris McCarty, who produces the Florida Consumer Confidence Index for the University of Florida Bureau of Economic Research. "Maybe that's why a consensus of economists now thinks Greenspan may have been looking at the wrong things all along. I'm focused on housing, which appears close to hitting bottom in Florida."

Yet after flat-lining year in and year out, not just dollar sales of underwear are slipping. Mintel surveys found men buying replacements less frequently and running up the mileage on what they have. And the only place they bought more pairs were budget-priced discount stores. Even sales online dropped 27 percent.

"That fits anecdotally with what we're hearing about a continued pullback in spending another quarter. People are still cutting necessities," said Lynn Franco, the economist who compiles the Consumer Confidence Index for the Conference Board.

It's not all bad news. High-end brands like Calvin Klein reported robust sales, and Polo and Tommy Hilfiger lost no ground. Hispanics and blacks buy one more replacement pair of underwear than the now-lowered national average of 3.8 pairs a year. In contrast men aged 25 to 34 bought 5.3.

However, research finds men keeping their skivvies longer. It's not pretty, so the squeamish should stop reading here.

According to Kelton Research, one in four men wear a pair more than five years, one in 10 longer than ten years. A third fess up their undies are not the original color. And one in seven admits routinely wearing what no longer fits or is riddled with holes.

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