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Agencies braced for top-up frenzy

Mid-market womenswear agencies and manufacturers are under pressure to shorten lead times, to cope with a potential influx of autumn 07 top-up orders from independents.

Many indies have bought tightly after being lumbered with excess knitwear and coats following prolonged hot weather in autumn 06. As a result, more top-up orders are expected this autumn.

The Jacoby Partnership, which distributes brands such as Jobis and Via Appia, has moved 25% of its buying from the Far East to Europe to speed up delivery. Managing director Curtis Jacoby said: "There is a growing demand for manufacturers to have items in stock. Retailers know they have bought short and have money to spend."

The Jacoby Partnership has also taken on German label Swing, which offers a never out of stock (NOS) collection. "We've specifically looked for goods that are available for immediate delivery," added Jacoby. "Cash and carries are available, but they don't serve the higher end of the market."

Marianne Bainbridge, the main UK agent for German womenswear label Lucia, also noticed independents tightening their orders this year. She said the industry could no longer rely on Sales to clear stock, because of factors such as increased early discounting by multiples.

Bainbridge said Lucia is adapting to new buying patterns by altering the seasonality of its designs, rather than availability. "Lucia is aware of changing weather patterns and is making more transitional product," she said, adding that it had a NOS collection and a stock pile in Germany allowing retailers to top up on product mid-season.

Jillian Hart, owner of the eponymous womenswear boutique in Derby, has forward ordered for autumn 07 despite the risks. "I find that on short order, what you get is sometimes not what you want," she said. "To get the real quality you have to stick your neck out and forward order."

However, she said staggered delivery programmes at larger German brands such as Gerry Weber allowed her to regularly renew stock.

Sarita Charman, manager of Lady Fayre in Horsham, West Sussex, agreed that major German brands had adapted well to allow shorter response times. "If you don't have something, some of the companies are so big that you can get product within a week," she said.

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