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Put your shirt on sure-fire winners

Sales of shirts and knitwear are strong, says Martin Jones, but demand for silk ties has choked

I often wonder if every sales manager attends the same training school, where they are instructed to send out all the reps and agents at the same time.

There is always a period of inactivity following the buying season, when I suppose the latter catch up on their paperwork, take a well-deserved holiday and revamp their showrooms.

Then there is a magic date, like the tripping of a switch, when they all appear again. Suddenly, I am bombarded with phone calls, unexpected visits, faxed stock lists and mailshots, though surprisingly, few emails.

And immediately we are writing orders again - filling up the rails that have become depleted by sales built on warm sunshine and the promise of a good summer. A positive aspect of these visits is that it encourages us to keep a constant eye on sell-throughs, but for our business, which has just ended the first quarter of the financial year, there are not many surprises.

Shirt sales continue to be strong and these items must be one of the most trouble-free to stock and sell. Short sleeve, long sleeve, casual or formal, it doesn't seem to matter.

However, because we are all now accustomed to not having to wear a tie on many formal occasions, we do miss the add-on sale of a nice silk tie.

Incidentally, if any marketing genius can suggest what we should do with several thousand beautiful quality silk ties, bought for pennies but once selling for more than £30, there's a mystery gift in the post. Any offers, please, before we call Oxfam?

Despite the growing popularity of five pocket styles, trouser sales remain pretty static. I think we would all benefit from some new, exciting product to take the market by storm as Farah did in the 1970s and 1980s, but please, not in polyester hopsack this time. Considering the warm weather, sales of knitwear and tops are well up on last year, although these are more or less balanced out by a drop in sales of blousons and zippers.

Jackets, casual footwear, shorts, women's casualwear, accessories and gifts have all enjoyed success; in fact, the only difficult area has been suits. As the only suit shop in town, we stock everything from budget to expensive. But even then there is no clear pattern, as one week demand is for budget lines and the next week it is for higher-priced suits, with little interest for anything in between.

So I'll end with a message for all our friendly, hard-working reps and agents. The first one to call and bring a crystal ball will definitely get an order.

- Martin Jones is the manager of menswear store Vaughan-Davies in Mold, north Wales.

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