As you find yourself wandering the numerous exhibits at the many trade shows this year, you’ll find it hard not to notice the apparent dichotomy in the wearables sector of the industry. On one hand, hats, T-shirts and sweats are rampant with the trendy look of distressed hems and vintage stylings that suggest movement toward a casual scene. And on the other, high-scale suede leather jackets, technical and clean-designed activewear and wrinkle-resisting wovens insinuate the industry is headed in the exact opposite direction—the dressier the better. And while certainly (and luckily) decorators aren’t limited to one or the other, it’s also comforting to discover styles that strike a balance between the two. Enter the placket shirt; the almighty polo that fits into a variety of applications—the compromise between casual and dressy.
Plackets that work
The realm of this apparel segment is quite expansive, with brands, styles and price points that hit literally any demographic. From casual cottons that suit mainstream uniform programs to high-end specialized plackets for golf, the possibilities run the gamut. The latter, according to Tom Flippo, Vice President of Sales for Dunbrooke in Independence, Mo., is the most popular category of placket shirts.
But golf shirts aren’t limited just to golf; their performance characteristics and unique design that strikes a balance between sporty and dressy lends the style to a variety of applications. “Sportier plackets that have athletic appeal great for the school and team market can also fit perfectly into uniform programs,” suggests Lee Strom, Senior Marketing Manager for Seattle-based SanMar Corp. “Think of your local fitness centers, booster clubs and restaurants where employees would appreciate the comfort of moisture-wicking fabric.”
Following suit with the rest of the industry, here is where performance and plackets intersect. Moisture-wicking and antimicrobial treatments are becoming par-for-the-course (that’s average to you non-golfers) for plackets and golf wear. “The industry is enthralled with technical fabrics,” says Strom, “and it applies in a major way to placket shirts. Many of our placket styles feature a moisture-wicking weave or combine dry-wick technology with UPF protection.”
For golfers, being in the hot sun may make these treatments seem outwardly obvious. But be mindful that, while performance is every-day language to us industry folk, it’s not commonplace to customers. Wow them with knowledge of how the technology works, and educate on the care for these garments to ensure repeat orders.
Tim Shields, Brand Manager of New York City-based Capital Mercury Apparel, says that decorators should always use their insider knowledge of buzzwords, trends, and technology to add value during a sales presentation. “Describe how a raglan sleeve can add comfort,” he explains, “and let them feel how pima and micro polyester give great hand and drape.” While many consumers recognize these traits from the retail sector, the terms aren’t necessarily familiar. Approaching customers as a garment expert is more important than merely show; when you know what you’re talking about, they feel more confident in buying from you.
Another trend that takes shape in this segment of the apparel category is the prevalence and power of brands. With the recent entrance of retail moguls Reebok, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and others into the industry, branding is becoming more important to apparel marketing, but such is especially true for higher-end promotions, and even more so for golf. The golf segment introduces a few of its own brands to the industry; Arnold Palmer, Cutter and Buck, Nike Golf and Greg Norman, to name a few. “Brands mean higher margins,” according to Shields. “You can make 40 to 50 points with branded apparel.”
For man, woman and child…
One sector of the placket arena that’s rapidly growing to catch up with the rest of the garment world is the women’s segment. Perhaps because of the placket’s roots in the golf industry has this trend been so long coming, but none-the-less, it’s here. In fact, our inside sources in the golf market report that this segment is their fastest-growing. Plackets for women incorporate feminine details, such as Jonny collars and softer silhouettes. “There are many styles to address women buyers, says Capital Mercury’s Shields, “so know the styling points.”
Another obvious benefit to speaking to women’s placket needs is coordinating promotions and uniform programs. “Using plackets makes it easier to have a coordinating piece. It’s easier to merchandise and to sell,” Flippo reports. “Therefore, a women’s companion piece is vital. Placket shirts are easy to coordinate and to make feminine. Sometimes it’s just a color change or maybe you change the placket to a loop neck, a two-button Johnny collar or a self-fabric button-less placket. Any way you go, you have more options to make a placket shirt feminine as opposed to a woven shirt or a jacket. It’s always easier to sell a placket shirt when you have a women’s coordinating piece.”
Designers and manufacturers are also gearing toward a younger buyer. Shields says Capital Mercury approaches this buyer in terms of attitude rather than age, and this approach is manifested in a whole lot of color. Plus, with the return of 80’s preppie to the fashion scene, kids are all over bright plackets with a flipped-up collar.
“One of our brands is designed to capture the teen market with trendy design details and youthful cuts,” says Strom. “Bring these sport shirts along if you’re going into schools or presenting to student groups. Buyers aren’t always staff and faculty. Sometimes it’s the student body officers in charge of event planning.”
He additionally suggests to bring out retail-inspired styles, as clients are shoppers at heart. “They respond to things like stretch knit fabric, fashion patch pockets for girls and contrast stitching.
Traditionally an upper-scale item for corporate clients, classier uniform programs and refined giveaways, collared shirts are most always embellished with embroidery. While tactful logos are certainly done justice via screen print, the texture of many placket shirts lends them more naturally to needle-and-thread. Additionally, when jobs call for the upper echelon in spun fabrics, many regal-branded polo options require dry-clean maintenance, thus eliminating the option for screen printing.
But beyond the medium, decorators should take notice of trends in placement as well. “One of the most effective marketing tactics for decorators is providing clients with examples of where to decorate,” says Strom. “Placket shirts are great canvases because there are only limited restrictions on where you can put a logo. The left chest is common for casual office wear, but who’s to say you can’t embroider inside the placket if it has contrast lining that catches the eye?”
Flippo adds that color coordinating the customer’s logo is paramount. “Look at your customer’s logo and match the shirt to the logo or recommend tone-on-tone,” he suggests. “You want something that says wow when you show it to them. When a logo isn’t color-coordinated and it’s on a neutral shirt, the logo won’t pop and therefore won’t sell as well.”
Ideas for sale
While plackets may be the obvious choice for a specific client, the shirts don’t sell themselves. In order to help maximize your chances for yeses, Shields suggests to, “Always have a range of items to present. A good, better, best presentation is going to be your best bet.” He also says to take advantage of sales tools provided by some of the wholesalers and others that offer customizable sales sheets. Some websites allow decorators to email product pages to their customers, and some of those pages are even customizable with a dropped-in logo.
Of course, if the opportunity presents itself, a physical sample is always best. “Take a color coordinated spec sample in with your customer’s logo on it and in the buyer’s size” Flippo advises. “A decorated sample will always sell faster and more often than a blank sample or just showing a garment in the catalog.”
And finally, the biggest tip is to sell your business. “One of the biggest variables is value-added service—are you providing ideas or leaving it to the client?” Strom asks. “Your creative input pushes the profit margins way up.”