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  • Nick Monjo

The Off-Price Underwear Experts



What’s happening in the off-price underwear market?


As a counterpoint to all our reports on how the full price intimate apparel wholesalers and retailers are meeting the challenges of current economic conditions, we talked with the owners of one of the country’s most important discounters of name brand lingerie.


Discount Fashion Warehouse (DFWH), based in Columbus, Ohio, offers a wide range apparel and home goods, in 17 large stores located across their home state. But from the time they started their off price business more than 30 years ago, the two partners, Jeff Bradshaw and Mark Laufersweiler, have also been known to offer deep discounts on some of the most famous underwear brands.


“The middle to lower class consumer has been pummeled by inflation, gas prices, food prices, adjustable rate mortgages,” began Bradshaw. And so the past couple of years have provided challenges, even for a business that promises on its website “Great deals up to 90% off retail.”


“The customer wants to shop, but she is really scared. And they have to allocate their disposable income.” Though Bradshaw reported that the number of transactions are down somewhat this year, the amount spent per transaction slipped only slightly, while the number of units per transaction, 4.74, is about the same as a year ago. And he sees the trend improving in the second half of the year.


“It is clear to us that customers still want to shop. And they want to go to a brick and mortar store.”


While traditional retailers sometimes complain that they cannot find enough shoppers to buy their name brand merchandise, these two Ohio off-pricers often have the opposite problem: not enough name brand intimates at deep discounts to offer to their customers.


Thus Bradshaw and Laufersweiler are always searching for “opportunistic buys” for all kinds of merchandise.


“Generic underwear, basic name brand underwear, is a hard thing to get” in large quantities, to sell at deep discounts, pointed out Laufersweiler. “We sell it at $3, in bins, by size. And I am always looking for additional sources.” He said he is also looking for more men’s and women’s sleepwear, pajamas and robes. Loungewear is another growth category. “Loungewear is obviously something that came out of COVID and it seems to be sticking. We see more demand for lounge pants and tops as opposed to sleepwear.”


In recent years the demand has also increased for plus size underwear and intimates at DFWH, “but we have not found the right inventory to make that grow,” Laufersweiler continued. “We have strong shoppers in the plus size area.”


Many public company retailers and wholesalers have reported strong demand for activewear in recent years, and the same is true at DFWH. “Sport bras, leggings, capris, activewear is big for us,” concurred Laufersweiler. But he added that because it is a popular category in the conventional market, it is often difficult for him to obtain merchandise. “We are always on the lookout for that. Big brands consistently do well in the activewear department. But often there is nothing left over for the secondary market.”


Currently on his shopping list: “Leggings. I need more of that!”


While some big retailers complained about slower swimwear sales this season, DFWH has consistently done well in the category and is always looking for more. “I am now searching for a good brand in swimwear,” said Laufersweiler. One reason for DFWH’s success with swimwear, according to co-owner Bradshaw, is “we got it out earlier. In early February. Actually, I think we could sell it in January.”


Shapewear is a somewhat unexplored category for the discounter. “We don’t get a lot of shapewear,” admitted Laufersweiler. “But I do see demand for it. It is currently a small category for us. But it could be bigger if we had it.”


Sexier lingerie is a sector with which DFWH has experimented recently, but it has not proved particularly popular, explained Bradshaw. “Customers are buying heartland styles here in Columbus. The really wild stuff did not sell. The crotchless did not sell.” After a moment’s reflection he noted that part of the problem may be the current economic conditions. “If you can’t afford food or gas you are not feeling sexy.”


Despite the current challenges, the discounters agree that even more than low prices, consumers love brand names. “The funny thing is that when I just buy somebody’s private label instead of a brand name, it does not do as well,” confided Laufersweiler. “It is the brands. That is what sells.”


In addition to expanding its searches for name brand merchandise, DFWH has responded to the current economy in several other ways. They have focused on improving all their management systems and, in general, are “doing a much better job at running our stores,” said Bradshaw. “We have better store managers, district managers, better allocators and planners.” He added that the company is “also doing a better job at telling our story properly,” by “focusing on delivering a consistent message through all channels, digital, texts, emails, social media, cable TV, streaming, advertising.”


“But the key will always be what we have to offer our consumers. The brand name merchandise,” concluded Laufersweiler. Contact: markl@dfwh.com; (614) 733-3805.

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