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Tiffany Montgomery
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Atwater focuses on strengths as it navigates economic storm

By Tiffany Montgomery
March 31, 2009 8:00 AM

I caught up with Dean Bradley of Atwater this week on the heels of the brand's nomination for "Breakthrough brand of the year" for the SIMA Image Awards. I wanted to see what is new with the brand and how it is navigating the tough market, which can be especially challenging for smaller companies. 

Here's what Dean had to say:

Atwater T-shirtHow is business going?

It's crazy, right? There's a lot going on, but we've been fortunate lately, some nice things have been swinging our direction. The good news is we are definitely still growing despite the economic climate.

As a young brand, is Atwater feeling the impact from the tough environment?

Definitely. I mean we can't ship accounts that are on credit hold, so we are having to balance our accounts that have fallen on hard times with opening new accounts. It is survival mode out there right now. The bright side is we are a very small operation with a very low overhead, so we are nimble and capable to adapt.

Atwater denimAny new initiatives/categories? At one point, you had mentioned Atwater may branch into juniors.

Actually, the economy has forced us to really zero in on our strengths and narrow our collection down. It's forcing us to be better. We are spending a lot of time together with design, sales, and merchandising to look at every style we develop to make the freshest product possible. In the meanwhile, we definitely are planning to launch Atwater juniors, the only question is when. It's a matter of timing and capital, but we can't wait!

How are retailers treating orders? Are they ordering in season? Booking for fall?

It's really a different story from store to store. The specialty retailer is holding orders as long as they can within reason. Fall bookings are up, so we are optimistic.

How is Atwater approaching marketing these days?

Our main focus is on retail marketing. We are doing everything we can with our accounts to help them move our product. We believe in deepening the relationship with the retailers, so that is where we are focusing our resources. As always, we have a strong belief in our Atwater White Tiger team of artists, musicians and athletes. Atwater has been blessed with some amazing talent.

Are there any styles for fall that are a "home run" so far for retailers?

Our wovens are trending up as well as knit tanks. Our flannels are trending very well. Our denim collection has been very well received - for fall we expanded the category with four new fits and washes. Our T-shirt is premium at a great price so we are offering more designs and more colors.

Are you guys having any luck breaking into the East Coast?

We've hired four new sales reps for the East Coast who are doing great work. With them we've been able to open some amazing accounts such as Coastal Edge, 17th Street, Brave New World, and Whalebone, to name a few.

Atwater boardshortHow is Atwater handling distribution? Is there a type of retailer where Atwater really does well?

We are focused on like-minded accounts. It's great to be on the floor with other brands that compliment Atwater. Our greatest success has come from medium-sized core chains such as Jack's, Surfside Sports, Sun Diego, Spyder and Val Surf.

How do you expect the rest of the year to play out? I know the environment is tough - Does Atwater have the resource to weather the storm?

We have have high hopes, our sales are up and the recent nomination for SIMA's Breakthrough Brand of the Year award really gave us and our retailers a boost of confidence. Other than that, we have the resources to keep charging ahead with tight financial budgeting. We throw pennies around like manhole covers!

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