For the fourth time, Stitches has ranked the Top 25 Apparel Suppliers in the decorated-apparel industry. Leaders in the garment-selling space, these are the suppliers that apparel decorators and ad specialty distributors rely on for everything from performance wear shirts and high-end outerwear to trend insights, marketing advice and more.
This 2014 list features a number of notable differences from last year’s ranking. For instance, 2013’s top finisher, the former Broder Bros. Co., rebranded as alphabroder (asi/34063) and acquired last year’s sixth-ranked supplier, Ash City (asi/37127). The one-time competitors now form an apparel powerhouse that posted combined revenue of nearly $700 million in 2013. Additionally, S&S Activewear (asi/84358), ranked fifth last year, acquired the former Eva Tees, which was 21st in 2013. Eva Tees was rebranded Eva Sportswear (asi/52834) and the companies tallied combined revenue of $195 million last year. While both Eva and Ash City weren’t part of their acquiring firms in 2013, we’re including their numbers under the banner of the acquisitive suppliers to give the most accurate picture of the firms’ current revenue power.
There are also new arrivals to the Top 25 list: Charles River Apparel (asi/44620) debuted in style thanks to a 2013 in which revenue increased 18% to $34.5 million; Dunbrooke (asi/50930) debuted with 2013 revenue of $20 million; and Perry Ellis International (asi/77715) joined the ranking with 2013 revenue of $16 million.
Beyond ranking suppliers by revenue, Stitches surveyed their opinions on everything from product safety and the possibility of price increases to top markets decorators can target in 2014. Read on to check out the ranking, stats and supplier stories.
THE TOTAL SOLUTION
A lot of businesses talk about being a total solution for clients – alphabroder (asi/34063) has been busy transforming itself into such an entity.
The Trevose, PA-based company, formerly known as Broder Bros. Co., was already the largest supplier by revenue in the imprinted apparel industry when it announced in January that it had acquired Ash City (asi/37127). The deal united two of the industry’s 10 largest apparel suppliers and came on the tailwind of Broder’s rebranding as alphabroder. Both the acquisition and the name change were intended to send a clear message: alphabroder is an invigorated, energetic supplier on the rise that’s ready to meet all the apparel needs of decorators and advertising specialty distributors. “Our goal is to give our customers a seamless offering,” CEO Norman Hullinger says.
To achieve that end, alphabroder is staying hungry. Future acquisitions are in the cards – acquisitions that could help the supplier build the most comprehensive apparel portfolio possible and an unparalleled distribution network for lightning-quick service. “We’ll have the exact right product assortment and the very best distribution,” Hullinger says. While acquisitive, alphabroder’s expansion plans stop short of delving into the complexities of in-house apparel decorating. “We’re focused on being a one-call for promotional apparel – on having the best selection of basics, mid-price points and high-end products,” Hullinger says.
While acquisitions are helping to bolster alphabroder’s bottom line, the supplier’s organic sales have been on an upward trajectory, too. A crackerjack executive team that’s sharpened sales and marketing initiatives, combined with strengthened relationships with vendors, helped push alphabroder’s 2013 revenue tally to $697.2 million, a 33% rise over the prior year.
As part of fueling further gains, alphabroder is focused on helping customers capitalize on trends, such as end-buyers’ intensifying appetite for outerwear. “When someone gets a nice piece of outerwear, they wear it for years, which makes it an amazing branding opportunity,” says Hullinger, noting the margins decorators and distributors earn on outerwear can be especially strong because of the category’s high perceived value. Meanwhile, the call for performance fabrics is likely to only get louder. “Buyers are learning about the benefits of antimicrobial and wicking, and they want them,” Hullinger says, adding that lighter-weight fitted T-shirts are gaining steam because of their appeal to the trendier tastes of youth. “We’re bullish on 2014 – for our company and the industry as a whole.” – Christopher Ruvo
MASTERING SELECTION AND SERVICE
S&S Activewear (asi/84358) is an apparel supplier with its foot on the accelerator. From 2010 through last year, the Bolingbrook, IL-based company powered forward with 28% revenue growth and acquired two other suppliers, one in California (Americana Sportswear (asi/35722) in 2010) and the other in New Jersey (Eva Sportswear (asi/52834) in 2013). With this coast-to-coast presence, S&S is better poised than ever to serve clients around the country. That’s important, for service has been – and will continue to be – a determining driver of S&S’s sales ascent. “We have a very broad product line and a deep inventory to back it up,” says Jeff Adams, co-owner.
Heading into this year, S&S’s product portfolio already included household names that range from Canvas and Calvin Klein to Anvil (asi/36350), Alternative Apparel (asi/34850) and Champion (asi/59528). But that selection was strengthened with the addition of items from the hip young men’s line Burnside and caps, duffels, polos and backpacks from sports lifestyle brand Oakley. “We do new brand introductions every year so we can continually offer more to our clients,” Adams says.
The service edge S&S provides is sharpened by tech offerings too, including an online design studio that enables clients to upload or create logos/graphics on the supplier’s website and then place them on virtual product samples that can be e-mailed to clients. Additionally, S&S ships each order from a single location. This reduces the chances for error that come with multi-location shipping of one order, and allows clients to receive a single, simple invoice. “Decorators get the whole order the same day, which makes scheduling production easier,” Adams says.
To ensure it provides the apparel and accessories decorators and distributors need to meet marketplace demand, the S&S team keeps a keen eye on trends. For the foreseeable future, Adams says, performance fabrics will reign popular; moisture-wicking polyester and poly blends will be among the most sought-after selections. Meanwhile, the industry will continue to experience style infusions from the fashion world, with softer, lighter-weight formulations composing T-shirts cut to a trendier fit. As for decoration, Adams says embroidery and screen printing will dominate, but expect sublimation printing to come on strong. “With sublimation, you can make a shirt look like an art mural,” says Adams, explaining the medium’s appeal.
As trends evolve, one thing will remain a constant at S&S. “We’re always focused on providing our clients the products they need to be successful,” Adams says. – CR
KEEPING CUSTOMERS HAPPY
For MV Sport/Weatherproof (asi/68318), the math was simple: new product offerings plus an enhanced website and an eco-friendly approach equaled a big boost in sales. “We added a full range of new products – about 40 new styles in 2013 – which our customers really responded to,” says MV Sport President Josh Peyser. “We’ve made a lot of innovations in our decorating capability, which is very important to our customers, and we continually invest in customer service.”
MV Sport, which offers screen printing, embroidery, etching, appliqué and laser-cutting capabilities, saw its sales increase by more than 15% from 2012 to last year – in part because Peyser recognizes that great products mean nothing if customers don’t know about them, which is why MV Sport invested in an enhanced online presence last year.
“We made our website easier to use with more imagery of representations of every style and every color, lots of different ways to navigate the site and online, up-to-date inventory,” Peyser says. “We’re going to be adding online ordering as well. Our customers responded to the ease in finding good, high-quality imagery of our products that they can see and pass on to their customers as needed, and we added pages dedicated to our corporate responsibility program, which we think drove business.”
That corporate responsibility includes MV Sport’s solar-powered facility – a massive investment, but one that Peyser says is already beginning to pay off. “You really need to believe in the concept because it’s a big upfront investment and then a payback over many years,” he says. Peyser notes that because solar power is clean, renewable and lessens dependence on foreign energy sources, “we find a lot of our customers reacting very well because they like to do business with people who have a strong commitment to social responsibility.” – Shane Dale
CUTTER & BUCK:
FOCUSED ON QUALITY
Under the leadership of a new CEO, Cutter & Buck’s (asi/47965) mission remains the same: continue to be recognized as an innovator and industry leader in the golf and fashion market, as well as the corporate market through its Clique collection.
Of course, maintaining market share in the decorated apparel industry entails looking for and capitalizing on new embellishment methods. Joel Freet, a 15-year company veteran who took the reins as CEO on April 1, says Cutter & Buck’s new heat-seal applications are a small but growing part of its operations. “The variety of transfers and appliqués that can be used are really appealing for the imaginative customer, and the impact of clear branding is great for some super-lightweight tech fabrics,” he says. “Our largest success has in fact come from using our heat-seal process to apply very small, detailed woven appliqués that lend a very classy, branded appearance and are quite small and can be placed nearly anywhere.”
Freet says one of his new favorite products for 2014 is Cutter & Buck’s Northgate Polo, which he calls a very modern classic ideal for golf outings or other athletic outdoor company events. “It’s taking the polo to a very modern place,” he says.
In terms of demographics, Freet says women will continue to be a primary focus for Cutter & Buck under his leadership. “We’re really happy to be focusing on women end-users, as we have such a strong retail business with our golf essentials and the Ladies Cutter & Buck Team Collection for fans of professional and collegiate sports,” he says. – SD