As prom season descends upon Spokane-area high schools in all of its budget-busting glory, formal wear retailers here say theyre anticipating their highest-grossing prom season yet.
Although the increasingly extravagant high school event is giving the formal wear industry an extra boost this spring, the industry already has been experiencing robust sales growth, the retailers say.
Business has been going terrific, says Don Clifton, who owns Celestial Selections Inc., a bridal and formal wear shop in Spokane Valley, with his wife, Erlene. The water in the bathtub is rising, and theres not just one faucet filling it.
Celestial Selections sales in 2005 increased by 40 percent from 2004, he says. First-quarter sales this year are up by 20 percent from the year-earlier period, and Clifton expects sales during the rest of the year to be healthy as well, even after prom season has ended. Other shops here also report sharp gains.
Nationally, the industrys economic forecast looks bright as it approaches its busiest time of the year, says Wayne Griner, president of the Chicago-based International Formalwear Association and vice president of strategic planning for Atlanta-based After Hours Formal Wear Inc., which has more than 500 stores nationwide. Griner says he expects sales to be up by about 5 percent nationwide this year.
Easter is the pivotal point for our industry, and weve already seen early sales activity in rural areas of the U.S., Griner says. Stores are really looking good for the future.
Formal wear retailers here say they traditionally have relied on weddings for most of their sales, but prom season has reached wedding-esque proportions for many high school students. As a result, teenagers and their parents are shelling out more money for tuxedos and dresses these days, and are representing a larger percentage of overall sales, retailers say.
Its gotten a little out of control, says Marcella Davis, owner of Marcellas Bridal Inc. here. I dont understand why a dance could warrant that kind of expense.
Prom sales in the South have been strong this spring, Griner says. Thats a good omen for retailers elsewhere in the U.S., since high schools there typically hold proms earlier than high schools in other parts of the country, he says.
Part of the reason behind stronger prom sales could have to do with demographics, he says. Due to high birthrates in the 1980s and early 90s, an increasing number of high schoolers are expected to graduate between 2005 and 2014, he says.
Theres a nice increase in that segment of the population that bodes well for our industry, he says.
Retailers here say sales have been climbing steadily, after dropping slightly in the wake of Sept. 11, when many people scaled back the size of their weddings. For the most part, though, they say, the industry doesnt rise and fall with economic swings, because customers always have special events for which they want to rent tuxes or buy formal dresses.
The economy affects us somewhat, but people always get married, says Heidi Cane, general manager at Spokane-based Mr. Tux Inc. If a woman decided she wanted a big wedding as a little girl, shes still going to want a big wedding, and money doesnt seem to be an object for kids at the prom.
Mr. Tux opened a new store, at 10405 N. Newport Highway, several weeks ago, and sales have been strong there, as well as at its nine other stores in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, Cane says. It has 33 employees companywide, and recently added 10 workers in Spokane and four employees in the Tri-Cities.
The company opened a store in North Spokane several years ago, but closed it shortly thereafter due to lack of business, she says. Recently, though, demand has increased among customers from that area, so Mr. Tux decided to open a store there again. Students from North Side high schools have been ordering tuxes for their upcoming proms, which has buoyed business at the new store, Cane says. High schools typically hold proms in March, April, and May, but teenagers start shopping for the epic event several months in advance, she says.
Prom is very big for us, Cane says. Its a big influx of business.
Prom has become such a large portion of business at Celestial Selections that the Cliftons have expanded their store to include a separate bridesmaid-dress and prom-dress section, Don Clifton says. The couple operates the bridal section of the store in 2,500 square feet of space, at 306 S. Pines Road, and this past year leased an additional 1,300 square feet of space to display prom and other formal dresses.
Wedding gowns at Celestial Selections range from $500 to $1,500, and prom dresses sell for between $150 and $350, he says. The store expects to sell about 200 prom dresses this year, Clifton says.
Last year we had a girl come down from Canada who bought a $1,500 wedding dress for her prom, he says. She wanted a knock-your-socks-off dress, so her mom just handed us the plastic (credit card).
Spokane-based Tuxedo Gallery Inc.s sales in 2005 were up by 30 percent from 2004, and owner Gene Slatter says he expects sales will increase by 20 percent this year. Slatter says tux rentals for proms have been ballooning in recent years, increasing in 2005 by 40 percent from their 2004 level. Tux rental prices range from $60 to $120, he says.
Prom is where you make a decent share of your income for the year, he says.
The company, which has about 15 employees, hires 10 temporary employees each spring to keep up with demand, since it rents out about 1,000 tuxes each weekend during prom season, he says.
Tuxedo Gallery has two stores in Spokane, and one store each in Spokane Valley and Coeur dAlene, he says. The company is considering opening stores in Missoula, the Tri-Cities, and Yakima. It also has a wholesale tux business, he says.
Sales also have been strong at Mossutos Bridal & Formals Inc., of Spokane. Its sales in 2005 increased by 25 percent from the previous year, perhaps partly due to the stores addition of prom dresses to its inventory last year, says Mary Taylor, its owner.
This time of year is a significant boost in sales, Taylor says.
Taylor says she has noticed a trend among her prom customers. Customers who attend North Side high schools typically pay for their own dresses, while the parents of teenagers who attend Gonzaga Preparatory School, or schools on the South Hill and in Spokane Valley, usually buy the dresses, she says.
Sales at Marcellas Bridal, which sells bridal dresses and formal dresses, including custom-made dresses, have been climbing steadily for the past several years, Marcella Davis says. Prom sales, although a relatively small percentage of her overall business, have been increasing over the past couple of years. Davis says one of her prom customers recently told her that she and her date were spending about $2,000 on their prom.
I want to say, Are you kidding? she says. That money should go to college.
Marcellas Bridal has six employees, and is hiring one more. Davis says sales dipped after Sept. 11 in 2001, but are starting to pick up steam again as people plan more elaborate weddings than they did a few years ago.
My customers just seem to be upbeat and happy, she says.
At Houston-based The Mens Wearhouse Inc.s outlet in Spokane, first-quarter sales this year are up by 10 percent from the year-earlier period, says store manager Rick Dundas. The company started renting out tuxes three years ago, which has helped boost business, he says.
The formal-wear rental business is very profitable, because you buy the product once and then rent it out multiple times, Dundas says.
The company has focused more on marketing its tuxes during this prom season than it has in the past, which also has driven up sales, he says.
During an economic downturn, people will cut back on some things, but not their weddings or proms, Dundas says.
Contact Emily Brandler at (509) 344-1265 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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