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SMART ANSWERS
By Karen E. Klein

10.14.99  
Time To Shop for Camp Kitchikoomee's Signature Duds
Tips for a camp owner on starting a clothing sideline

Q: My brother needs customized clothing for the camp that he owns. But letting an outside company provide it would leave him only 15% of the profits for the apparel. How would he go about starting a line of clothing on his own?
--J.S., Englewood, N.J.

A: There are a couple of ways to approach such a project. The simplest is for your brother to ask a company that makes uniforms for schools and camps to make a private-label package with the camp's insignia, name, and other desired features. He would choose T-shirts, shorts, pants, sweatshirts, and other items from the company's catalog, and the uniform maker would customize them for him. Your brother would then resell the clothing to campers, probably marking it up by about 30%. He'll need to meet minimum orders -- generally around 1,000 pieces per item, says Paul Ratoff, a consultant who specializes in the apparel industry for the accounting firm of Moss-Adams LLP.

"It's a good way to make some extra money, especially if it's a decent-sized camp and he can get commitments and payment for the clothing up front, when the parents sign up for the sessions," Ratoff says. "He should prepare a brochure and presell the clothing that way. His minimum order would probably include some stock to sell during the camp sessions. If worse came to worse, he'd just have some extra inventory that would bleed over into the next year."

An alternative for your brother would be to contract with a "packager," Ratoff says. That's an apparel-industry agent who arranges with producers, possibly located overseas or in Mexico, to make the clothes. Packagers typically charge a flat fee for their services. In this scenario, your brother would have to do more legwork. He would have to choose the designs, colors, and fabrics himself. He might have more quality-control problems, and he would have to plan for a longer lead time between order and delivery. The reward would be lower costs to him. That would allow him to mark up the goods by as much as 50% without raising the retail price.

Ratoff suggests that your brother contact an apparel consultant for references to reputable packagers or uniform companies. For additional resources and research, he could try apparel-industry publications such as Women's Wear Daily (www.wwd.com) and the Daily News Record (www.dnrnews.com). The same publisher also produces a trade journal focused on children's products, including apparel, called Children's Business, (www.childrensbusiness.com). Associations such as the National Retail Federation publish directories of suppliers by industry that might help your brother locate vendors. The NRF has a Web site, www.nrf.com, or may be contacted at 325 7th Street, NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20004 (telephone: 202 783-7971).


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