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Basics Instinct : B.U.M. Equipment Finds Success Making Comfortable Everyday Clothing With Reverse Snob Appeal

October 08, 1993|WILLIAM KISSEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rather than build the brand as a status label, he followed the lead of shoe companies like Nike and Converse, which achieved name recognition partly through their celebrity ties. Actor Jason Priestley, hockey pro Wayne Gretzky and boxer Larry Holmes were among those who adopted the label. "The customer can identify with these people," Forshpan says, as he shows off a Billy Ray Cyrus concert program featuring the singer in a B.U.M. sweat shirt.

Forshpan acknowledges that the popular L.A.-based hip-hop labels Cross Colours and Tag Rag have recently stunted B.U.M.'s growth. The company leaped from $120 million in 1991 sales to $175 million in 1992. Sales this year are expected to be $200 million.

Forshpan attributes B.U.M.'s slowdown to "label fatigue," in which consumers temporarily tire of a label, then later rediscover it. B.U.M.'s sales have picked up over the past few months on the East and West coasts, he says.

Some industry analysts, however, suggest it has more to do with the label's massive foray into discount chains and low-price clubs.

"When a label ends up at that level of distribution, it's basically saying that it's peaked," says analyst Bernard. "It tells the consumer that the owners are going to get the very last drop out of it that they can."

Forshpan counters that the company unknowingly sold its clothing to "diverters," buyers who claimed to represent stores overseas but actually unloaded merchandise on discounters. B.U.M. hopes to remove all of its products from discount stores by year's end, and plans to replace them with a new, yet-to-be-named collection of sportswear exclusively for distribution to discounters.

Whether sales rebound will ultimately depend on the label's fickle core of customers--8- to 12-year-old boys and girls and 16- to 24-year-old young adults--and presumably their parents.

"I think the label is still valid and the quality is good," says Meg Rottman, a Whittier mother who recently bought B.U.M. clothing for her 8-year-old boy. "It's stylish, it makes him look like he knows what's happening fashionwise and it's not that huge, oversized stuff the school will no longer let the kids wear."

"It's still pretty cool stuff," adds 14-year-old Carlos Juarez, who was recently spotted cruising the Plaza Pasadena in a yellow B.U.M. sweat shirt and denim cut-offs. "It's not real trendy. It's just cool, comfortable. I like to wear this when I ride my skateboard."

For now, department stores remain enthusiastic as well. "The success we have with B.U.M. is enormous," says William Podany, executive vice president of merchandising for Carter Hawley Hale, parent company of the Broadway, where B.U.M. hangs in the young men's and junior departments. "We became their largest account sometime last year, when we were selling thousands of units of basic fleece crew necks weekly."

Podany says that when sales of basic items--T-shirts, shorts, sweat shirts--fell off, retailers began asking B.U.M. executives to add trendier items. "Today, it's more of a (complete) look than it is a (single) item business for us."

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