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S&K Menswear finds suits don't fit well in Florida

Linens n' Things, Sound Advice and Sears Essential: So many retailers are staging liquidation sales this holiday season that the sidewalk sign-wavers must compete for prime corners.

Latest to join the crowd is S&K Menswear, which kicked off its store-closing sale over the weekend that runs until early January.

The moderately priced Richmond, Va., chain isn't going out of business. It's closing only 37 of its 220 stores, including all three in the Tampa Bay market.

"We started out well there, but it's become difficult to sell men's suits in Florida," said Brian Kipp, vice president of marketing.

S&K is sticking with its store in Prime Outlets Ellenton.

If retailing is about persuading people to buy what they don't need, Steve Sodell has his work cut out for him.

He opened three Super Bowl stores in the bay area in November with more than 200 items for the NFL championship game slated for Feb. 1 in Tampa.

Heck, the teams won't be known until Jan. 18. But he hopes Tampa fans are eager for bowl logo mementos for Christmas.

"People are surprised we opened so early, but the NFL changed the rules for licensed game merchandise sales since the game was last held in Tampa," said the Scottsdale, Ariz., entrepreneur whose Sports Fan Marketing is working its seventh Super Bowl. "The league prefers brick-and-mortar stores now and won't tolerate tents in gas station parking lots. I'll have eight to 10 more locations open closer to the game."

His stores are in St. Petersburg at BayWalk, and in Tampa at 4001 W Kennedy Blvd. and a former Steak & Ale at WestShore Plaza.

He plans on selling commemorative hats and shirts of the winning team — the same types passed out to the teams on TV — the moment the game ends. (The loser's shirts and hats are sent to the NFL for distribution in undeveloped countries.)

The folks who gave us the Nigerian banker scam have come up with a devious new version.

This time it's an authentic-looking e-mail that claims to be a customer service survey from walmart.com. The message says Wal-Mart will pay participants $150 for their opinions — just key in your credit card number.

Needless to say, Wal-Mart doesn't survey customers like that. And the company suggests that anybody who gets the e-mail alert consumer fraud authorities.

"It's unfortunate some people try to use a business' good reputation for personal gain," spokeswoman Ashley Hardie said.

For the first time since 2001, sales of gift cards are on the decline. What's still expected to be the most popular gift is headed for a 6 percent drop to $24.9-billion this holiday season, down $1.4-billion from 2007, the National Retail Federation reports.

There are plenty of reasons. The Sharper Image bankruptcy taught many that gift cards can become worthless. In this down economy, fewer people plan to buy one, and those who do will spend less, reports BIG Research.

"Gift cards never go on sale," said Tracy Mullin, the federation's chief executive. "So some price-conscious shoppers will favor other bargains."

Also, store and card issuers have heightened scrutiny of fraudulent transactions since discovering thieves use gift cards to convert stolen credit and debit card numbers to cash.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

S&K Menswear finds suits don't fit well in Florida 11/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 3:59pm]

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