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Haggar Corp. was caught with its pants down when Levi Strauss & Co. introduced its Dockers line of casual slacks.

Consumers zipped up the 100% cotton Dockers at a furious pace in the late 1980s while Haggar watched sales of its casual pants get cut in half.

But then Haggar went them one better. When Haggar rolled out its wrinkle-free, 100% cotton pants, Levi's and other competitors were left with a pressing problem.

"This was done purely on a leap of faith," says Exec VP Frank Bracken. "We asked, `How can we rewrite the rules for them as they did to us?'*" And the answer came

from consumers.

"Most of the research being conducted was secondary, diary-type stuff. No one was really talking to the consumer," says Mr. Bracken, 53, who's been with Haggar for 31 years. "We quadrupled our research budget and .*.*. found that while the consumers like the feel of 100% cotton, they expect the pants to be high maintenance. But [they] don't really like that."

So Haggar dug up the recipe for the permanent-press process which, while retarding wrinkles, left cotton clothing feeling stiff. Then it updated the technology.

Mr. Bracken says that to encroach on the Dockers-dominated market, Haggar next had to match Levi's marketing investment. It spent $10 million on advertising-via Tracy-Locke, Dallas-during the fall '92 launch period.

Since the introduction of the wrinkle-free slacks, sales have topped $180 million; profits this year are expected to rise 65% to more than $25 million.

Levi's responded, too. Last spring, it introduced a line of no-iron slacks. But Haggar hopes to keep its edge by spending more than $30 million on advertising this year.

Mr. Bracken is confident. "We have the name awareness and we have an edge in technology."

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