By  on March 21, 1994

NEW YORK -- Hair accessories are still a profitable area for many stores, but maintaining a constant array of new merchandise and analyzing sales in this inventory-heavy, impulse-driven category can be tough.Price, too, remains a high priority among retailers, who are generally sticking to either higher-priced, designer level goods or more volume-driven trend lines rather than offering a mix.Rob Goldfarb, merchandise manager for fashion accessories at Henri Bendel, said hair accessories is a high-maintenance business, where tracking exactly what sells is crucial to success."We identify every piece of merchandise by vendor, fabrication or theme and classification, so we can monitor what is selling best," Goldfarb said, "Then we place weekly orders to keep the fastest-turning merchandise in stock."Bendel's merchandising formula makes it easy for customers to pick and choose by showcasing hair accessories according to a theme -- such as silver, or a category -- like headbands, rather than by designer or brand.Another challenge, according to Goldfarb, is finding new merchandise reflecting secondary trends that can be introduced in slow periods, such as in cold, hat-wearing weather. He said that he often looks to the jewelry market to provide inspiration for themes that can be re-interpreted into "hair jewelry."For fall 1994, Goldfarb thinks the velvet, jet and jewelry looks of the Edwardian period will be key, as will the continuation of silver.At Saks Fifth Avenue, Denise Scogna, soft accessories buyer, said that getting merchandise out of cases and on top of counters is one of two major concerns."Since hair accessories are often impulse purchases, we're trying to put as much as possible within our customer's reach," Scogna said. "Wherever we've added top-of-counter fixtures, our sales have increased."Keeping sales associates motivated to sell generally lower-priced hair accessories is another hurdle, according to Scogna. She noted that several vendors, including David and Kirk's Folly, have held how-to demonstrations for customers and associates combining several pieces at a time, so associates can aim for multiple sales.As far as classifications are concerned, Scogna cited headbands and pony holders as leaders for fall.Aileen Brod, president of the firm that bears her name, is also making an effort to change hair accessories presentations. She is encouraging stores to switch from case presentations to slat wall fixturing, which provides ample opportunity for customers to touch and feel everything, saying that case selling is "a thing of the past."Brod added that some stores have even gone so far as to remove the glass from case fronts, eliminating the reliance on sales staff assistance.As for pricing priorities, she said that the most successful range for her firm is $8-$12 retail for most items.For fall, Brod pegged multiples -- in ponytail holders, bows, or headbands, and oversized bows and casual headbands as important classifications. Fabrications range from rich-looking tapestry, velvet, lamÄ and brocade to more casual suede, nubuck, croco and distressed leather.Heidi Soellner, vice president of Honey Fashions, echoed the emphasis on price at the store level, saying "We have to hit the $5 to $8 range whenever possible. $12 gets to be too high."Despite price issues, Soellner forecasted double-digit increases for fall, saying that novelty styles, rather than basics, have been driving Honey's business.She added that during fall previews, retailers keyed in on the firm's pleated floral print fabrics, metallics, charm-trimmed items and multiple sets.In addition, Honey plans to reinterpret some of the company's best selling belt looks into hair accessories, which was successful during spring. Trends include mixed metals, whipstitched suede and other casual looks that tie in with fall's trend toward brown tones.Other important looks at Honey include extra-large pouf bows and "donut" ponytail holders in panne, pleated or crushed velvet, and iridescent and organza fabrics.Colette Malouf and Eve Reid represent designer collections that are sold primarily in specialty stores or fashion-forward department stores.Malouf indicated that there is a bigger separation now than ever before between basic business and designer business, with vendors being designated by stores as part of one category or the other."The middle of the road doesn't exist anymore," Malouf said. "The designer side of the business demands unique materials and styles, rather than just pricier versions of basics."Malouf supports her retail accounts with personal appearances and art-filled, how-to demonstration postcards that many stores view as additional packaging. Malouf stresses that "demonstration is key in hair accessories -- it's not enough just to create excitement about new silhouettes. If a customer doesn't know how to wear it, she won't buy it."For this fall, Malouf is focusing on smaller and simpler silhouettes than in recent seasons. Her successful sculpted cherry wood collection from spring will be expanded, using darker woods, and she'll also include headbands, a category she predicts will be strong.Clean, structural shapes will utilize sterling and fine silver, as well as karung, soutache and leather cord.Eve Reid, whose company also bears her name, tries to design new collections on almost a monthly basis that are narrow and deep, and geared to meet each store's fashion needs."I talk to my largest clients -- like Neiman's and Bergdorf's -- almost every day," Reid said.Her newest pieces focus on clean-lined basics, including passementerie-covered clamps, and a strong silver collection. Reid's fabrics include matte jerseys, solid crepes and charmeuses in tonal colors and micro-patterns seen in the designer collections.Deborah Rhodes, owner of a hat and hair accessories firm producing collections under her name and the Mocha label, said that in previews retailers have focused on outdoor looks -- essentially fall versions of spring's natural trend in shearling and suede, and romantic or Russian-inspired themes, which feature floral and velvet mixes.New items that have been received well include chignons and small clip barrettes that are shipped in pairs.

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