NEW YORK -- Accessories are alive and well at the mass market retail level.
A recent look at area units of four big discounters -- Wal-Mart, Kmart, Caldor and Bradlees -- revealed the following:
Current fashion trends, including ethnic and natural looks, were well represented in areas such as jewelry, handbags, hats and belts.
Recognizable brand names showed up in many classifications.
Departments were centrally located, extensive and well organized.
Merchandise displays, while not elaborate, were generally neat and systemized.
The single biggest problem almost everywhere was a lack of mirrors, and in several locations lighting was poor, though neither fact seemed to deter shoppers who were browsing and stocking up on summer items, such as hats and sunglasses.
Overall, pricing emphasized value. Individual items rarely exceeded $25, except for fine jewelry. But inexpensive didn't necessarily equal low quality. Wal-Mart, for instance, offered medium-sized all-leather handbags for $17.88 and silk scarves in patchwork prints for $6.96. Several stores carried braided leather belts for $10.
With mainstay merchandise such as vinyl handbags and tailored fashion jewelry, there seemed to be little price competition between stores. All four had vinyl bags for $6.99 to $7.99 and tailored gold-tone earrings for $2.99 to $3.99. Sunglasses could be had for $10 or less anywhere, with soft eyewear cases to boot for 97 cents.
Several of the brands that showed up in every retailer's mix were clearly mass market staples. Chief among these was Gitano, the licensed line made by Accessory Network that spans all classifications except fashion jewelry.
Other name brands that popped up frequently included Jordache and Chic in handbags and hair accessories, Timex, Cassio and Armitron in watches and Foster Grant, Revlon and OptiRay in sunglasses.
Here, a closer look at what each store had to offer.
The accessories department at this unit in New Brunswick, N.J. was in the center of the store, where, unfortunately, some of the overhead lighting didn't seem to be working.
Handbags and tote bags represented about 50 percent of the total department. Most of the more basic merchandise was arranged by color and design and displayed on freestanding fixtures. Mixed in were some trendier pieces, such as mini-backpacks and items styled in the manner of Dooney & Bourke bags, with contrast trims and stamped duck logos. Most of the merchandise was branded and much of it was from vendors such as Gitano, Bag Bazaar and Mitzi.Several fixtures on the outskirts of the department offered bags and matching hair accessories, all of them in natural or ethnic motifs.
Small groupings of other classifications were scattered around the handbag section. The scarf offerings consisted of about two dozen pieces hung on the end of one of the large bag fixtures. Hair accessories and belts shared a wall unit in the tote bag territory.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the large display for small leather goods that divided the accessories floor space, fashion watches and jewelry coexisted with several rounders of sunglasses. Brand-name fashion watches accounted for the largest part of this section. In jewelry, most of the offerings were tailored styles, though a smattering of trend showed up in Southwestern or romantic looks from Adrienne Picard, Sarah Coventry and Sasson.
The Ridgewood, N.J., store visited was one of the older Kmarts, judging from the roller-rink-like architecture and the apparent need for remodeling. The accessories department in the center of the store was no exception. The fixturing was stark and somber, and much of the merchandise it displayed needed tidying up.
The department was focused around the handbag and tote displays, where the prominent brands were Bag Bazaar, Chic, Gitano, Jordache, Mitzi and Shane. Nylon backpacks in bright colors and featuring cartoon and animated characters were also included in this section, with some hung from the ceiling above the fixtures for added visual impact.
Hair accessories, visor caps and hats, scarves, small leather goods and several other categories were also included in this area, though each was represented by little more than a few dozen pieces hung from or stacked on freestanding wire structures.
One such fixture held about half a dozen $12.99 wallets from one of Kmart's proprietary brands, the Jaclyn Smith Accessories collection. Another contained stacks of baseball caps, straw hats and visors. A few stylish-looking items -- a crocheted baseball cap, a beaded evening bag -- were mixed in with the mostly basic, solid-colored hats, hair bows and wallets.
Fashion jewelry was not given much real estate either, with the store's whole lineup of earrings and a few choker necklaces spread across a couple of fixtures near the watch counter. The watch counter, however, was the site of some of the most highly recognizable brands, such as Gruen, Lorus, Armitron and Sasson.CALDOR
A generous portion of this Paramus, N.J., unit was devoted to accessories. In fact, this department seemed to have the most space of all four stores.
The jewelry and watch section was set up department-store style with formal looking cases and banners with vendor names hanging overhead. Watches -- including lines from Seiko, Timex and Lorus -- and fine jewelry were displayed both in and on top of counters. Next to the counters was a row of fashion jewelry fixtures, each one topped by a sign indicating what type of jewelry it held. One read "Tailored," another "Today's Trends." The jewelry itself was private label, done under the retailer's Sarah Morgan and Laura Tyler brands, and some of it, such as a group of large safety pins, was markedly fashion-forward.
The arrays of hats and handbags were extensive. In millinery, the selection ran from baseball caps in a wide range of colors for $1.99 to big straw hats embellished with ribbons and flowers for $10.99. In handbags, much of the focus was on spring's most prevalent trend colors, white and natural. Most bags were made of vinyl, with some pieces in fabric mixed in. Labels included Mitzi, Pacific Connection and Shane.
Accessories is one of the first departments that shoppers see when entering this Hackensack, N.J. store. Jewelry counters, which fronted the area, contained merchandise not usually carried at the mass merchandise level, such as sterling silver and marcasite jewelry lines. Watches here were somewhat more upscale as well, highlighted by names including Seiko, Citizen and Pulsar and running as high as $225.
But the store's emphasis was on hair accessories, hats, belts and handbags, all of which commanded bigger allotments of fixturing and wider assortments than they did anywhere else. Hair goods covered 1 1/2 wall fixtures and included hair bows, ponytail holders, barrettes and headbands.
Hats, primarily baseball caps, fabric crushers and straw hats, covered 2 1/2 wall units next to the hair goods display. The belt array, in the same area, included sophisticated chain, bead and suede items as well as a more basic assortment of vinyls and woven leathers, some done under Bradlees' own Pride's Landing and Rebecca Lynn labels.The handbag department carried the most brand names and included merchandise from RGA, Accessory Works by Accessory Network, John Weitz, Rivage and Bag Bazaar.
While the usual selection of plain vinyl bags made up the bulk of the offerings, some fashionable-looking pieces -- a drawstring straw bag trimmed with brown vinyl, a quilted minibag with chain strap -- sparked up the assortment. And department-wide, Bradlees' was the only store that had plenty of mirrors.
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