By  on November 19, 2007

NEW YORK — In the fast-moving young men’s retail market, accessories seem to be the only sure bet. According to The NPD Group, young men (aged 13 to 24) make 29 percent of all accessories purchases, and the category is rapidly expanding.

“Today accessories are really the primary purchases for many young men,” explains Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group. “Apparel is now accessorizing the accessory. That’s a huge change in how the accessories business needs to be addressed.”

But as quickly as young men’s brands churn out new accessories, department stores banish the additional categories to separate departments—often floors away from young men’s apparel—never to be found by a young man.

“We have every single product category,” says Alicia Galitzin, senior merchandise manager for Rocawear. “But a young shopper may not think of shopping on the main floor for accessories or the basement for underwear. It’s a challenge to get them to other areas of the department store.”

Much of the problem, Cohen believes, is the categorical nature of buying at department stores. “Not only is there a lack of synergy in buying across a brand’s categories, but the young men’s business may suffer if a category is overbought in traditional men’s,” he explains.

Real estate, too, becomes a jockeying issue. For an accessories fixture to go onto the young men’s floor, another fixture must be removed. Stephen Cardino, vice-president and men’s fashion director for Macy’s East, points to productivity per square foot as a major obstacle. “Are we going to generate enough productivity from accessories to make it worthwhile to displace something else? It’s a store-by-store discussion we’re having to figure out where it is feasible.”

For some of the larger department stores, shop-in-shops enable young men’s brands to display their accessories alongside apparel. Sean John, for one, has significantly upped its number of shop-in-shop concepts, enabling the brand to house belts and hats with its apparel on fixtures provided by the company. “In most cases, if you have a true Sean John consumer, he’s going to want to be part of the brand lifestyle and the brand extension,” says Jeffrey Tweedy, executive vice-president of brand development and licensing for Sean John.

Still, many of Sean John’s accessories are still relegated to other departments, including its fragrance and eyewear. “We want [the Sean John customer] to walk into the sportswear area and see everything,” Tweedy says. “Eventually, we’ll get there.”

Guess is another young men’s brand working to increase its accessories exposure at department stores. The fashion label has some belts in its Guess men’s shop-in-shops, but Nancy Shachtman, president of wholesale and sales for Guess, says, “It’s difficult in department stores. We haven’t really ventured into sunglasses, jewelry or small leather goods yet. We’d need more space, and dedicated sales help for accessories in cases.”

Single-branded stores have been a positive alternative for Guess’s accessories growth. Already, men’s fashion accessories account for 10 percent of all sales at the company’s retail shops (there are 175 selling men’s merchandise in North America), and Schachtman believes there is room to increase that figure. As such, Guess has a new retail initiative to integrate accessories into the men’s section. “We’re putting men’s belts with denim, and jewelry within men’s fashion,” she explains. “Men are more prone to purchase accessories if they’re incorporated into the men’s section.”
But a single-brand retail shop is not always an option. Unionbay, a department store staple for young men, is vastly expanding its young men’s licenses to include sunglasses, headwear and men’s shoes.

Sunglasses, which are hitting stores for spring ’08, will be housed in the sunglasses section of the brand’s department store partners, not alongside its young men’s apparel. Additional licenses will likely get similarly separated. The result, explains Cathie Underwood, vice-president of licensing for Seattle Pacific Industries (Unionbay’s parent company), is a loss of brand connectivity for the customer. Without the benefit of cross merchandising, she continues, “each product has be strong enough to stand on its own.”

Some brands attest that standing on their own can be an asset. Avirex, a moderate young men’s brand owned by Marc Ecko Enterprises, launched watches last spring (through a license with Callanen), and is one of the few moderate brands within the category. David Smith, marketing manager for Avirex, points out that watches, with their higher price tags, tend to be a destination purchase for the moderate customer. “It’s not an item the customer picks up on a whim. Cross-merchandising, although a nice way to develop awareness, does not drive sales.”

Still Avirex last month launched its first outlet shop, and will follow up with a mix of 49 outlet and full-price stores by 2010—an environment Smith concedes has been beneficial for accessories sales. The brand also plans to launch a Web site devoted to the sale of its watches, to offer another accessories destination—and one that can be branded in its own way.

Even as young men’s labels push the accessories concept with new launches and merchandising suggestions, some department store executives believe that the sales volume is just not there yet. “There’s a lot of newness and excitement in the market, but it just doesn’t have a broad enough audience unless you’re in a young men’s specific store,” says Doug Culver, men’s accessories buyer for Stage Stores.

Culver is experimenting with merchandising within the young men’s department, and will this season place Levi’s belts (licensed to Randa Corp.) beside the brand’s jeans. Still, if history holds true, he says, “we typically don’t get the rate of sale on young men’s accessories that we see in men’s.”

Perhaps that is because many of the mall’s teen specialty stores are monopolizing young men’s attention with their unique merchandising models. Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, weaves accessories—from flip-flops to fragrances—throughout its men’s apparel. “Our men’s accessories business is absolutely a growing business,” says Tom Lennox, A&F’s vice-president of investor relations. “We think we can double the business within the next few years. And the presentation is critical.”

By contrast, NPD Group’s Cohen says that department stores’ handling of the exploding accessories market “is just another example of how they have limitations fitting into a younger shopper’s lifestyle. They’re figuring out that the young customer is important to them, but it takes a long time to move a great big ship.”

Rocawear’s Galitzin believes that, if given the chance, the young men’s customer might prove department store merchandisers wrong. “When you see a true Rocawear customer, they are dressed head to toe. They go above and beyond to seek it out. Department stores are making it more difficult for this guy. They’re missing out on sales.”

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