By  on August 27, 2007

Take something that works and make it better, fresher and newer. That's the general philosophy espoused by vendors in the accessories market who are battling stiff competition by continuing to innovate styles that have proven successful.

Accessory makers are also proving adept at reading the market — such as a trend among retailers who want to stock a multitude of products instead of just one or two items — and working to meet demand.

"All you need to do is look around to see that retailers can't survive just selling one product. The days of shoe stores just selling shoes are over," said Kevin Wachs, president of Earthly Body, a maker of hemp-based skin care in Chatsworth, Calif., that has a strong business with fashion and accessories boutiques. "These days, the shoe store has to carry lots of other things, as long as it can even remotely relate."

Wachs is taking this shift in the market to heart. Although the line has been around for more than 12 years, he said that "the nature of retail now calls for diversity." So his collection, which includes a popular soy candle that melts into massage oil, is a hot seller at everything from high-end fashion boutiques to gift store chains.

"Even the fashion boutiques are realizing that they can't just make it selling jeans. That might be the backbone of the business, but they need to offer peripheral stuff, and that's where we come in," he said. The line is attractively priced — most everything wholesales for under $10 — which Wachs said was one of the reasons that he now sells in "thousands" of stores across the country, and why business is growing steadily. "Our business doubled in 2005 and again in 2006, and we're ahead of that for 2007," he said.

Because he owns three boutiques in the Los Angeles area providing beauty and hair services as well as products, he said he has "insight into what the consumer wants." Similarly, his retail outlets carry not just the Earthly Body line, but also fashion and accessories products because, as he said, "They fit in our theme.

"But perhaps the one challenge is that the temptation is there to sell to anybody who flashes around a checkbook. It's a balance you have to strike between wanting to accommodate every need for diversity and staying true to who you are."Diversity does appear to be steering the industry these days. The Village, a line based in North Hollywood, Calif., that makes everything from key chains and magnets to kimonos and muumuus, is experiencing solid growth as a result of new interest from retailers in stocking different categories. The line is sold everywhere from trendy boutiques in Venice Beach, Calif., to yoga stores to costume outlets.

"We've been getting new customers, at around 20 each month, for the past five or six months," said manager Carl Passalacqua.

Another important factor: constantly being in touch with buyers to let them know what's knew and what's coming.

"You have to really keep in touch with the client to let them know you're there. There are a lot of businesses out there that basically do the same thing, so it's easy for a retailer to forget about you, and about where they got their last order from," he said.

For other vendors, it's more a matter of taking something that works and

updating it.

"When we first started four years ago, everybody told us how crystals were over," said Kathy Sidles, owner of Crystalishious, a Scottsdale, Ariz., maker of shoes, bags and belts studded with crystals. "But every year, our business keeps doubling."

So while crystals in themselves might have been on the scene for years, Sidles believes that it's all in the execution.

"For us, it's the artwork that changes, and helps us to keep everything new and fresh. We use different designs and textures, maybe adding more metals, studs and fabrics to keep something exciting. We've got bows, butterflies, all types of interesting designs on shoes and bags that make them look more complex, because buyers are asking for more intricate designs."

Sidles uses up to 1,200 crystals on some of the pieces, many made from distressed or hand-cut leather. Pieces wholesale from $80 for the belts to more than $100 for the shoes and bags.

Tapping into another trend in the market, she said it was also important to keep a custom feel to the collection, which explains why it is found only in approximately 30 high-end specialty stores across the country. "We like to keep things small because people like to customize their shoes, and we want to be able to help them do that," she said.For some brands, offering value-added options and focusing on customer service is as important as the merchandise itself.

"We're very accommodating to the customer," said Anne Chernick, vice president of Debra Shepard Jewelry, a line based in Boulder, Colo. "One of our biggest selling points is merchandising, where the price includes a tree stand and a velvet pouch with the company's name on it. Customers know they are getting good value, and are really happy to have such supportive merchandising."

In addition, Chernick said that Debra Shepard offers a guarantee that the company will take back any item that doesn't sell well.

"We will never have a customer keep something that isn't working for them," said Chernick.

In terms of merchandise, the brand has chosen to focus on proven sellers like threader earrings and interchangeable hoop earrings that come in three different sizes and with removable attachments. Freshwater pearls, crystals and semiprecious stones like lapis are set in sterling silver and up to 24-karat gold in a line that runs at wholesale from $3 to $234.

"We want to hit every market," said Chernick, who added that the brand is now in approximately 1,000 accounts nationwide, with sales doubling every year. Like other companies, Debra Shepard is taking a varied approach to sales, with accounts that range from top-tier boutiques to stores concentrating on the tween market to beauty salons.

For still other vendors, it helps to keep everything in the family. Volpino, a brand based in Orange Park, Fla., that makes handmade watches, belts, jewelry and hair ornaments in Italy, can keep on top of quality and shipment issues because the company is family-run.

"That way, you really do care about what you're doing," said Kele Volpino, vice president of the company, which she runs with her husband, Fabrizio, and his brother, who lives in Italy.

With a background that involves making accessories for major European fashion brands, Volpino now has its own label, using crystals with acrylic and sterling silver in an Art Deco-inspired contemporary collection that wholesales from $6 to $300.

With approximately 4,000 accounts around the country, the company recently had to relocate to a larger office. "Last year, we saw between a 60 and 80 percent growth," she said.Volpino said that being copied by competitors was inevitable, but that "by the time they catch on to a piece, we've moved on.

"A major challenge is to stay ahead as much as possible. We do the shows in Europe, which allows us access to a lot of what will hit the U.S. in a few months, and we do our best to design a lot before we see what's coming out."

Beyond that, Volpino said that keeping employees happy was an important component of a thriving company.

"We took 12 people from our company to Peru recently," she said. "It was an adventure that had a humanitarian spirit to it. With all our success, we think it's important to give back."

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