By  on February 19, 2002

IN RESPONSE TO THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN AND AN ONSLAUGHT OF COMPETITORS, JUNIOR ACCESSORIES VENDORS ARE REVAMPING THE WAY THEY DO BUSINESS.

Junior accessories manufacturers typically benefit from a fickle customer whose fashion sensibility changes so quickly that she disposes and replaces items regularly.

But what once looked like an easy ride for junior accessories vendors has now become a challenging journey.

As the marketplace becomes increasingly saturated with vendors offering similar pieces, a greater emphasis has been placed on lower prices, forcing vendors to reevaluate their profit margins and production efforts.

In addition, the slump in the economy has made retailers more cautious. Many slashed their open-to-buys and are writing orders closer to delivery to allow more time to figure out trend directions.

While the fourth quarter of last year was dismal for many vendors, business is now picking up and vendors expect retailers to stock up on must-have junior accessories. Here, a look at what's happening at a handful of companies:

"Stores didn't place orders until very late because buyers didn't know what was going to happen or where to place their money," said Judy Wood, vice president of Los Angeles-based Ann's Trading Co. Inc. "In November, there was still a need to fill in new merchandise for the fourth quarter."

Wood said a key challenge for the 18-year-old company is keeping prices at par with its competitors, because price is sometimes the only way to attract shoppers, given the market's saturation of similar offerings.

"We cannot underestimate these kids," she said. "These kids know fashion, pricing and how to shop. We are now seeing 10-year-olds who comp[arison]-shop."

The junior accessories market's growth has prompted New York-based International Connection, which focuses on jewelry for body piercings, to cut its prices.

"We can't ignore the competition, so we reduced prices between 20 and 40 percent," said sales and marketing director Roni Lifshitz. The 12-year-old firm sells to tattoo parlors, novelty gift shops and jewelry stores.

International Connection is also tweaking its packaging and displays.

As stores are becoming increasingly cautious with their spending, inventory management has become more important to vendors.

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