TIM PHILBIN OFFERS THE ACCESSORIES AND GIFT ITEMS THAT HELP SET HIS STORES APART FROM THE PACK.
Byline: Georgia Lee
ATLANTA — When Tim Philbin opened his accessories showroom two years ago, he sought out unique lines for a changing apparel buyer base and a growing crossover gift customer.
“I knew buyers were hungry for something new,” said Philbin, owner of Tim Philbin Accessories, which expanded from a 467-square-foot space to a 1,604-square-foot showroom last August. “We wanted lines new to the apparel mart and designers that reinvent themselves to keep up with trends as well as do custom work. We also go for product that works equally well for gift stores.”
Unusual personal accessories became increasingly important as apparel retailers faced tough times over the past decade, said Philbin. “In the Eighties, you could just offer sequined and appliqued product, open your doors and people would show up.”
Today, retailers want more clean, functional product. But they also respond to lines with a story behind them, that offer consumers personal expression, said Philbin.
As an example, Philbin points to Jan Michaels, a San Francisco jewelry designer new to Atlanta who works with semiprecious stones designed around themes of antiquity. Pieces come with information on historical inspiration or on the alleged healing qualities of stones.
Another new line, Rock & Rowe, offers hand-painted stones literally fished out of Eureka Springs, Ark. The stones can be used as door stops and yard art and can be customized with the image of the owner’s pet, hand-painted from a photograph and satisfaction guaranteed.
Philbin, who has worked in large apparel and accessories showrooms, finds accessories more personal than clothing, but feels that his clothing background is a plus.
“I can tell retailers, ‘This would be perfect with Joan Vass or Andrea Jovine,’ and I can pass on information on good clothing lines to retailers,” he said.
Like retailers, reps and manufacturers have to work harder for business today, said Philbin. With an ever-increasing budget for advertising, Philbin also relies heavily on direct mail and telemarketing.
He is inspired by one of his best-selling lines, Timmy Woods, a Beverly Hills, Calif., manufacturer of novelty collectible wooden handbags. Each hand-carved piece comes with a certificate of authenticity, as well as membership in a Timmy Woods Society.
“Timmy Woods is the ultimate aggressive, creative marketer,” he said. “Retailers can take advantage of free marketing, through these built-in strategies.”
Working with an agency, Philbin developed the dragonfly logo for his business, as well as the natural image projected in the showroom. Bamboo fixtures, greenery and rock gardens are designed to project a calm, relaxed ambience.
Philbin also hired a diversified staff to relate to different buyer personalities. “One staff member is a slave to fashion, one is very polite and Southern and one is bottom-line, numbers-driven,” he said. “We wanted to wipe out any intimidating attitudes that showrooms can have and make it home-like.”
Philbin’s wife, Miranda, a London-trained chef, prepares gourmet lunches, including salmon mousse, liver pate and theme-oriented cuisine for market lunches and cocktail parties. A Sunday brunch will be offered, starting in June.
“Buyers sometimes wait to see what’s on the menu before deciding which day to make appointments,” Philbin joked.
With three gift lines that account for 25 percent of sales, Philbin tries to capture a growing crossover gift customer. His showroom is open during four yearly gift markets, which can draw up to 56,000 buyers per show, in addition to five apparel markets yearly.
“Better gift stores are crossing over to accessories, and apparel stores are crossing over into gift,” said Philbin. In addition to true gift lines, such as Fanoos Art Crystal, a brightly colored hand-blown glass line, many of the accessories lines also offer gift items.
Philbin spends 10 weeks a year traveling, searching for stores he doesn’t see at market. “We want to control distribution, and rather than have many stores in an area, we want to find the right stores, ones that fit with our lines,” he said.
For 1998, Philbin projects a 25 percent sales increase, which he partially attributes to the new emphasis on accessories at AmericasMart. The new Fashion Accessories and Fine Jewelry Center, created in January, with a bridge linking the apparel mart to the Gift Mart, has breathed new life into the category, said Philbin.
“The mart has added new field marketing people that just target accessories, and they’re encouraging reps and the mart to act as a team. It’s refreshing.”