Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — Accessories vendors heading to Las Vegas have a lot in their assortments and on their minds, and they intend to use WWDMagic as a big strategy session.
Some stores are still focused on orders for immediate deliveries, but many are already turning their eyes — and budgets — toward fall and even Christmas. Of particular significance is developing items and collections merchandised specifically for each store, something that’s becoming a standard for accessories makers, especially for holiday.
As a result, the push for many exhibitors will be in securing commitments for fall advertising and promotional programs.
“We’ll be working on fine-tuning fall, in terms of product and promotional plans,” said Abe Chehebar, chief executive officer of Accessory Network, who said his firm will spend time detailing specific product lines and brands for each store. One of the hottest areas, Chehebar observed, is the character business, which can have a significant impact on back-to-school business.
“I think the character business will continue to be very strong. It still represents an untapped opportunity for most stores. They really haven’t determined how far they can go with it,” Chehebar said. “The ongoing store openings by Warner Bros. and Disney are creating a demand in the mass market. Stores are just realizing how strong a performer it can be.”
He noted the challenge of meshing a store’s specific image with his product categories in a way that is unique from its competitors.
“Unlike the days when we could ship a brand to every distribution channel, now all stores are extremely brand sensitive, and we must conform to their view of that brand within their channel,” Chehebar said.
As for Christmas, he said major discussions will center around etching out programs for boxed goods and gift items, a relatively new arena for the company and one Chehebar is excited by this year.
“This year, the definition of what can be sold in accessories departments has been blurred considerably,” he said. “Stores are much more open-minded to new items now. They’ve realized that by being creative, they can gain tremendous returns.”
Among items turning up in accessories areas are candles and gift baskets, things that buyers would have dismissed a few years ago but now welcome because of the high traffic and visibility of accessories departments.
“We’re coming off a strong year,” said Jerry Dikowitz, vice president of marketing and advertising for the Armitron division of E. Gluck, which also makes the licensed Anne Klein, Anne Klein II and Looney Tunes fashion watch collections.
Among the keys to maintaining growth in the fashion watch market, he stressed the importance of individually tailoring each store’s assortment and advertising and marketing support to their particular niche.
“Being able to develop each retailer’s niche is important and has only recently become so critical,” Dikowitz noted. “The stores are really catering to their individual successes and carving out slightly different images and looks.”
Price points and consumer demographics — like age and income — are playing a larger role in determining the right products for each store. While being able to build on a certain look from each store group is a challenge, it will insure the long-term health of the category, he added.
“We’re catering to their needs with variations in the merchandise itself as well as which items are promoted, and individual presentation within the confines of keeping a brand’s image consistent,” said Dikowitz.
He described 1996 as a year of fewer promotions and expects even fewer this year.
Servicing retail and wholesale markets via a site on the World Wide Web is expected to be a boon to business for handbag and small leather goods maker J.P. Ourse & Cie, according to Maxine Williams, president.
“We didn’t want to be left behind,” Williams said. “With separate passwords for retail and wholesale, our stores and consumers are able to purchase from the page. We also list stores where the line is sold.”
Williams said she decided to pursue on-line options after comparing the cost with the investment necessary to produce a catalog. In the past, the company has shipped its own catalog quarterly, but will now reduce that to twice a year.
Private label business is also important, Williams said. She intends to hammer out a significant portion of that at the show.
“About 40 percent of our sales come from private label for exclusive items for catalogs,” she said, adding that business-related products have been particularly strong.
Dark brown continues to be the driving color, are well as clean shapes with little hardware or ornamentation. As for bright colors, the firm’s synthetic group has also been strong this spring, and Williams said she expects it to continue into fall.
“The specialty stores are just now reacting to synthetics. They are looking to that segment to bring excitement to the floor and add fashion as well,” Williams said.
Liz Steen, licensing director for Bag Bazaar, agreed that injecting fashion into store assortments is important today, but it’s not necessarily just about pure novelty.
“It’s not really novelty,” she said, “but novel pieces that are really functional, that have all the necessary features, yet are still fashionable. As much as price is key, an item really must have the right look and be innovative in silhouette and fabrics to keep the counters fresh.”
As an example, she pointed to a traditional handbag style — such as a satchel, hobo or mini-backpack — made in a novel material, like plush or fleece, instead of leather.