HOME SWEET HOME
WITH THE RIGHT NURTURING, HOME ACCESSORIES CAN PUNCH UP THE BOTTOM LINE.
Byline: Wendy Hessen
NEW YORK — While just about every accessories designer has tried his or her hand at home and tabletop collections — most during the jewelry slump of the past two years — few can say the category contributes significantly to their total business.
But among those who have been successful enough to consider it a significant growth area, common strategies are credited with spurring its progress.
Keys to a robust home business include:
Devoting the same level of commitment to product development, service and quality to home as the original category.
Insuring that the line is similar in feel to the core business.
Taking a collection approach rather than an item mentality.
Sometimes making separate sales and marketing arrangements for home lines.
“An item does not make a collection,” said Lisa McLaughlin, president of Metropolitan Design Group, a showroom here that has been representing accessories and home collections since 1991. “While I certainly think home is a viable area for accessories designers to consider, it’s important to stay within their established image, look and sensibility.”
She stressed that the designer has to be serious about getting into home and be able to do the category completely, rather than trifle in a frame or pillow with extra materials.
“We don’t take on people who have that point of view,” McLaughlin said. Home is the fastest-growing segment of her business. She attributed its strength to “a move among Americans to stylize more aspects of their lives.”
Toby Glickman, owner of Elements, a store specializing in home accessories, agreed.
“In the last three to four years, people have begun spending more time at home, and they care more about their environment,” she said. Although the 11-year-old store — on Chicago’s tony Oak Street — carries some ready-to-wear, most of its floor is devoted to home acces-sories, jewelry, hand-
bags, belts and European furniture.
She, too, cited the importance of focusing on a certain price range, developing a full collection and, most critically, quality.
“Generally, $75 to $200 is the most important retail price range, although many stores, mine included, have customers who are willing to go far beyond that.
“If you go through the accessories trade shows, everyone is doing something for the home, but few are doing really good quality, and they’re often doing only one frame, which doesn’t cut it. There is way too much dabbling going on,” Glickman pointed out.
She said the bath area is currently one of the hottest segments of home and accounted for a significant part of last Christmas’s business. While frames continue to be one of the most salable items — at $50 to $100 — diversity in candle-holder assortments needs to be addressed, she said.
Jewelry and leather goods maker Lisa Jenks was a pioneer among accessories designers when she added home in 1989. But unlike many others, the expansion was part of the original game plan when her business was conceived in 1987.
“Home is really an extension of the jewelry collection in concept and design, but in pewter instead of sterling silver,” she said. “It appeals to collectors and to those who like the esthetic, but might not be able to afford the jewelry.
“We’ve had success because we’ve stayed pretty true to my design esthetic, which is easily recognizable — that’s crucial, unless you intend to come out with brand new things every season and be more of a trend line.”
Jenks’s home line, wholesaling from about $20 to $90, accounts for roughly 10 percent of total business, but could grow as high as 25 percent.
Besides items produced in-house, Jenks also has a license for flatware and crystal from tabletop maker Sasaki.
Although her current distribution isn’t that different from her jewelry line — mostly specialty stores and some design stores — Jenks said if she could find more time to devote to creating new designs and molds, she would like to expand.
Jewelry designer Meryl Waitz added a home line in 1993, finding it to be a natural extension of her background in architecture.
Though she still makes the requisite desk items and frames, lately she has begun to focus on the newly hot bath and vanity area, one that could help boost the home business to as much as 50 percent of total revenues this year.
“I think it’s wonderful to have a beautiful object that houses items you use every day,” Waitz said. Those objects wholesale from $15 for a small frame or purse mirror to about $50 for sandblasted glass jars with pewter lids or larger hanging frames trimmed with delicate organdy Japanese Mokuba ribbon and hand beading.
Waitz has participated in the Gift Show here, but this year is adding a new aromatherapy trade show, called Ex Tracts, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in April.
The vanity/bath category, as well as this new trade show, could open up new opportunities for spa accessories, she said, for use by spas themselves, their guest rooms, gift shops and spa trappings catalogs.
When John Hardy started making items for the home in the Eighties, he was immersed in building a home in Bali, which heavily influenced him, according to Jim DeMattei, vice president of the John Hardy Collection.
Hardy’s complete home line was finally introduced in 1995 and has been targeted to fine jewelers, largely because they seem to have an appreciation for the handmade sterling silver collection, DeMattei said.
While home accounts for roughly 15 percent of Hardy’s volume, DeMattei said he sees it growing to about 25 percent, especially with the addition of more specialty stores.
Retail prices range from $350 to $2,500. Although it has a range of staple items, there’s also a dog leash, a tape measure, razor and shaving brush and even garden tools.
Jennifer Graham and Jay Strongwater are both represented by Metropolitan Design Group. Graham started as a designer of small leather goods and added frames and desk-top items incorporating some of the same details and materials from her bag and belt lines.
Today the collection — which wholesales from about $9 to $50 and has more stockkeeping units than her accessories line — also includes tabletop pieces, like napkin rings, salt and pepper shakers, salad servers, bowls and letter openers, as well as such bath items as tissue box covers, toothbrush holders and soap dishes.
MDG’s McLaughlin said home accounted for around 35 to 40 percent of Graham’s volume in 1996, after hovering at about 15 to 20 percent for several years. Tabletop was the breakthrough category, she said, because it appeals to gift stores, which is a whole different distribution channel than accessories or apparel stores.
Jay Feinberg, designer and president at Jay Strongwater, said home accounted for about 15 percent of his business last year and he expects that figure to climb 3 to 5 percent per year.
“I started with one frame that we made for holiday gifts one year, and because of the positive response, we decided to add more,” Feinberg said of his line of detailed, enameled and stone-studded pieces.
“We knew right away that we didn’t have the contacts to sell it ourselves, so we went to Metropolitan,” he said. “I was afraid that if we tried to do it ourselves, we might not take it as seriously as it deserved, but in its own showroom, it wouldn’t have to compete with the jewelry. Also, there were different buyers and the Gift Show, both of which Metropolitan had a tremendous amount of experience with.
“It’s a market with fewer headaches than the jewelry industry, the timing is easier, with only two markets a year, no markdown issues and less demand for a constant flow of new merchandise,” he noted. He explained that many stores continue to reorder popular pieces for months and even years.
Feinberg’s home line is made in the same factory here as his jewelry, of casted metal with hand enameling and set with Austrian crystals. Although it is priced higher than his jewelry — averaging $100 wholesale — he said there has been no price resistance from retailers or consumers. He cited the example of a customer who recently purchased 16 frames at once to showcase in her different homes.
“Americans are really beginning to focus on the details of their home,” Feinberg said. “Although big jeweled looks have been somewhat out in jewelry, they are appealing in home to men and women.”