NEW YORK — Hearing Norman Elowitz say he’s in the “insurance” business can be a little confusing to those who are familiar with him as the head of accessories firm Honey Fashions Ltd.
“What I mean by that is that no matter what’s going on in the accessories business, no matter what the trend of the moment is, any merchant can come into our showroom and know that his or her needs will be covered,” said Elowitz, the chairman and chief executive officer of one of the most versatile firms in the industry.
The company, based here, consists of 14 divisions that produce everything from fashion jewelry to Mickey Mouse tote bags. Just last month, it opened its newest addition, Images & Items, a division designed to target the home shopping, catalog and premium businesses.
In short, there isn’t much Honey Fashions doesn’t make. And at this point in the retail fashion business, with stores changing their merchandise focuses almost as often as they change the merchandise itself, this has helped Honey remain stable in what have been choppy seas for many accessories makers.
Though sales figures are proprietary — and closely guarded by Elowitz himself — the firm does do millions of dollars of volume annually. When it launched its Mickey & Co. division of licensed accessories two years ago, for instance, the first-year wholesale volume projection was pegged at around $10 million.
The company, which was originally called Glentex and started as a scarf and textiles firm in 1919, began growing dramatically when Elowitz took the helm in 1981. He immediately started acquiring other firms and adding them to his lineup. Having worked at the company since 1949, he had a very clear idea of what he wanted to create.
“I built a conglomerate in order to get around the dictates of fashion,” Elowitz noted. “After years of working in this business, I got sick and tired of situations where, for example, stores weren’t buying scarves because they were concentrating on necklaces that season. I decided that the best way around those situations was to offer everything.
“Besides, as retailers keep consolidating and cutting back, the buyers are just getting more inundated and overburdened,” he added. “What we look to do is make their jobs as easy as possible. If a store wants to do an entire presentation of polkadot accessories, a buyer can come into our company and get everything in one shot, instead of having to go to ten different places to put the presentation together.”
Staying on top of all the trends every season, he noted, is one of the firm’s most valuable abilities. A mere sampling of the trends the company is offering for fall, for instance, includes the following:
In the Honey and Glentex neckwear divisions, textured and devore velvet shawls, fringed wrap scarves in deep jewel tones, floral and paisley print scarves, plaid capes with velvet collars, patchwork velvet mufflers.
In the Alamo handbag division, satin mini-backpacks, shearling-like acrylic tweed casual bags and totes, classic-look matte black vinyl career handbags.
In Dame belts, colored and python-like skinny leather belts, identification-tag accented chain belts, jewelry-embellished evening belts.
In Additions fashion jewelry, casual-look denim-colored beads mixed with silver chain, chokers embellished with large matte-gold pendants, spice-tone color motifs in necklaces and earrings.
In Van Raalte gloves, tailored suede gloves with quilting detail and chain closures, acrylic Polar Fleece weekend sport gloves, leather gloves in bright colors.
Because the company is capable of delivering massive volumes of merchandise — it does much of its production in the Far East and has a 300,000-square-foot warehouse in Queens where inventory can be stockpiled — it’s easily able to generate “fashion at a price.”
“This has obviously become particularly important in the last several years,” Elowitz noted. “These days, at just about every level of retailing, price is an extremely important issue, and it’s something that we are always on top of.”
But, as Elowitz emphasized, what really keeps the company strong is something slightly intangible, a factor which much of “Corporate America” seems to have forgotten about.
“It may sound simplistic and it may sound corny, but I’m not kidding when I say that trust and loyalty are two of our biggest assets,” he said. “We have employees who’ve worked here all their lives, and that’s just not something a lot of companies can boast about in the age of the corporate cutback.”
As a result, each of the company’s divisions is able to run almost completely independently of the others, and the director of each operates in relative autonomy. Of course, Elowitz oversees all the activity, but is also able to spend time investigating new sourcing — he recently returned from his 198th round trip to the Far East — as well as fresh growth opportunities.
Just recently, for example, the company brought in a new novelty hair product, called the Bowrette, which it will be responsible for distributing in the U.S. Just a single item such as this, he pointed out, can mean millions of dollars worth of sales if it catches on at the retail level.
“You’ve got to spend time checking into everything and exploring every possibility, and you’ve also got to spend money if you want to make money,” he pointed out, adding that his company spent $5 million on research and development last year and will be spending even more this year.
“This is not a fact that everyone wants to accept, but it’s true,” he said. “We put the effort into development, and we’re seeing it pay off. Last year was the biggest, most successful year in the history of this company, and so far this year, we’re running 35 percent ahead. That’s all the proof I need.”