APPAREL RETAILERS ARE COURTING COCOONING CUSTOMERS BY EXPANDING INTO THE HOME ACCESSORIES ARENA.
Byline: Toni M. Lublin
Americans are traveling less, and instead of taking to the skies, rails and freeways, they are retreating to a place they feel safe and sheltered — their homes. So it comes as no surprise that retailers who have added home accessories to their apparel mix are experiencing a boost in sales.
“The trend in gift giving of home accessories is not surprising, given the current events and the increase of value-oriented home decor items available to consumers,” said a spokeswoman for Washington-based National Retail Federation.
Sales have risen by 38 percent over the past year, for example, at Fort Worth, Tex.-based home accessories and jewelry maker Treska Inc., said Southeast sales manager Debbie Alcala. Treska has showrooms at the AmericasMart in Atlanta and at the International Apparel Center in Dallas. With 26 years of experience under its belt as a jewelry manufacturer, Treska expanded into home accessories four years ago. Home accessories sales account for 40 percent of its business. Key items include picture frames that wholesale for $10 and candlesticks made from wood and other natural materials ranging from $36 to $45, wholesale. Alcala said the client base has expanded from traditional gift store accounts to include more apparel retailers.
“Today, apparel stores are 30 percent of total volume, which is impressive, considering how long we have been selling home accessories,” she said. “Apparel boutiques have discovered that decorative accents take up very little space, with a good return on the bottom line. Picking up a few items, stores can service customers’ one-stop shopping needs.”
At Cricket & Co., a contemporary clothing and home accessories store in Wichita, Kan., owner Linda Burton expanded her 1,550-square-foot store by building an additional 1,400 square feet of space to merchandise new home accessories products.
Home accessories account for about 25 percent of the store’s $1.5 million annual sales, Burton said. “Our customers pick up wedding gifts while shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding, or a picture frame for themselves or as a gift while shopping for a new outfit,” Burton said. “They appreciate the convenience and time saving. Dual merchandising has also attracted new customers.”
Bonnie White, owner of two Bonnie White retail stores in Atlanta, considers herself a pioneer in the home-apparel retail formula.
“We were early in mixing apparel and gift items in the same store,” she said. “Ten years ago, when we opened our Phipps Plaza location, I knew I wanted a store that offered both. It made sense. People generally decorate their home one way and dress the same way in terms of taste level, so it made a good fit.” The Phipps location is 15 percent home accessories, 85 percent apparel.
Depending on the season, home assortments become deeper and broader. The second, larger Bonnie White location, in Atlanta’s trendy Buckhead neighborhood, has a merchandise mix of 25 percent home accessories and 75 percent clothing. Both stores primarily offer well-known European labels such as Rayure, Votre Nom, Harari and Geiger Austria. Retail prices range from $150 to $400. Home products include pillows from True Faux and candles from Hampton Home. Oils, scented soaps and bath oils from Maison de Vie are mixed among the other gift items.
“Many times, customers find something that appeals to them and purchase two, one for a friend,” White said. “We merchandise accessories throughout the store. We have a story of cashmeres, surrounded by candles and pillows in the same color range to make the display more interesting.”
At Dakota’s Kabin, a six-year-old, 2,000-square-foot retailer in Granbury, Tex., 60 percent of the space is devoted to women’s apparel; the remainder is for home accessories. Owner Cindy Hyde said home accessories sales have increased in recent months.
The store’s apparel has a western flavor: Cowboy-inspired cotton shirts from Gordan and James, rhinestone-studded capri pants and crop tops from Cactus Flower and other novelty inspired clothing are merchandised next to small mirrors, pottery and candles. “We do about $350,000 in gross sales,” Hyde said. “This season, we really haven’t had a good runner in apparel like last year, when animal prints were hot. Our home accessories area has doubled in sales from last year, as customers are not shopping as much for themselves. Gifts alone have saved our business.”
Home accessories are helping boost department store sales, which have simultaneously seen apparel sales slide.
Joe Vella, Atlanta-based divisional vice president of home fashion for Federated Department Stores units Rich’s, Lazarus, and Goldsmith’s, said a key category for 2002 was decorative pillows and throws.
“There’s a trend for layering in home furnishing currently, of adding more layers with pillows and throws, to both the bed and in the living room area,” he said. “This is a great way to economically update a room and add comfort.”