THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
RETAILERS AND ACCESSORIES MAKERS ALIKE ARE WATCHING AND WAITING FOR THE BIG TREND TO EMERGE.
Byline: Marc Karimzadeh
For many junior accessories makers, the slower-than-expected holiday retail season is still shaping the business conditions and strategies for the coming months.
Based on the success of the junior category in recent years, many stores had projected strong fourth-quarter sales, but instead were forced to carry much shelf merchandise into January.
For some of the vendors, this resulted in a quiet kickoff to the New Year, with fewer stores looking for new lines or reorders.
In addition, vendors said the category currently lacks a clear trend direction for stores to embrace. In the past, both seed bead bracelets and hoop earrings have stimulated junior accessories departments. But many stores are still waiting to see what the next hot item will be.
Because of the cautious retail environment and lack of trend direction, many vendors said they expect stores to demand immediate delivery once a definite trend emerges. As a result, some vendors have been forced to increase their stock merchandise, or source new factories able to produce accessories quickly, sometimes even overnight. For some of the smaller companies who have only recently entered the market and are still in the building stages, the growing pace of junior accessories continues to be a major challenge.
Here, some of the key business issues vendors noted for this year:
Simplifying the buying process for stores was one of the key changes at junior accessories firm Killer Beads for this year.
The company is known for its beach jewelry, but this season, it has expanded with a line of belts, including black leather belts adorned with studs and nail heads.
Said Christine Mclaughlin, Killer Beads’ president: “We are definitely trying to have more complete programs. There is so much [merchandise] out there, and there are so many trade shows grouped closely together that [store buyers] can be overwhelmed. To have a good and well-organized catalog is very important.”
While Mclaughlin claims the Panama Beach, Fla., company has booked more last month than in any other January, she said, “[The economy] will take a hit, with stock market [performance] affecting more job losses.”
This, however, will not affect junior accessories, she said, because of its low price points. One of the key issues currently facing the category is the lack of one clear trend, she noted.
“That means that in order to fill the void, you need to carry a vast variety [of product],” Mclaughlin said, adding that this will leave many vendors with some unsold merchandise at the end of the buying season. “Getting in and out of things quicker is something we’ve been working towards, though,” she added. Killer Beads keeps approximately 20 percent of merchandise on stock. “Everybody pushes for quicker delivery,” Mclaughlin said, adding that in order to improve on business this year, the company has secured “some fantastic manufacturers” who are able to produce junior accessories quickly.
The doom-and-gloom reports of the slow holiday season at retail are still affecting junior accessories vendors.
“Retailers projected such growth and ended up with slow sales for Christmas,” said Darren Lisiten, chief executive officer of Bellmore, N.Y.-based Far Out. As a result, he noted, many junior stores are still holding shelf merchandise and are not looking to reorder unless they can see an exciting trend that will shake up the category.
That said, Lisiten noted his company has been doing “fantastically well.” Far Out’s offering includes metal mesh and seed bead bracelets mixed with crystals; pearls are another strong seller. This spring, the firm has added a fashion accessories line that specifically targets the young raver and chiefly consists of glowing, electro-luminescent bracelets and necklaces.
“We have become a more market direct company,” Lisiten said. Far Out is now offering in-store point-of-purchase racks and is also producing mailers to educate retailers about the different accessories lines.
Lisiten does not think a downturn in the economy will affect junior accessories.
“When economically the country is less expansive, small items sell well. People buy more $8 to $30 items,” he noted.
“Individual chain stores are all testing certain pieces of merchandise to feel customer [reactions],” said Nicole Botton, head of the junior division at New York City-based accessories firm Bijou International. “People want to see what items from the past season they can continue with into the first quarter.”
This year, Bijou is expanding its accessories with a new line of package and gift items. Botton said this market is seeing growth, in particular during the holiday and Valentine’s Day retail periods.
At Bijou, one of the key issues this year is focusing on production and deliveries.
“The earlier [retailers] can get [merchandise out], the earlier we can get reorders,” she noted, adding that the company has been sourcing new factories with more efficient production schedules.
According to Botton, the plan is to increase the volume threefold in the junior market because of its massive potential. “Junior energy and money flows towards being cool,” she said.
Kenneth Gramm, vice president at New York-based Pan Oceanic Eyewear, also said a lack of direction, coupled with retailer wariness, is currently complicating the category. Though sunglasses, he said, are currently leading sales with rimless aviator and two-toned ocean-lens styles, junior accessories need a new trend to stimulate the category, like the ubiquitous seed bead bracelet did last year.
“Retailers will put more pressure on manufacturers to stock merchandise,” Gramm said, adding, “With retailers so uncertain, no one wants to carry inventories — and they want their merchandise tomorrow.”
Pan Oceanic Eyewear also focuses on jewelry, messenger bags and hair accessories. This season, the company has acquired the N’Sync license for a line of jewelry and sunglasses. This will feature N’Sync logos on temples and charm bracelets with little pictures of each of the group’s members. Gramm said that the company has tried to compensate for the lack of trend direction through licensing, noting that “recognition is a big point of sale for juniors.”
More efficient production and delivery schedules guide many businesses in the current market climate, according to Arthur Fox, designer/owner of Venice, Fla.-based Arthur Fox Earring Boutiques.
The company focuses on earrings, anklets and fiber-optic beaded jewelry. More recently, it introduced spring wire chokers decorated with sterling and fiberoptic or semiprecious stone beads.
“The young economy is always booming — it’s just about getting the right product in the right market,” Fox noted, adding that last year, the company registered “record sales.”
Fox said the company has put more effort into buying better materials, and working on tightening production techniques to keep price points regulated. Many styles in Fox’s line are available for 24- or 48-hour deliveries.