A PLAN FOR ACTION
ACCESSORIES MAKERS ARE COUNTING ON COLOR, STRONGER LIFESTYLE LOOKS AND KEYED-IN SALES FORCES TO SMOOTH OVER ANY BUMPS IN THE ECONOMY.
Byline: Wendy Hessen
Despite having weathered what was, at least for some, the first bumpy holiday season in years, accessories makers are trying to put a positive spin on their outlooks for the year ahead. Cognizant of retailers’ concerns over flagging sales, many are concentrating on offering new products that will lure customers into the stores and spending more time educating store sales associates about the newest offerings.
Others will focus on tried-and-true classics in updated colors or fabrics, and still others are zeroing in on key items. Following is their take on managing the months to come.
“There is no question that there are retailers that are very concerned about business,” said Laura Young, director of the women’s business at the multiproduct leather goods firm Brighton. Young said Brighton came through the holidays in good shape, logging healthy double-digit increases — some as high as 30 percent — particularly in key specialty stores whose in-store shops are filled with nearly every product classification known to Brighton.
Handbags continue to be the company’s top performing area, although jewelry and small leather goods tallied the highest increases last year — a trend Young said she “doesn’t see letting up.”
“Overall, I’m really confident we will have a good year,” she said.
Young noted a key focus will be to keep store sales associates motivated by having Brighton executives hold product presentations, trunk shows and other events in the stores.
After a successful launch of sunglasses two years ago, Brighton is starting to ship its first line of reading glasses. Additionally, Young said the firm has added more color to its handbags and also to its range of straws in bags for spring. “Color helps consumers get excited about buying another bag,” she said.
“Our business is split pretty equally between department and specialty stores. As we all know, department stores had a tough season, and we were hit with margin pressure in January,” said Melanie Gobril, owner of the jewelry firm Barse & Co. “We’re being as cautious as we can about what silhouettes we put in stores, and we will need to start to look at our timing of markdowns.”
“The anticipation of a recession is what people are worried about, and that can be damaging, although we haven’t felt it yet,” Gobril added. “We saw increases in all but one of our key markets, and January business at retail has been quite good.”
Instead of adding large amounts of fashion merchandise, Gobril said the company is redoing and recoloring proven styles, while simultaneously cutting back on fashion looks.
“Even though confidence was down and total inventories were a bit backed up, our sell-throughs were strong at the holidays,” said E.J. Walker, merchandising manager for Harley-Davidson Footwear, a two-year-old division of Wolverine World Wide. For fall, he said, “We’re trying to capitalize on our strength in women’s fashion boots, a logical arena for us. We are very conscious of price points and are trying to keep our boots retailing under $100. Women want more than one pair of boots, and the less they pay, the more they can buy.”
The company is hoping to bolster demand with an injection of color — from red to purple, lavender and yellow — and also with styles from the Seventies with stacked soles.
Walker, the 22-year-old, San Francisco-based handbag firm known for its use of mesh, is counting on color, details and new items to keep buyers and consumers interested.
“We didn’t know what to expect [after the holidays], but we haven’t felt any pressure to tighten our prices, partly because our line already covers such a wide range,” said Evie Parker, Walker’s owner, who, like other vendors, pointed to color and function as key factors.
We’ve always done quite a bit of color, but now we’ve done much more with contrasting and combinations of colors and trims,” she said. Among them are patchwork designs, two-color overlay looks and a new PVC fabric called pearl. The company’s simple styles all have ample pockets for necessities such as cell phones.
Though she conceded that the economy did offer some cause for concern, La Vie Parisienne president Sheila Hickey said, “It hasn’t affected how we will assort our merchandise or on the items we will focus on.
“It’s been up and down in our 20 years, but since our customers are spread across lots of levels and not just the big stores, we feel pretty insulated.”
Designed by Cathrine Popesco, the niche jewelry firm combines fashion with more classic looks in its turn-of-the-century stampings and molds, which are often accented by Swarovski crystals.
Hickey said a palette of peachy and sea-inspired colors in stone pieces and enameled pieces in yellow with gray accents would help continue the company’s momentum through the spring and summer, with smaller pieces expected to dominate demand.
“The magazines all say big, but most of our customers still want small,” Hickey said. Important fashion items will be large, lacy metal medallions and charm bracelets.
Expanding its retail reach is the strategy for Me Too Handbags, a four- year-old footwear company that counted this holiday as its first season in stores.
Margaret Schymura, the firm’s creative director, said the company has shifted its original focus of making bags to match its shoes to a broader, lifestyle-oriented approach.
“We’re known for a fashion look that appeals to contemporary, independent women from 20 to 40,” said Schymura. “We believe in value with attitude and want to use the same Italian leathers and detailing, but in a wholesale range that’s from about $17 to $50. With a major stand in buffalo calf, we can offer many styles, from retro Seventies to casual or tailored.”
Schymura said the company hopes to extend its awareness among consumers by tapping into some of the specialty stores around the country. “Customers might be familiar with seeing our shoes in major department stores; but [often specialty stores] don’t have space for shoes. Hopefully, though, they will have room for handbags.”
Me Too’s second store is slated to open in late spring in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood; its first is in Garden City, N.Y.