When it comes to making accessories for conformity-minded teens and tweens, usually the challenge is hitting on the one trend that everyone’s “gotta” have. But these days, what’s cool is what’s different, as teens are seeking to make individual style statements through accessories painstakingly chosen for their uniqueness.
The pressure is on, said junior accessories vendors, to stand out from the crowd, and they are responding in a variety of ways. There’s also pressure from increasingly selective retailers, who are honing their assortments more carefully after noticing pullbacks in teen spending, which dropped from $103 per week to $91 per week this year, according to Chicago-based Teen Research Unlimited.
“Consumers are holding onto their money and spending it more carefully,” said Roger Gurnari, president of Edison, N.J.-based Definitions Inc., which sells temporary body tattoos and crystal-studded bangle bracelets to more than 200 accounts nationwide, including Hot Topic and Ambiance, a teen-centric retailer in San Francisco. “Retailers have to be sure they can sell what you’re offering these days before they’ll pick it up.”
Gurnari said he reversed a downtrend in the company’s sales by working harder to find more stylish product and by improving packaging. He expects a 100 percent increase in sales over last year, projecting the company’s wholesale volume will reach $1 million for 2005.
Other companies are trying to expand the shelf life of a hot product by coming up with ways for teens and tweens to add their own stylistic flair to it.
“[Having something] unique is the hardest thing,” said Tom English, owner and president of Honolulu-based Speaks Inc. “There’s only so much you can do with an accessory to [individualize] it.”
His company’s solution: a 5-inch-long elastic and nickel-plated “charm belt” that can be attached to belt loops, purses or backpacks and decorated with the owner’s own jewelry or with charms in the shape of bumblebees, hearts, crosses or 17 other shapes that Speaks sells, but doesn’t manufacture. Wholesale prices are $10 for a belt with one charm.
The charm belts are sold in Razor Concepts and Hot Topic in Hawaii, but English is hoping WWDMAGIC will help Speaks expand its reach to mainland retailers. “The reaction I’ve been getting locally is strong, but you never know until you get the product out there in quantity,” he said.
Theresa Curry, national sales manager of Big Baby in Northridge, Calif., said the company had a different take on the personalization theme. “We started out with band bracelets that you could personalize with your name or something like ‘I Love John,’” she said. “Then what we did was add hats or flip-flops to keep the trend going and help retailers build sales.” Sales have increased by 500 percent after expanding the company’s groupings in this manner, Curry said.
Junior accessories companies are also using licensed imagery to appeal to the teen market’s quest for identity. Urban Station is a Monterey, Calif.-based company whose licensed image products include vinyl handbags and backpacks dotted with images of Betty Boop (averaging $10 wholesale) and heart-shaped Care Bear watches ($5), among others.
According to Doris Lau, Urban Station’s vice president, licensing deals have powered a 25 percent jump in the company’s annual profits, with retailers such as J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Claire’s and Hot Topic seeking them out partly because character-based accessories are hot and partly because the images are often already well promoted and established in the consumer’s consciousness. She estimated licensing will generate 60 to 70 percent of the company’s $6 million to $7 million sales volume this year.
“It’s a strategy we’re going to continue; we’re trying to sign at least two or three [licensing] deals a year,” Lau said.
Other companies are just beginning to explore the licensing waters.
At Waltham, Mass.-based Trendy LLC, owner Michael Datz said the right licensed images can provide companies with something of a surefire hit. The company last year acquired licenses for the NFL, NBA, the National Hockey League and several Major League baseball teams to apply laser-printed team logos to dog tag necklaces that will wholesale for $3.50.
“Kids are so into sports these days,” Datz said. “If you have the right item, it’s an easy sell.” He is also looking to acquire college-based logos for the line. Though he said it’s too soon to gauge the dog tags’ impact on annual sales volume, he expects to add “hundreds” of accounts to his roster, from sporting goods chains to airport stores.
Other companies have turned to non-industry sources to provide a unique look, as was the case at Willitts Designs in Petaluma, Calif. Willitts hired a group of graffiti artists to do artwork for canvas messenger bags, belts and wristbands wholesaling from $3.50 to $16. The artist-produced images include cityscapes with phrases like “kickin’ it” scrawled over them.
“Each product comes with a bio and photo of the artist who worked on it. It’s all very individual,” said Kelly Brown, product and marketing coordinator for Willitts.
The company, which traditionally sells to gift stores, has set its sights on breaking into teen-frequented specialty stores and boutiques. “We’re hoping that will have a huge impact on sales,” she said, adding that the company hopes for double-digit gains as a result of the move. “You read all these studies that teens have a lot of disposable income, so our hopes are really high.”