Accessories: Adding Attitude

Done right, it’s a high margin business that helps define the store–and the man!

By Karen Alberg Grossman, Thea Moresco and Umara Vance

Lorenzo UomoAccording to successful retailers, there are four secrets to a strong accessories business: 1) Go narrow and deep on fabulous items; 2) Present with impact in creative ways: baskets or buckets of pocket squares, beaded bracelets, colorful socks near the cash register, belts hanging near the fitting room; 3) Accessorize the models in your ads, the mannequins in your store, and your sales associates!; 4) Track inventory and reorder regularly.

“Smart retailers are not re-hashing yesterday’s trends but are creating tomorrow’s,” asserts Randa SVP David Katz. And he ought to know. As one of the largest men’s accessories companies, Randa ($650 million in sales) has a pretty good handle on the business. “It’s about distilling global trends and then exposing customers to curated options. Stores need to suggest new ways for men to wear accessories.” (To distill the trends, Randa sends 14 associates around the world: Stockholm, Dusseldorf, Milan, Paris, Tokyo, California, Canada.) “The exciting part is that today’s retailers are coming to the table with open ears,” insists Katz. “New product categories are driving sales, including items that haven’t been worn in decades: boutonnieres, lapel pins, collar bars… even braces worn as a casual accent. Recent fashion influences include television shows like Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey and the new Great Gatsby movie.”

Vivek Nagrani pocket squares

Dorfman Pacific has been selling men’s hats for 90 years, and according to Scott Starnes , EVP, business is better than ever, with double-digit sales increases for the past 24 months. “There’s a definite resurgence of classic fedoras and ivy caps as a new generation discovers traditional headwear,” he explains. “With celebrities like Brad Pitt and Tom Brady wearing ivy caps, my job is easier.” In addition to the classics, says Starnes, three other categories are strong: 1) Cool vintage-inspired streetwear looks; 2) Sun protection; and 3) Specialty hats for various sports. (Editor’s note: Talking to us from a vacation in Montana, Starnes was wearing his fly-fishing hat…)

Will Leather Goods fabric bags

At Will Leather Goods, Andy Carter confides that it’s an item-y business. “We’re lucky to have several strong items; if retailers stay on top of them and reorder, their business is profitable.” Hot items at Will include waxed canvas with leather trim messenger and duffle bags ($175 retail, $350 for a large travel bag), colorful neon totes at $110 ($95 for stripe and bandana prints) and a 1920s-inspired leather portfolio with antique reproduction locks.

“Smart retailers are realizing that accessories can make up for a decline in traffic,” says sock maker Vivek Nagrani, who also makes underwear, suits and a great new line of tattoo-inspired pocket squares out of Italy. “In socks, fashion is on fire! This is the first season I sold out of 95 percent of the collection, with yellows, reds and pinks leading the way. Men are embracing the look and at $40, they can add style without breaking the bank.” Adds Sam Florence from Keepers, whose Duckie Brown socks are $5 wholesale for a suggested retail of $15, “Socks are hotter than ever. Guys can change their whole image with cool socks!”

Duckie Brown socks

Lorenzo Uomo socks

Ironically, at 5 to 10 percent of total men’s volume, accessories are underpenetrated in most upscale independents, stores with professional sellers who should be inspiring men to get creative. Says Steve Ramenofsky at Garys in Newport Beach, “We never took the accessories business that seriously, but now that we have a great buyer with a passion for it, business has been terrific!” According to this buyer, Todd Latham, the secret is maintaining the tedious commodity businesses that need to stay in stock (the classic belt, the croc wallet, the black bow tie, collar stays, etc.) while focusing on unique special product that should be treated like art. “Ironically, we don’t buy many French cuff shirts, but our cuff link business is fabulous: everything from $8 silk knots to English enamels to $850 geodes from Megin Spivey. We display them in museum cases, so it’s like looking at art. Also hot are bracelets: bohemian style, rock star, some Italian leathers with buckles, from $55 to $500. I tell customers they’re a good way to add attitude without the permanent commitment of a tattoo. Still strong are pocket squares, everything from Etro to J.Z. Richards to Robert Talbott. I keep two 100-unit capacity rounders full at all times and separately showcase Edward Armah pocket rounds as a bouquet in a beautiful Chinese vase… Customers gravitate to this and always pick them up!”

Megin Spivey cufflinks

At Mitchells Stores, accessories offer tremendous opportunity according to GMM Dan Farrington. “It’s still very seasonal,” he explains, “with December by far the key month. But with in-store traffic down lately, it’s important for us to be increasing each sale by completing wardrobes.”

Farrington mentions a new line of briefcases and iPad covers by Giorgio Fedon (discovered at Pitti, now showing at MRket) and strong designer statements in scarves, gloves, and hats from Cucinelli, Loro Piana and Zegna, as well as knit cashmere from Portolano and hats from Wiggins and Borsalino. Like many better merchants, he’s looking for fresh resources in belts. “As for leather goods, Will is making some cool stuff, Ghurka has reinvented itself and Tramontano looks great!”

Butch Blum is also bullish on accessories. “They’re less than 5 percent of our men’s business and slow-turning, but they’re what make the store special.” According to Blum, pocket squares are the hot item. “I’m sure there are cities in America where guys still wear ties, but we’re not one of them. The pocket square is today’s version of the tie. Key retails are $45 to $100, with the meat at $65 to $75. All the great tie makers are doing beautiful squares, with exceptional designs from Barbera, Rota and Edward Armah. Strong colorful socks are also important in the $16 to $30 range, from Marcoliani and Pantherella. Color is key; most guys are into them. We love bags but they end up selling on sale, and some of the leathers are just too heavy. (I personally carry a lightweight nylon.) J Fold wallets are a great item for us, adding color to the selling floor at $50 to $60 retails. And men are finally getting the scarf thing: tied just right it’s the perfect finishing touch to an outfit!

“Our belt business is not very good; we’ve dabbled but without conviction. But we just started displaying them on hooks near the fitting room; it’s suggestive selling as much for the sellers as for the customers.”

Randa inspiration board

Unlike optional fashion accents like scarves or bracelets, belts should be a given since all men wear them. So why is business spotty? Garys’ Latham theorizes that many guys still wear their shirts untucked. Says Saul Korman at Korry’s in Toronto, whose belt business ($100 to $250 retails) is healthy, “If you’re not selling suits, you’re not selling belts.” Adds Brad Sherman at Hubert White in Minneapolis, “Our belt business is strong because our pant business is strong.” (His best seller: a William Kleinberg reversible belt at $800 retail, a hefty add-on sale indeed!) The message: don’t let your customers buy suits or pants without selling them something fabulous to put through the belt loops!

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