As editor of MR Magazine, I often field complaints from retailers and manufacturers frustrated about one thing or another. Most often, the complaint is unwarranted: they’re losing out on business mostly because some competitor smarter and/or faster is doing it better. But in a recent phone conversation with leather goods designer Bill Lavin, his comments somehow resonated. A follower of zillions of retailer Facebook pages, Lavin pointed out the numerous posts on suits/dress shirts/neckties (Kositchek’s, for example, does this so well on a daily basis), on sport shirts, on head-to-tie designer outfits, on footwear, on underwear, but he’s yet to find a single post on belts, or on the power of a great belt to finish an outfit, to connect the shirt with the pants, or to relate the overall look to the footwear.
Why is this? Talk to most retailers these days and they’ll tell you their belt business is flat. An afterthought at best, belts usually hang on outdated fixtures toward the back of the store. Even when buyers occasionally bring in an interesting belt or two, rarely are they showcased front and center, or with the appropriate pants and shirts, or with related footwear, or somewhere where customers might possibly notice them.
Lavin tells this story. He once designed a jazz-inspired belt and sold it to a store in New Orleans. The merchant called him a week after getting shipped and complained that the belts weren’t selling. Lavin couldn’t believe it: how could jazz not sell in New Orleans? So when he found out these very cool belts were hidden in the back of the store, he sent the merchant poster blow-ups of famous musicians (Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald) along with a few music-related props (a vintage microphone), and begged him to create a display in his front window. Needless to say, the display was impactful: people came in off the streets to purchase the belts which this merchant ultimately reordered several times.
Moral of the story: take a slow-moving category and romanticize it! Belts in particular have much potential, not just for their ability to finish the outfit but also because all men wear them (vs. an optional accessory like a beaded bracelet or a lapel pin). Show customers how to wear a more fashionable belt, with what, and how it upgrades his image. Create some excitement on the floor, shout about it (Facebook is a perfect vehicle for this) and watch the magic when men learn that a great belt not only completes the outfit, it actually “makes” the outfit. So get waisted!