This is the 27th year for Accessory Wholesale inc. business. Sometimes we have to stop and ask, have we learned anything over the last quarter of a century in business? Our business is fashion jewelry and accessories plus some really fun items like Mardi Gras and masks. Those familiar with fashion know that it is cyclical. Trends come and go, business build for years and then reverse for years in rollercoaster-like cycles.
How does small business survive that? Our business as a wholesaler depends on the success of small retailers. These are our customers. Some small fashion businesses have found their space in the retail world and are doing very well, while many others may feel the walls closing in with competitions from major retailers as well as taxes, insurance, and everything else including days with problem customers.
Over the last 27 years, we haven’t come up with neat little formulas for guaranteed success, but we have noticed some tactics by successful retailers that seem to work. This blog and the following two will hash out five ideas.
How many times have we heard the three most important things that make a business successful are location, location, and location? Sounds simple enough, right? That is until we try to pin down what is the right location. Most areas have shopping destinations that can draw from 25 and more miles away. This is often a mall like the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette, La. or the White Oaks Mall in Springfield, Ill.
These shopping destinations get plenty of traffic, but leases are through the roof. Small business often feels it is giving all the profit to the property owner. I noticed something as a road salesman calling on small fashion businesses. Many successful businesses were in smaller towns away from the shopping destination. They had desirable merchandise and were conveniently close to their customers. Personal service accompanied by a high level of energy made shoppers feel special as well as energized to buy. They were packed with customers when locals needed gifts for those special days like Valentines Day and Mothers Day.
Location and the price of the lease need to be weighed to determine whether sales volume is going to overcome the lease cost.
2) NICHE MARKETS IN JEWELRY & FASHION
The Christmas shopping season is probably the time when small business feels major retailers cutting into their sales more than any other time of the year. Niche markets insulate small business from the onslaught. Most niche markets are an area where the majors simply don’t go.
FLEUR-DE-LIS JEWELRY AND ACCESSORIES
A few examples will make the point. Since Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, especially in New Orleans, fleur-de-lis jewelry and accessories have been extremely popular. It is the symbol of the City as well as on the Acadiana flag. Louisiana has rallied around this emblem since the devastation of the Hurricane and it has been in hot demand by the locals. But the only place to find a nice selection is small business. This is a niche market that small business owns.
CAPITALIZING ON LOCAL SCHOOL THEMES
Think about sports. Local high schools and colleges have a following of avid fans. This is a super niche market, especially high schools. Of course manufacturers are not going to produce lines of merchandise for individual high schools, but that is where the ingenuity of small business comes in.
If this were a recipe, school colors and school mascots would be the main ingredients. Decorating an area with colors and the mascot screams “local high school” to your shoppers. Everything from stuffed animals to jewelry and printed shirts creates the story. In jewelry, chokers, mascot pendants, and school color beads can be offered separately so customer can create their own high school jewelry. School color bracelets are also available to fit into the theme. If mascot pendants aren’t available, simply substitute a sports pendant like a football. That with the school color beads will tell the story. Sounds like a lot of creativity and work? Well, there are some easier choices that can add other niche markets.
MARDI GRAS JEWELRY, GIFTS, AND PARTY ITEMS
In some areas, Mardi Gras is huge and this market belongs almost entirely to small business. If “The Greatest Free Show on Earth” is celebrated in your area, take advantage of the enormous retail business done in Mardi Gras items while other parts of the country are recovering from Christmas. If not, you be the shop that introduces this fun celebration to your area.
What makes up an irresistible Mardi Gras selection for retailers? Of course, beads must be included—not cheap throw beads, but specialty beads that consumers will pay money for. Hand-strung Mardi Gras beads in nice designs and Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green have to be part of the selection. But other colors are often used in beads that have a theme, like crawfish boil, jesters, peppers, seafood, oysters on the half shell, and more.
Novelty hats are also an almost necessary party item. Purple, gold, and green novelty hats again do well for Mardi Gras—headwear like jester hats, sequin tiaras, mad hatters, or crowns. But any crazy hat will be popular for this super party. You need a lot of selection, but not a lot of depth. The market doesn’t end on Ash Wednesday. Festivals, birthday parties, and sporting events are more opportunities for sales in this fun headwear.
Boas are a festive accessory popular with girls—purple, gold, and green for Mardi Gras day, but other colors do very well also. When buying boas, the fullness is determined by weight and a good weight is 55 to 60 grams.
Masks are a major ingredient for Mardi Gras and selection has certainly become more sophisticated over the last few years. Feather masks, both worn with elastic bands and on a stick to be held, continue to provide more breath-taking designs. The sequin mask with a spray of feathers to one side is leading seller year after year. Coque, ostrich, and marabou feathers make a fabulous arrangement in the spray, making these masks extraordinary without being expensive.
The rising star in masks is Venetian style masks. These gorgeous works of art were practically unknown a few years ago and now frequent reality shows, TV, and the movies. The art of mask making had its own guild in Venus during the Renaissance and the growing popularity of Venetian style masks makes it hard to pass up when stocking your store.
Venetian style masks can be affordable with designs like the Arlecchino patchwork patterns of eye masks for men or masks mounted on sticks with lavish ostrich plumes for women.
Exceptional styles include the full-face jester masks in Mardi Gras colors as well as butterfly Venetian style masks for women that are breath-taking. Venetian masks have the history and artistic beauty that will make you proud to include them in your inventory.
Whew! This blog took more time than I expected so we will save two important areas for small business until the next blog—the areas of jewelry for special occasions and seasons plus key niche markets that appeal to a wider audience.
In the fast pace of the Christmas buying season, how is small business doing compared to the majors. According to the US Small Business Administration, nearly half the employment in the US and 65% of new hiring comes from small business so their survival is vital to the American economy. There is a push this year to make consumers aware of supporting small business in their Christmas shopping. But ask someone if that reflects in their buying pattern, and most will embarrassingly say no.
If that isn’t working, something is. There are a number of items that consumers simply trust small business for over the majors when shopping. In fashion accessories we covered headwear and accessories in Part I and now let’s move forward with fashion jewelry.
5) STATEMENT NECKLACES
If there is anything radically different on the fashion scene in jewelry this year it would be statement necklaces. These brash works in metal strutted the runways of fashion shows and stunned readers on the covers of fashion magazines. But they are just a little too edgy for department stores and most of the majors.
These retailers like more toned-down style with the classy look often inspired by The Golden Age of Costume Jewelry. The Golden Age began in the 1930s during The Great Depression and extended through the 1960s with the most creative houses in costume jewelry delivering elegant works.
But glamorous jewelry didn’t stand unopposed in that era. A rebellious statement in jewelry countered these fabulous creations with hand-made works, mostly in metals, that expressed art with primitive designs. A look back on this medium collects the works into a category called Mid-Century Modern. No doubt, this had to be some of the inspiration going into the bold statement necklaces created in metals dominating high fashion this fall and winter.
Now where do fashion forward consumers find this look when shopping for themselves or others this Christmas? Certainly not in an upscale department store! No, only small business provides the high fashion look that has been dominating the runways. So when it comes to forward fashion and edgy designs, consumers know small business is the only answer.
6) QUALITY CHRISTMAS JEWELRY
Looking back twenty years in the jewelry industry, Providence, Rhode Island was the center of American jewelry manufacturing. Many businesses were cottage industries that specialized in aspect of production—linking, carding, soldering, casting, plating. But competition from China with lower prices and gradually improving quality dismantled the American industry piece by piece.
Then an economic slowdown caused Chinese manufacturers, importers, and major retailers to be extremely cautious. Seasonal jewelry was a risk because sell through had to occur in a short period of time. So the 2011 Christmas season is woefully short of quality Christmas jewelry that is traditionally part of the holiday spirit. Consumers wear it to work, while shopping, and to family gatherings. It’s as much of Christmas as stockings hanging from the mantle. But with short supply, where do shoppers find this quality Christmas jewelry that delighted everyone in years past?
Small retailers are suddenly the go-to source for classy Christmas jewelry. They do not need a massive inventory to satisfy their clientele and they have an uncanny instinct to find resources.
When consumers want to express the holiday spirit with charm bracelets that have enameled charms in Christmas colors or quality glass bracelets with lampwork beads, most likely the only source is the small retailer.
Classy resin pins in creative designs make wonderful stocking stuffers as well as accent pieces to spread holiday cheer, but this Christmas they may be hard to find outside of small business.
Pendants and earrings stamped from a thin sheet of metal with art and personality that is irresistible—you guessed it—only small business. “Best Brand” is the creator of these works of art and this line of fashion jewelry is so labor intense that it is simply impossible to supply the high quantities the majors would want. Each piece goes through stamping, plating, polishing, and often enameling for color. The finished product makes any consumer proud to give it as a Christmas gift, but this exceptional jewelry will only be found at small retailers.
7) PENDANTS AND EARRINGS
Actually, Christmas jewelry is only the tip of the iceberg for “Best Brand”. Their selection of pendants and matching earrings covers nearly every look in fashion plus endless themes. The workmanship is so fine that the company proudly has its name impressed on the back of each piece. And we are equally as proud to distribute the line, which we know from sales records goes exclusively to small business.
Just look through the pendant line and you will find something for nearly every event or location. And most pendants have matching earrings. On our site an items number is preceded by PD for pendants and FS for earrings. To find a matching earring simply change the PD to FS and put the code in the search box.
Most businesses buying this line follow a theme. It could be sea life for beach locations, horse and Southwest themes for a western store, motorcycles for a bike shop, baseball for little league fundraisers, and the list goes on. So where do consumers find this exceptional line of fashion jewelry—only at small retail locations.
8 ) LOCAL THEMES AND NICHE MARKETS
This brings us to another excusive of small business–local themes and niche markets. No national retailer will understand local interests as well as the small businesses that live and operate in the area. What a huge advantage this gives to the small retailer!
We are located in South Louisiana. If you watch Swamp People, you get a glimpse of a piece of our culture—Cajun music, crawfish boils, seafood, and the home of seasonings and hot sauces. The themes in jewelry that goes to the heart of locals is not found in major retailers. No, it is small business and often local artists. The same is true in every locale.
Even sports from local high schools that everyone has, to avid fans of college teams provides opportunity for small business. The LSU vs. Alabama game was billed the game of the century. Licensed jewelry for both teams is found on our web site and small businesses certainly have a market for it with all the dedicated fans these two teams have.
Now back to the local high schools. Small business can rally capitalize on this theme because no manufacturer can afford to produce a line for such a small market. Begin with school colors. Glass bracelets on the site provide a variety of two-tone color and most likely your colors are there. Next use the search to find your mascot in pendants and earrings. If it isn’t there, choose pendants for the sport such as football related pendants and earrings. These slide on chokers found under fashion jewelry. To really make the jewelry pop for your high school add school color. Pick beads in the right color from loose beads on the menu. These beads have a 4mm opening so they can slide on many chokers so make sure some of your chokers will accommodate the beads. Group all the pieces together in your shop to tell a story and sell individually so your customers can build their own look.
This the advantage small fashion retailers have that helps them overcome the heavy hitters in the majors.
9) GEMSTONE JEWELRY
The flight to quality in fashion jewelry dates back to the shocking tragedy on September 11, 2001. Suddenly family, prayer, and heroism trumped bling that was the trend of the day. Fashion jewelry went through a worldwide search for art and materials that were classic.
Crystal, Murano style glass, lampwork beads, and gemstone jewelry were some of the mediums that captured that attention of retail customers. But gemstone jewelry continues while interest in other forms of fashion jewelry receded. Department stores still grace their showcases with a few selections of semi precious jewelry, but small business is where consumers will find the extensive selection.
Yes, demand remains high because semi precious jewelry has intrinsic value and unique design that synthetics can’t duplicate. Department stores left lots of change on the table by moving on. Every time I am in a department store, I look at their showcases. Season after season turquoise and coral return. In addition, each season has at least one other semi precious stone included in fashion jewelry–amethyst was a recent example. But demand is exceeding this limited supply and customers that have grown to love the intrinsic beauty of semi precious jewelry know that the only place to really find selection is in a small retail location.
The blog that follows will wrap up the fashion accessories where small business excels with a look at the formal side of jewelry and accessories.