There is an unfortunate irony to the men’s accessories business: although generally an afterthought, a last-minute consideration after the apparel open-to-buy has been spent, it is nonetheless among the most profitable categories in the division. In fact, for merchants who focus on it, accessories can make or break the season. And, in many cases these days, increases in accessories are far outpacing apparel.
The reasons are evident: impulse purchase potential, gift opportunities, minimal sizing issues, creative display options, infusions of color and creativity, a way to personalize one’s look. Consider a selling floor filled with grey pinstriped suits, white and blue dress shirts, navy blazers, white and grey underwear. Then add some bright printed pocket squares, interesting beaded wrist jewelry, buttery leather belts with handcrafted buckles, tumbled leather backpacks in rich shades of cognac and burgundy. Suddenly the same boring selling floor is magically transformed.
Tom Nystrom, DMM of Belk Department Stores, acknowledges the dilemma. He explains that while advertising helps sell key items, it’s tough to determine which items to invest in as last year’s winners (kitschy bottle openers) do not necessarily carry forward. “Still, spring/summer accessories business was up over last year, driven by very strong sales in novelty gifts,” says Nystrom. And of all the novelties one might imagine, this year’s winner (generating 20 percent weekly sell-throughs) was the unlikely category of inflatable floats! “They’re ticketed at $60 and we promoted them at $30,” says Nystrom. “Whether these items (donuts, bananas, swans) actually belong in men’s departments is arguable, but I’m glad we had them: we hung them from the ceilings and they generated significant volume.”
As for more traditional accessories, business has been mixed. Belk did well with boxed (not carded) cuff links and tie bars, casual wallets with RFID technology, belts in burnished leathers (more brown than black) and stretch, bowties, braces and novelty socks (which are still selling strong and making up for lost volume in neckwear). Disappointments included hats (down close to 20 percent), wrist jewelry, and cold weather accessories (“not much newness and always a bit risky,” Nystrom notes.)
At JC Penney, DMM Jennifer Trout reports that men’s accessories business is growing. “We are pleased with customer response, especially to belts, wallets and hats. In particular, RFID wallets, modern belts and straw Americana hats are very popular. Our gift assortment is also doing well (flasks, travel kits, etc),” she says. “Our customer is adapting fast to newness and anything with performance features: RFID wallets, packable UV hats, stretch belts, etc. Modern belts are also selling well, especially Levi’s, Columbia and JF J. Ferrar. Collection by Michael Strahan belts are selling exceptionally well and continue to exceed expectations. In our gift assortment, it’s all about newness with an element of fun. Americana products are also resonating with our customers right now, specifically, American flag-inspired sunglasses, Americana hats and megaphones.”
For holiday, Belk is offering more Christmas-themed product including ties and socks with snowflakes and Santas. Among their other holiday themes: tailgating accessories, garage accessories (auto-related), outdoor (camo-inspired) essentials, and Game Time. JC Penney is also banking on college and NFL football, tailgate gear and games. “We’ll have a really fun marshmallow shooting game, inflatables like a blow up deer with a target on the side to throw balls at, and tailgate gear for watching college or NFL football,” says Trout. “We expect our customer to stock up on nostalgic games, novelty items and performance pieces for the holiday season.”
THE LUXURY FACTOR
In upscale stores, it’s less about novelty and games, and more about technology and luxury. Says Kevin Harter, VP for men’s fashion at Bloomingdale’s, “Our customers are investing in tech and items you store your tech in. For example our Fitbit business is fantastic! Backpacks are still hot and we see knapsacks becoming the next big thing.”
At Garys in Newport Beach, style advisor Todd Latham reports that there’s still a gentrified mood in men’s accessories business. “Two top categories are pocket squares and lapel flowers, especially coordinated together. We’ve added vendor layers to the boutonnière offering in order to increase color, texture and design options. We’ve also layered the pocket square business: it’s not just about silk hankies any more. Customers are looking at denim, linen and silk/wool blends to fill their pockets. Hand-sewn edge stitching, contrast trim and unique details also create conversation. But fashion aside, the best reasons to carry these dandy options are great margins and minimal markdowns.”
“Life is too short not to accessorize,” says Fred Derring, president of DLS Outfitters. He tells his 150 member stores to purchase grooming products (that invite replenishment), barware, stationery, books, candles, small home décor, phone cases, pocket squares, fancy socks, sea salt soap, backpacks and bracelets. Secrets for a successful accessories business, he explains, include impact presentations in a dedicated accessories area and aggressive email campaigns. “Stores must make a commitment so customers know the seasonal must-haves,” Derring explains. “Don’t buy one of this and one of that! Take a stand on the items you truly believe in. Stores that do this are generating nice increases.”
DIRECTION FROM THE RUNWAY
For luxury retailers shopping London, Paris and Milan, personalized and customized offerings were all the rage. Newly important trends included abstract artwork on sneakers and messenger bags (Tod’s), the addition of graphic printed pouches to backpacks (Valextra) and perforated laser treatments on Furla shoppers, available with interchangeable pouches and charms.
MR fashion director William Buckley sees an ongoing consumer quest for authenticity, with a lot of buzz going to smaller independent accessory brands like Giles and Brother and Alice Made This.
“That sense of authenticity is also achieved via ethnic designs, often with beads and other African- or Asian-inspired detail. Utility is also key: Bags with lots of pockets were major trends; backpacks were ubiquitous. Bucket hats continue to walk the runway while wide-brimmed hats dominated the action on the streets. In eyewear, heavily retro-inspired styles were less prevalent than contemporary frames; independent brands like Mykita and Garrett Leight are gaining share from the big designer names.
Meanwhile, neckerchiefs were the most visible accessory on view at the European shows (like Emporio Armani, above), worn under collared shirts or just over T-shirts. And lapel pins were also everywhere!”