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Looking Good - Accessories Sell!

Fashion is still a fun buy for many customers, especially items in the moderate price range.

The economy may be in a recession, but women continue to desire nice things. And fashion accessories, especially those with moderate price points, are high on the want list.

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"Women still want nice things," says Jan Scully, owner of Raspberries in Dunedin, Florida. "Overall, customers aren’t coming in and buying higher-end items, but jewelry sales have increased. People are still allowing themselves the luxury of buying; they’re just not spending as much as they were."

Carol Neff, manager of Vintage Charm, a specialty store in LaGrange, Illinois, says her customers still buy a good bit, but their buying patterns have changed. "Our customers aren’t going for the big items, like dresses. What they’re really going for is accessories, such as shoes and smaller handbags," Neff explains. "They may not buy a whole new outfit, but they’re buying new accessories to go with the outfits they already have."

And those customers are finding creative ways to buy what they want. "We offer something called split pay, where you can pay half by cash and half by credit card, or half by credit card and half by check," Neff explains. "I think their husbands are saying ‘Don’t spend,’ but they’re finding creative ways to spend."

What’s Selling in Store

So what items in particular are selling? Definitely moderate-priced jewelry, but also scarves, handbags, pajamas and even shoes.

"Bling is still real big," says Scully. "Women love anything with crystals and rhinestones. We’re selling a lot of earrings and bracelets. We have a line of just fun fashion jewelry that’s not very expensive, and I’m selling more of that than I was before. There seems to be resistance at a price point of about $35 or $40; after that, customers have to think a little more about it before they buy."

Scully says her jewelry buyers often buy gifts for friends as well as jewelry for themselves. "When they buy a gift, then at least 50 percent of the time they’ll say, ‘I know I shouldn’t do this, but I want one, too,’ and they’ll pick up a piece for themselves," she notes. "It’s really funny, but I think they feel a little guilty about buying something for themselves. But then when they buy something for a friend, that seems to make them feel a little better about it."

Smaller handbags also are selling strongly for Scully. "My Vera Bradley line is still doing very well," she says. "They’re not cheap bags, but they’re not high-price-point bags, either."

At Treasured Gifts in Linesville, Pennsylvania, customers are also seeking out jewelry and handbags. "Most of our customers are women who are buying for themselves," says owner Patti Ryckman. "They particularly like quilted handbags; those are very big right now."

At Vintage Charm, scarves are the hottest thing. "We’re selling probably 15 to 20 scarves a day, from $29 up to about $78," Neff says. "They started hitting big last summer, and they’re our biggest-selling items right now. We’ve always carried scarves, but they haven’t sold like this before."

Vintage Charm is also enjoying good sales with Nicole shoes. "They’re been around for a while, and have come back as very stylish but comfortable shoes," Neff says. And, in handbags, Vintage Charm is doing very well with a line called Big Buddha and a line called Espe. "The ones we carry are stylish and very environmentally friendly."

Paddington Station, a shop located in Ashland, Oregon, also is selling an abundance of fashion accessories. "Scarves—both functional and fashion—peace sign/icon jewelry, winter hats and Baggallini handbags are driving our accessory-category sales," says storeowner Pam Hammond. "We sell about 50 percent of our accessories as gifts, and sell the other half as impulse items for the shopper. Our price points...are predominantly $20 and under at retail."

Vendors See Sales, Too

Manufacturers echo the retailers’ sentiments and say that lower-priced items are what’s selling now.

"Where sales are happening for us is under $100 retail," says Jennifer Northup, owner of Silver Spoon Jewelry. "From $29 up to about $60 is where the volume is."

Angela Abbott, marketing assistant for Hatley, a vendor in Montreal, Canada, says the company’s pajamas—for both adults and children—have strong appeal for customers buying gifts.

Jen Hopwood, owner of MyPerennial in Chicago, Illinois, is also seeing increased sales in children’s accessories. "We’re seeing fewer sales in accessories for adults, and more sales in accessories for children," she says. "I think buying for children is a guilt-free way for parents and grandparents to indulge, where they may feel guilty about buying something for themselves."

Looking For Inspiration

As the recession deepens, some retailers indicate inspirational jewelry has become more popular. "I think it’s the economy," says Ryckman. "After 9/11, a lot more people went to church and they clung to hope in God. I think that’s where people are right now because they’re losing so much money, and they’re realizing that their hope isn’t in their money."

At Vintage Charm, anything inspirational is just flying out of the store, says Neff. Mothers are buying wood crosses from Natural Life Collection to send to their children at college. "We also have a line called Dillon Rogers that’s leather bracelets with words on them like ‘Faith,’ ‘Believe,’ and ‘Follow Your Dreams,’" she says. "We do very well with them."

Beth Lang, owner of Windsor, Colorado–based Alexa’s Angels, agrees. "In times of recession, people look for inspiration and motivation and positive thinking," she says. "Our inspirational jewelry is doing really well."

The Alexa’s Angels line began with handmade angel pins and has expanded to include necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Although Lang describes sales as "steady," she’s not unhappy with that in this economic climate. "Everybody describes flat as the new ‘up,’" she says. "So we’re holding our own. The $20-and-under price point has been more popular, with not as much price resistance; $25 and $30 have been pushing it the past few months."

Carolee Anita Boyles is the president of a business communications company based in Tampa, Florida, and has written for both trade and consumer publications.

This article is reprinted with permission from Country Business magazine. © 2009. Country Business is a trade publication for independent retailers of gifts and home accents. For information, visit www.country-business.com.

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