Consumers are looking carefully at every dollar they spend, and while many are foregoing complete new spring and summer wardrobe purchases, they still plan to spruce up last year’s outfits with new handbags, scarves, belts, shoes, wallets, jewelry, and a host of other fashion accessories. In a recent survey of fashion accessory suppliers, there really did not appear to be one or two categories more popular than others. In fact, the suppliers explain that the most important criteria for selling merchandise seems to be a combination of good value and price. That is, value items advertised at a strong price move quickly.
At Michelle and Scott’s Wholesale Imports, Memphis, TN, Scott McMillen, president, says that business in general over the last couple of years has been strong in fashion accessories sales, and has also been challenging. Fashion accessories sold well, even after the recession started, but eventually sales slowed down. Now this category is again rising well. There is no question, in McMillan’s view, that consumers are seeking good value and quality. But they want good quality and value in a $10 necklace. They do not want to spend $20 or $30. “The kind of price point items we are selling might retail for less than $10. People continue to be very careful about what they are buying.” After a long, cold winter, people are opting for fashion accessories in bright colors and pastels to get into the swing of the spring and summer seasons. “This is certainly not a new trend, but one we see each year as the season turns from winter to summer,” he suggests. Michelle & Scotts Wholesale Imports sells a wide variety of fashion accessories, but according to McMillen, it is difficult to determine if one particular category is more popular than another this year. “The items all seem to be moving well,” he emphasizes. “People always buy all of these things. For example, hair accessories, jewelry and purses are always good spring sellers because of the Easter season, and also because of the need among consumers for bright colors.”
The company’s typical customer is the small, independent retailer. Therefore, the firm not only seeks to deliver good customer service, but also fast service. McMillen explains, “Our typical customer will buy less than $500 at a time, but they will generally buy more often than once a month.” By having its headquarters and warehouse in Memphis, TN, Michelle and Scotts Wholesale Imports cleverly has two day shipping access to most of the population in the United States. “We are positioned to deliver to 80 percent of the U.S. in two days or less by normal shipping methods, which means UPS Ground. Remarkably, New York City, Dallas, TX, and Miami, FL are all two day delivery from us,” he says.
Fast customer service requires more than fast shipping, asserts McMillen. It requires a website that is a snap to use. “When someone wants to do business with us, they can visit our website. We have full time web people working for us who are constantly upgrading the site. Our new customers can go to the website, register, put in their business credentials, and place an order. They can do all of this within 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how fast they can get through the website and our categories of merchandise. Our website puts customer orders directly into our accounting system. That’s why we can get merchandise shipped out the same day as the order comes in.” The company realizes that its customers cannot afford to have a lot of money tied up in inventory. That is why, in addition to fast ordering and delivery, it prides itself on keeping minimum orders at a very low level. “We have a low minimum for our customers, because many need to keep inventories at a reasonable level. That’s why our minimum is only $75. A lot of our competitors demand minimums of $300 or so. We let customers put together their own kind of sample orders. We do not put together pre-packaged sample packs for new customers, because we sell too many different types of merchandise. It does not make sense to try to figure out what everyone wants to buy, but it does make sense to lower our minimum, so customers can try out different lines before they have to invest heavily.”
There are good margins in these categories. Says McMillen, “Let’s look at a seashell earring. We sell them in a dozen pack. The retailer will buy a dozen pack of the earrings for $7.50. So if you are a small retailer with a small boutique shop, you can easily get $4, $5 or $6 a pair for these earrings. The great thing is, if you have a dollar store, you can sell these items for $1 and make money on them. Obviously, if you have a 5,000 square foot dollar store, you are generating a lot more revenue, and you are trying to generate a lot more turns than if you have a nice dress store, but these shell earrings would fit well in either store.”
Shoes seem to be moving well this season. 247FashionStore.com wholesales women’s shoes, kid’s shoes and women’s accessories. The company is dedicated to providing top quality, trend setting, high fashion, and a diverse variety of fashion shoes and trendy accessories, at competitive discounted wholesale prices. Shoes are a strong fashion accessory item, especially for women. When you can’t afford a brand new wardrobe, chances are you can afford new shoes. Tracy Lui of 247 Fashion Store, City of Industry, CA says the firm’s main customers are small boutiques that sell clothes, accessories and shoes. “Our customers look more for fashionable merchandise than exclusivity and price,” she says. “For this year in shoes, ruffles and bows are quite popular. Right now, shoes are more casual, but that could be customers focusing on the upcoming summer selling season.”
247FashionStore pricing on shoes generally ranges from $8 to $15 wholesale. It offers denim shoes with a wholesale range from $8 to $10. The minimum order is a case. The company offers either 12 or 18 pairs of shoes in a case. “We have a mix and match arrangement for our new customers who want to test out different products. That is, mix and match for women’s shoes and sunglasses.”
Another category moving well is western wear, according to J.R. Palacios, owner, JRP Western Products, Harligen, TX. “We sell leather belts, buckles, western hats and dress hats. We sell a middle of the line of hats. These hats are often impulse purchases, and people might buy one at a fair to protect themselves from the sun. Our Texas Gold line of hats, for example, range in wholesale price from $9.50 to $44. We deal with a lot of children’s hats as well. We have buckles, hard core western buckles, and also more new style Hip Hop buckles. Our belts have a western look to them, and can be worn in a dressy venue as well as casual.”
J. R. Palacios Enterprises does not just sell western wear in typically western states, but all over. The firm has customers around the world, and France is a strong market. Its biggest sellers in this category are real leather belts with a decoration, including metal studding. “Most of our belts are from Mexico and are hand worked. We also sell a line of belts that we import from China. Those are economy, but dressy belts. We are doing better with our line of western belts than ever before,” says Palacios. “Another big seller is our line of beautiful buckles. All of the belts that we sell have snaps on them, so that the existing buckle can be easily replaced with another buckle. Our belts come with an inexpensive buckle that can be upgraded to the look the customer wants. There are buckles that are hand engraved and hand detailed in silver, and we have trophy buckles that are finished with commercial processes. Even though they cost less than the hand engraved buckles, they are very durable.” These buckles range in wholesale price of $4 for one of the Texas/Mexico buckles, to about $30 for the Silversmith Bullrider Buckle; a magnificent piece of work.
Many of the ultimate buyers of western wear today are Hispanic people. “The Hispanic market is a huge buyer of western wear today, even more than the old timers who are strong in the market.” J. R. Palacios Enterprises is a wholesaler, but it also sells to distributors and a variety of mom and pop operations; but it does not sell to the final customer. The minimum order is $200, but the company accepts $100 orders from established customers. How does a retailer get started in western wear if they do not know anything about the business? Says Palacios, “When someone wants to get started, we mail them a 40 page catalog. We also encourage new customers to visit our website and then speak with us. To get them going in western wear, we can suggest the best selling belts and buckles. We also have leather wallets that are good sellers, as well as cell phone pouches. We recommend a variety of merchandise that can combine and create a western wear look for the retailer.”
The company does not offer suggested retail prices, because it feels that its customers know what they need to charge and what they can charge in the marketplace. What can be charged for a good selection of western wear really depends on the market and the competition. “Retailers are in different markets and they will set their own retail prices,” says Palacios. “They may be located in an area of Mississippi where they are the only people selling western wear. Or they may be in a flea market in Chicago where there are 30 other vendors selling belts. So it all depends.”
Joseph Montenegro, owner, iMEX Specialties Inc., Oakland Park, FL, says, “We are kind of the bottom dwellers of fashion. We basically sell inexpensive fashion accessories. We are sometimes a couple months behind the trends. Although we do not set the tone in terms of fashion, our merchandise is good, but inexpensive; something that everyone can afford.” The firm sells a great variety of belts, including dress, casual, metal, ladies’, and king size. It also sells men’s and ladies’ wallets, accessories, handbags, briefcases, closeouts, and saddle bags. “Our major business is men’s belts,” he continues. “I would say around 60 percent of our business is men’s belts, and 35 to 40 percent are women’s belts.”
Imexbelts’ customers are the kiosk and mom and pop shops around the U.S. “We also sell to some wholesalers around the country, but our major business basically is the small independent stores that you might find in a strip mall.” The company does not sell starter kits to new customers. However, it will make up kits with popular items for certain customers who require it. Says Montenegro, “For example, a retailer may want to sell belts from a cart, but does not have a sense of what particular belts are strong in his or her market. We will create a special starter kit. Because of the diversity of merchandise and markets, there is no one size fits all.”
Imexbelts’ minimum order is $35. The firm keeps the price low to serve a large number of smaller customers. “Oftentimes, one of our customers may run out of only a particular belt that he needs to replace. We allow them to do that by keeping the minimum order low.” The company highlights best sellers on the side of its website, to help retailers keep up with what is selling. Right now its best seller is a canvas army military belt in black. “It is a belt that we sell for $1.50,” says Montenegro. “The retail will be anywhere from $3 to $4, up to $7 to $8.” Montenegro is partners in the business with his wife, Donna. They took over the business from his parents in 1991, which was originally incorporated in 1976.
Tony Xien, general manager, USA Hua Tai Group Inc., New York City, says that his firm makes, imports, wholesales, and distributes belts, buckles, underwear, A-shirts, T-shirts, gloves, scarves, hats, and other kinds of fashion accessories and apparel. USA Hua Tai Group Inc. has been serving this area for more than 20 years. “We carry fashion accessories for both men, women and children,” he says. “We are wholesale, and we work with distributors.” Xien notes that all categories of fashion accessories seem to be strong this year. He says that the firm delivers the best service and products, but seeks to keep prices as low as possible.
The following were interviewed for this article:
Joseph Montenegro, owner
iMEX Specialties Inc.
3451 N. Dixie Hwy.
Oakland Park, FL 33334
Toll Free in US & Canada: 800-441-IMEX (4639)
J.R. Palacios, owner
JRP Western Products
221 West Washington Ave.
Harligen, TX 78550
Michelle & Scott Wholesale Imports
4957 Summer Ave.
Memphis, TN 38122
Tracy Lui, manager
Power of Wholesale Inc.
19949 Harrison Ave.
City of Industry, CA 91789
Tony Xien, manager
USA Hua Tai Group Inc.
30 West 29 Street
New York, NY 10001