This category includes establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale of women's clothing accessories and specialties, such as millinery, blouses, foundation garments, lingerie, hosiery, costume jewelry, gloves, handbags, and furs (including custom made furs).
Other Clothing Stores
Clothing Accessories Stores
Following the recessive economy of the early 2000s, U.S. sales of women's accessories and specialty items began increasing. When consumer confidence is low, discretionary spending becomes limited because shoppers stick to buying only the basics and the essentials.
By 2004, the industry trend was for bolder, more luxurious accessories as a complement to the apparel trend back toward the classic and versatile. As women looked more toward purchasing clothing that could shift from career wear to leisure wear, accessories were the ticket to changing a look easily and allow them to follow trends without replacing wardrobes. Shoppers were still budget conscious, but they were also more fashion savvy, and women looked to accessories to keep their looks current and get the most bang for the buck. Some of the hottest items were ponchos; fashion jewelry; celebrity-inspired items such as handbags and cell phone covers; and colored and patterned leg wear.
Stores in this industry offered a vast selection within limited product lines and therefore were considered specialty retailers. Traditionally, these businesses were small independently owned shops that provided distinctive merchandise and superior customer service, often at premium prices. During the 1990s, however, the women's accessory and specialty store industry experienced structural changes that paralleled changes in the retailing industry as a whole with small traditional retailers being replaced by larger chains that emphasized value and convenience.
Store size was a contributing factor to a retailer's overall profitability. The size of women's accessory and specialty stores tended to be smaller than many other retail outlets. Although the size of larger chain stores in the industry averaged approximately 3,000 square feet of sales space, most accessory stores had less than 1,000 square feet. Accessory stores enjoyed relatively low overhead costs due to small store size and the low cost of goods. In fact, Claire's Stores, Inc., one of the larger retail chains, reported that new stores required an initial investment of only $85,000 for leasehold improvements and fixtures and $20,000 for inventory.
Store location often determined store size. Women's specialty and accessory stores, especially fur stores, were deliberately positioned in classy, urban retail centers such as Fifth Avenue in New York. The location of these boutiques in high-rent urban areas often encouraged the small store format. In contrast, chain stores were frequently situated in suburban shopping malls, where larger store size was financially feasible. Store size increased in the 1990s as businesses in this industry followed consumers out of the cities into suburban malls and shopping centers.
Although women's accessory and specialty stores were moving out of trendy, expensive areas, and stores were designed to accommodate the fashion and status-conscious shopper. Consumers shopping at these specialty stores were interested in unique versions of basic products. With the exception of furs, the products offered by accessory stores, such as lingerie, hosiery, and handbags, were not particularly expensive and were readily available at department and variety stores. A specialty accessory store, however, offered the consumer distinctive merchandise in a stylish shopping atmosphere.
Until the mid-1980s, department stores were the main competitors of women's accessory and specialty retailers. Department stores often leased space to prominent accessory manufacturers such as Crystal Brands, the Monet jewelry manufacturer, and Coach Leather. Like the small independently owned accessory shops, these leased departments are staffed with knowledgeable salespeople and provide strong customer service in a pleasant shopping atmosphere. Competition in this industry shifted, however, from department stores to off-price merchandisers and discount retail stores that carried a variety of accessories and specialty items at prices well below those offered by department stores and specialty shops.
Although competition from discount stores increased in the early 1990s, the industry remained fragmented. Due to the variety of merchandise included in this category, no one company dominated the industry. Nevertheless, in the mid-1990s, the popularity of the "category killer" retail format posed a threat to the women's specialty and accessory business. The lack of market leaders coupled with the small...