Bethel International, a wholesaler with a proven track record in the handbag business, found the need to change with fashion trends and the market. "We're in the middle of transitioning from everyday fashion to more college and sports licensed products. We are also targeting a national market rather than a regional one," says J Kim, the company's sales director. "We are looking to work with buyers with more purchasing power." Such flexibility is needed to thrive in a challenging economy, and the key to Bethel International's plan is careful, targeted assortments. First, the company is distinguishing its general merchandise lines and its licensed lines, with an emphasis on the latter. "Our primary focus is the collegiate line," says Kim. "That side has all our handbags and scarves. New this year, we are adding licensed women's jewelry. Licensed products have become mainstream, and even big box retailers are getting into it."
Selling Sports And College Gear To Girls
The wholesaler has taken an interesting approach to sell its licensed products. Despite the traditional marketing of college sports to men, Bethel International is having great success with female shoppers. "Women drive fashion, and our product is fashion driven." The company's three main lines of licensed product are called Daia, Yima, and Sandol. As Kim explains, "Daia is our executive line, and all the price points are over $60. Yima is a fashion driven line wholesaling between $35 and $70. Our third line, Sandol, is our bread and butter and is more sports driven. Most items are available for $25 to $45 wholesale." The company also has a product line just for mass merchants called Valang. Kim sees the last line as an important point of service to independent retailers. "Customers can be assured that when we send something to a huge volume store, we use a different brand and different materials. Our Valang line just goes to our mass market customers, while the other three lines are for our independent retailer customers," he says.
The Sandol line bears special analysis, since it accounts for 70 percent of Bethel International's handbag sales and all of its scarves and new jewelry sales. The company started with college licensed handbags in 2005, and then added scarves two years go. The secret to success was to make these products appeal to women as fashionable items for everyday wear. For example, the college theme scarves include floral and plaid patterns, which appeal even when the team is not playing. Of course, the company also offers game day apparel such as scarves decorated with university fight song lyrics.
The newest expansion in this line is the collegiate fashion jewelry. The difference from competing brands, Kim points out, is quality. "Custom jewelry is not always well made," he says, referring to the competition. "However, our products are silver plated and we didn't cut any corners to make it. You can get a real nice crystal bracelet with a metal logo for $3 to $17 wholesale." That $3 range is common in the industry, but the higher end price sets the Sandol offerings apart. "That's a groundbreaking price point," Kim says. "Our higher end pieces are very detailed, with individual charms. None of it is plastic or hollow. The quality is so excellent that items are easily marketed for $35 retail."
Bethel International is selling these products to boutiques, gift shops, college stores and ecommerce merchants. Some ecommerce customers buy the product and resell it. Others are selling drop ship, but the company is starting slowly with that to make sure that they get the right partners for a drop ship program. None of Bethel's business is with consumers. "We don't sell anything to the public," says Kim.
Continuing Strength In Wholesale Fashion Products
Although Bethel International is pushing forward with licensed college merchandise, it still commands a huge presence in general and fashion merchandise that is not licensed. "At Bethel Wholesale you're looking at 50,000 products," says Kim. "We run our own facility in China, so our products are unique in the market." However, it can be hard for individual store buyers, especially those who are exclusively interested in collegiate items, to find such specific merchandise among the 50,000 skus online at bethelwholesale.com. "It's hard to navigate when you have that many products," Kim explains, "so we put a sister site out there for customers who only want to buy college licensed goods. For them, esandol.com is more convenient."
The esandol.com site is organized logically. The company's four lines, Sandol, Yima, Daia, and Valang are arranged along the top. Colleges, organized by conferences, are listed on the left, and buyers need to sign in to see wholesale pricing. "We stand by our retailer customers' businesses, and we make sure they are protected," notes Kim.
While the company uses two websites to serve two different customer types, it is also using the Internet to communicate with retailers on a more personal level. "We stay in touch with our customers through the website, through email newsletters and blasts, and a catalog. Our Facebook and YouTube initiatives are also geared towards our retailers," says Kim. "Every day the Internet becomes more important."
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