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May 1, 2011
As the economy begins to turn a corner, a growing number of ecommerce fashion wholesalers are leaping to launch new companies, while established dealers report that business is picking up. These professionals serving retailer customers are looking for ways to make it easier for merchants to source and sell their wares online, offering advice on product mix and assortment, and crafting their wholesale sites to appeal to buyers from online stores, brick and mortar shops, and even fair and home sellers. They are also on top of the latest trends, from watchbands to handbag styles to necklace art.
After running another wholesaler's Internet business for four years, Vonda Romano opened up her own supply store online. "I just decided to do it myself," she says. Her company, Southlands, sells Western fashion. "I sell a lot of Western handbags, wallets, jackets, and a little bit of jewelry, both retail and wholesale," she says. Romano started with a website for wholesalers, but soon decided there was a better way. She converted her site to retail and opened a wholesale shop at WholesaleCentral.com.
The experience at the wholesale directory site has been a good one for Romano. "I really like it. I can put all my products on there, build everything, and add pictures and pricing. I changed my regular site to retail and run my wholesale business on WholesaleCentral." She finds the email-based services especially helpful. "I receive an email notification that tells me when a customer has placed an order. I go there and print it. It's actually doing pretty well, even though I've only been open for a couple months," Romano says. Access to an email database of all her customers is also handy. "I can download an email list, which I use to send email to my customers to tell them about new products."
Southlands is a web-only company, so having an effective website is crucial. "I only sell online. I've been in business for just over a year now, and a lot of my new customers come from WholesaleCentral." Romano notes that business has been good, and it is a great time to start a new business. "All women want bags," she says, pointing out that in a good economy or bad, handbags are necessities, not luxuries. However, Romano knows that times are tough, and she tries to accommodate all her customers, even those who can't place large orders. "Actually, I do not have a minimum order," she explains. "I'm a small business owner myself, and I know that some people can't afford a minimum. However, my customers do have to show a tax ID to order at wholesale prices."
Romano knows the importance of the human touch in running an ecommerce business. "Some customers email me, others call, but they all know me by name," she says. "I use Facebook for my retail customers, and Google Adwords for wholesale and retail." All that serves her well when it comes to staying on top of the latest fashion trends. Romano says that showy products are in. "Anything with lots of bling is hot," she says. "I see a lot of bags that are big and clunky, such as Western bling with crosses. The Western flip flops with zebra, leopard, and camo patterns are also selling very well."
Another new handbag wholesale business is Yanagi Trading LLC. "We've been in business for two years, primarily on eBay," explains Yuanli Tang, owner of Yanagi Trading. However, the regulations of the online auction site were hard to work with. "We decided it would be better to have our own site, and we've worked to set it up." The company website went live just a couple of months ago, and already ten percent of business comes from online sales. "The website is very important," says Tang. "The shopping cart capability is key. Our customers are small businesses, many with their own stores, and we send them product information through email." The company requires a modest minimum of $100, and volume discounts are available. On its site, Yanagi Trading offers Western belts and handbags decorated with big jeweled crosses, as well as a line of animal print handbags.
Susan L. Lovelady, the owner of KT Pebbles Inc., is a marketing and retail veteran, but she launched her ecommerce website just this past February. Business was slow at first, she says, "but it has picked up recently." She points out that easier website technology helped convince her to open an online store. "With this new technology, it is so much easier to manage," she says, citing the importance of visual appeal and great photos. However, having been burned personally in transactions with other websites, she does not take credit card numbers online. Instead, after registering to see wholesale prices online, customers can call to give their credit card information. "I'm not doing credit cards on the web for the security of my customers," Lovelady says. "That way I can speak to new customers." She reports that some customers want her to walk through their orders on the site, placing orders on the phone at the same time. She is happy to hand hold these shoppers, as she gets them comfortable with the new site.
KT Pebbles sells to a wide range of buyers, which gives Lovelady an interesting perspective. "I sell to fairs, women's shows, boutique stores, and home parties," she says. "My store people are doing worse than the ones who go to women's shows and holiday fairs. All the money is being made in these gift shows put on by women's groups." She thinks that budget-conscious shoppers are looking for more than just a retail purchase. "Consumers are not going into stores because they're afraid they'll spend money," she says, but they will go to a party or fair because there is entertainment value, too. "People are entertained at these shows and home parties. There are free refreshments, things to do, and you buy a little bit since you are there. You can't dismiss the entertainment value." Selling to show-based and home party sellers, Lovelady helps them out with a minimum $100 purchase requirement. Moreover, while selling to these customers, she has a good idea of what sells, at least in her area. "Big chunky jewelry is the trend in the Southeast. Also zebra prints and hot spring colors," she explains. "Stretch rings are a big trend, because one size fits all."
Cajole is a wholesaler making a big push with an innovative line of "Neck Art" jewelry. Also emphasizing the bling factor, this line of necklaces allows the wearer to bend and twist them into amazing shapes. "It's something more substantial," says Cajole's Jason Barlow. "You see it in the fashion magazines, where they are wearing something bulkier that makes a statement." The unique design of the jewelry, along with the relatively low price, has made it a hit. "Women like having something different to wear all the time," says Barlow. "There's a great niche for people who have stuff that really looks good, but if they lost it, they would not be calling the insurance company to get it replaced. It's nice to have some costume jewelry that they get lots of compliments on. That happens with Neck Art."
The company uses a wholesale site to sell the line to retailer customers, as well as an informational site that shows how to combine, twist, and bend the necklaces into appealing shapes. "On our retail website we do not go after the retail customer," says Barlow, explaining that his company is wholesale only. "The retail site for our Neck Art is very important in letting the end customer see what they can do with it, and how to wear it. We could not do that in any other way, so the site is essential." The site makes extensive use of videos to demonstrate options for wearing the customizable necklaces. This retail site, at NeckArtStyle.com, is really a support site for trade customers. "Retailers send their customers to the site," says Barlow, "and then these customers come back to the retailer to order. The retailers themselves go to our wholesale site, CajoleOnline.com, to order in quantity," adds Barlow.
Cajole sees social media as a way for wearers and fans of the jewelry to connect. "People can come up with a different way of wearing it, then they can share that and start their own trends," says Barlow. The company has plans to expand the growing line. "In the fall we will debut add-ons that are subtle and elegant, but high quality," he says. "Customers will get a great value with it."
Carsim Trading, the exclusive distributor of Stamps watches in the United States and Canada, rebuilt its website from scratch last year. "Our site has been up for two years," says Martin Breton, "and it went through a complete revamp after the first year. We wanted to keep it fresh and attractive." The company also wanted to retool for selling its line of distinctive Stamps watches. Although the brand started in Germany 13 years ago, "it is pretty new in the United States," he says. "We just started in the U.S. last June."
Carsim's new site serves as an interactive catalog. "The website has become more important, especially as a selling tool," says Breton. The company does not conduct any online commerce, instead using the website as a virtual showroom par excellence. It achieves that distinction through an innovative watch generator page. Using an interactive engine, website users can select from a wide assortment of bands and faces to create a custom watch. "It is fun," says Breton. "There are 200 different faces, and about 50 different band colors and types, which makes for a lot of variety." He says that with a new collection of faces coming out every six months from the manufacturer, the site is only going to offer an increasingly richer experience.
After consumers create the combination they like best, they typically go to a retail shop to buy it. Retailers can use the showroom site to help them decide on purchases too. "The wholesaler uses it to reorder," says Breton, "but they don't buy from the website. Instead, they can do it through our agency or directly through us. They can write to us via email or call." He says that traffic on the watch generator portion of the site is very high. Carsim's response on social media sites is also good. "We do have a fan page on Facebook," says Breton. "We have received a lot of response since we started in August. It's doing well." With the wide variety of styles and options available, Breton has identified some hot products by watching what his gift store and fashion accessories store customers are buying. With a caveat that there are regional variations, he has identified one big trend. "The wild stuff is doing very well," he says. "The zebra, leopard and exotic animal styles are selling briskly these days."
Fashion websites are springing up like wildflowers, and fashion styles are becoming more fun and exuberant with wild animal prints. As a reflection of the national mood, it may bode well for the industry that wholesalers, retailers, and their customers are embracing an attitude of optimism in handbags, jewelry, and watches.
Yanagi Trading LLC
5008 Lookout Tr.
Plano, TX 75023
KT Pebbles Inc.
300 Oak Grove Rd.
Spartanburg, SC 29301
1071 de la Paix
St. Lazare, Quebec J7T 2A8 Canada
Toll Free: 800-671-3635
Topic: Product Trends
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