Accessory manufacturers and distributors are often, officially or unofficially, the accessory line managers and/or consultants for their retail clients—sharing information, giving advice, guiding retail purchasing choices with the goal of maximizing profits.
Some vendors, such as Memorex and Maxell, serve as category managers for certain retail accounts, willing, they say, to design cross-vendor category planograms and recommend competitors’ SKUs to fill a client’s needs.
Others, such as Monster Cable, have taken on an evangelist role, developing products and merchandising strategies new to retail. But all ultimately defer to the retailer and how it sees itself going to market.
It’s a delicate relationship that requires accessory vendors and distributors to key into each retailer business model and offer as much customization as it can muster.
One of the points of tension is exactly how the product is presented: Do you rack it for the grab and go shopper? Or do you merchandise the accessories proximate to the big-ticket item(s) to which they attach?
In a perfect world, you do both, says Barrett Prelogar, president, CEO and founder of the CE merchandising design firm Winntech. Accessories are “potentially the most important profit center that everybody can tap into in their retail business,” Prelogar says. However, he adds, “few people really merchandise accessories well.”
A blister-packed selection hung on a wall or a gondola “isn’t doing much to merchandise the product—it’s making it available if the consumer happens to walk by, happens to know they need the accessory and happens to find the accessory they need.”
“The incremental dollars are encountered when you group bundles of accessories on top of the high ticket purchase of the primary category the accessories address.”
For the last several years, Prelogar says Winntech has been talking with its retail clients about making “the complete purchase of a major product category and its relevant accessories really easy and really obvious for the consumer.”
He urges his clients to pick out an accessory suite that is likely to appeal to 80 percent of their customers, to bundle them together and place them directly proximate to the major categories they support. If possible, offer a good-better-best series of options.
Then, he says, “Step two is explaining to customers, visually and graphically, why they need those accessory products as a part of a bundle, with signage and environmental graphics and certainly a sales associate as well.”
Price the accessory bundle as a package “at slightly less than what it would cost the consumer to buy all of those related accessories independently.”
“Step two” doesn’t require a lot of text explanation or a high-end graphics treatment, he notes: present the product in a lifestyle context, and let the consumer look at the grouping or at pictures. Prelogar notes that Sprint PCS recently rolled out a new format that placed mobile phone accessories directly near their associated handsets. “They did not use any signs or graphics,” he says. “They took a charger, a leather case and Bluetooth headset and wire-tied the damn things in a jewelry case directly beneath the phone and put a price tag on it.”
Prelogar says the message to consumers shopping that major category should be: “You’re likely to need these things, we’ve done the work for you and picked the top accessory products for this product category. Why not just buy them today?”
Make it a Happy Meal-esque shopping experience, he urges, crediting McDonald’s with offering consumers easy, convenient groupings of products. “Then the only question (for the consumer) should be, ‘Do I want to super-size it?’”
Proximate merchandising of “relevant and related” accessory bundles can “dramatically improve the thru-put of accessory sales,” he says. “This isn’t much of a secret; It’s fairly patently obvious. Companies that really understand this well, particularly with specialty categories, tend to have much bottom line results than their brethren.”
Should a retailer with limited resources do convenience accessory racking or rack them adjacent to their major product category?
Lori Long, manager of consumer marketing for Thomson’s Home Networking Accessories, says doing both is smart, “but the smartest retailer is the one that puts the accessory next to what it attaches to. You have to have a balance of both types of solutions that capture your consumers who understand what they’re buying, and make it simpler for those who don’t understand what they’re buying.”
Long is a champion of the power of packaging, and says, “Strategically, we try to use retail signage and fixturing to help the consumer find the right product and use the package to help pull the sell-through and help the consumer make the right product selection. All of those things work together for a maximum opportunity for the retailer to be profitable and their customer to be delighted.”
“Really there is some merit, almost regardless of the size of your store, in doing a little of both,” says Prelogar. “I don’t think that someone who comes in specifically with the objective of purchasing an accessory product should have to ferret it out among the major components in a primary category.”
As for convenience racking, “a 2,000-square-foot retailer can do that just as effectively as Best Buy with an eight-foot quick service wall of merchandise with the most popular accessories. But I don’t think that minimizes, regardless of size of retailer, the benefit of going ahead and bundling the accessory grouping and placing them directly proximate the category,” Prelogar added.
“The accessories market as a whole has truly exploded in the last few years. As more affordable digital SLR cameras enter the marketplace, the demand for high-quality camera bags and accessories have increased exponentially. An increasing number of consumers are moving from point-and-shoot to DSLRs and they will be looking to retailers to educate them on the accessories available providing an incredible opportunity to build their trust and generate sales,” said Nicole Mummenhoff, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for Lowepro. “Whether selling to beginners, professionals or anyone in between, imaging equipment retailers will find that photographers are looking to protect their investment and rely heavily on the recommendation of their trusted retailer to make that purchase.”