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Winter 2008 Buckles and Belts

What’s Hot, What’s New, What’s Selling

People express themselves in all kinds of ways: by displaying insignias of their favorite sports team on a cap, by wearing a T-shirt with a catchy slogan or by donning a belt buckle that says, “This is me!”

“A buckle is a T-shirt without a size,” says Mark Thomas, owner of Mobtown Chicago in Chicago, IL, a metals manufacturer and retailer that makes belt buckles, key chains, flasks, wallets, among other items, and has seven stores in the Chicago area. “A belt buckle is making a statement to the world.”

Metin Kilic, owner of Buckletown, a wholesaler out of Los Angeles, CA, shares a similar sentiment: “People express their personalities through their belt buckles,” he says. And just as there are many different personalities, there’s a huge variety of buckles from which to choose. There are enough combinations of belts and buckles available to give every customer a product they can say is “them.”

A buckle that’s you

image“Maybe a police officer buys a policeman buckle, and he’s also a smoker, so he comes back and gets a dual-function lighter/belt buckle,” Kilic says. “If a guy likes a belt buckle, he comes back.” Not only does Kilic have a healthy repeat customer base, but many of his customers collect belts and buckles or change them often to reflect their hobbies, moods or sense of fashion. Can Abiloglu, owner and manager of CA Trading, a wholesaler and importer of belts and buckles in Houston, TX, also retails through carts and kiosks in malls in seven Texas and Louisiana malls. He says sales of skull belt buckles in particular have really taken off lately. Skull buckles “have been selling well for the last seven to eight months,” he says.

Rohit Tamma, owner of a wholesaler in New York, NY, agrees that skull belt buckles are trending up. Sales have been strong for the last year or so, he adds. “The skull is the best seller because hip hoppers are into new fashion,” Tamma says. “They sell well across the country, not just in LA or New York.”

Thomas of Mobtown Chicago says skull designs sell well because they crossover more than one consumer segment. “Skulls have been popular with the Gothic and motorcycle people for 25 or 30 years,” Thomas says. “Now the black urban market is making it popular. The two markets overlap.”

imageJalyn Habib, owner of two Buckles & More carts at the West Towne Mall and East Towne Mall in Madison, WI, says his big sellers are the electronic buckles with the LEDs (light emitting diodes). The LED belt buckle is a rectangular buckle with a screen built into it. The person wearing the buckle can determine what message scrolls across the LED screen, which is a big personalization plus.

“It’s big in the hip hop scene,” Habib says. “It gets everybody’s attention. These buckles are big sellers on Thursdays because on Friday nights the people go out to the clubs. We also sold a lot right before New Year’s Eve.”

Pop culture drives trends

For Eran Meltzer, vice president of Hot Buckles, Inc., a Tampa manufacturer, his best sellers lately have been licensed logos and designs that are now part of the pop culture. “Our licensed products are big,” he says. “Whether it’s McDonald’s, Superman, Batman, Freddy Krueger or pro sports.” Superman and Batman outsell the others, he adds.

Meltzer adds that the higher-priced or luxe market also has a lot of opportunity for retailers. He’s producing more high-end products lately that give shoppers a reason to bling-it-up for that extra fashion-forward look. His latest styles include Swarovski-crystal buckles that feature roses and stars, and retail from $70 to $250. Combining bling with licensing, Meltzer has a Swarovski-studded Superman buckle that’s selling well. “The biggest markets are Los Angeles and New York City in general for Swarovski.”

imageBut not all companies think that pursuing the high-end bling market is the way to go. Thomas of Mobtown says he “won’t chase” the fickle bling-buying consumer, but prefers to focus on the core buyers who continues to drive sales—and many of them are women.

According to Accessories Magazine’s annual Census Report, which monitors industry statistics and trends, women’s belts and buckles (they don’t track men’s) topped $654 million in 2005, with 2006 sales expected to increase another 10 percent (final figures are not in yet).

Stock brings sales

imageThat is no surprise to TJ Cameron, the founder of Belts In The Mall, which he launched in 2002 and grew to three temporary in-lines and 11 carts before selling his business to family members last year. With Cameron’s help (he’s still involved today), Belts In The Mall converted some locations to owner/operators who license the Belts In The Mall name. The company now has two in-line and three cart owner/operators in the Midwest, plus three company-owned carts in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, near it’s Souix Falls headquarters.

Owner/operator packages start at $5,000, all of that in inventory (owner/operators purchase additional fixtures, etc. on their own or through company contacts Cameron is happy to share; he’ll even help owner/operators source additional merchandise).

Having a well-stocked cart is key to driving sales, he says. “We have 2,000 belts on each cart and maybe 150 styles of buckles at one time,” he explains. Like Meltzer, Cameron says licensed buckles are the hot sellers: “… licensed sports teams, licensed Batman or Superman… almost anything in the media,” he says. In terms of belts, the hottest ladies fashion accessory is the wide leather belt, he says, and the fashion magazines bear him out, with the most fashionable models wearing dresses cinched midriff by big leather numbers that often stand out more than the dress.

Kilic of Buckletown says he took the opposite tack when it came to merchandise mix, opting to carry a lot more buckles than belts. Whereas some carts might have “300 different belts and maybe 50 to 100 different belt buckles, we tried 500 to 600 different styles of buckles and 10 different belts,” he explains. “Then we just figured out which ones were the best by sales.”

imageBuckletown has a turnkey start-up package that includes displays, a selection of inventory and a money-back guarantee. “If you fail, then we will take back the merchandise and pay you your money back,” Kilic says point-blank. The guarantee makes retailers more willing to stock up, to create an attractive display that will wow shoppers. “We tell the retailers to try a big display. If you have 700 different [buckle] styles, you also have to have three in stock of each one. You might spend $10,000 for merchandise, and the display is $3,000 to $5,000, so it’s about $15,000 to start.

“Sometimes a [specialty retailer] will say, “We only want 100 buckles,’ but we tell them you have to have about 700 different styles so that you have everything,” Kilic says. “If you lose one sale a day, maybe that is $35, but in one month you will lose $1,000.”

Keep it fresh

imageTamma of says belts and buckles make for a great cart concept not only because “with a small investment you have a huge variety [for customers] to choose from,” but also because of the bottom-line markup. “If you get the buckles at wholesale prices of $5, you can sell them for $30,” he says.

Thomas of Mobtown Chicago, adds that in addition to good markup, “buckles are a great cart concept, [because] sixty percent of the people who walked by your place three weeks ago come by again,” he says.

That why, he says, if the merchandise is not fresh, “You are going to die.” When retailers don’t rotate their inventory and then comment that business is starting to trail off, he says, “That’s because you’re showing the same stuff you had a year ago.”

When it comes to belt and buckle sales, Thomas says, “It’s all about what’s new.”

Article Resources

Belts In The Mall

Buckles & More


CA Trading

Hot Buckles, Inc.

Mobtown Chicago


Additional Resources

2Bhip Buckles

Buckle Barn

JJ Accessories

Downtown Accessory

Polka Dot Petals

Rhinestone Jewelry


Wholesale Belt

Randall G. Mielke

Mielke is a freelancer who writes about retail, business and economic development for a variety of publications.

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