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Fall 2008 All That Glitters… Sells

Eric Andrew finds it hard to describe how he gets his ideas for the one-of-a-kind jewelry he designs, handcrafts and sells through five mall carts.

“The designs just seem to come to me,” he says. “I see the materials and I need to start creating.” He’s been creating unique necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other pieces since 2001, and today can claim credit for more than 1,500 original designs.

Andrew, along with his mother and co-owner Mary Ellen Bandurski, can also take credit for building a growing specialty business, the Eric Andrew Collection, which focuses on unique jewelry handcrafted with CRYSTALLIZED-Swarovski Elements.

The affiliation with Swarovski has been key to the company’s growth. Swarovski brings instant name recognition to his products. As a licensed dealer for the company, Andrew can use the Swarovski logo and advertising taglines to promote his own products, which draws the attention of many jewelry buyers.

The Swarovski affiliation is just one more piece of good news for Andrew. In February, he opened his first cart in the northeast, in Colonie Center, a 1.3 million square foot, two-level regional center in Albany, in the heart of New York’s Capital Region. Anchored by Boscov’s, Marcy’s and Sears, the center is home to many stores that are unique to the market.

Three other carts are in high-traffic destination shopping centers on or near The Strip in Las Vegas, the company’s hometown, in Town Square Las Vegas, Fashion Show and the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. The Fashion Show and Planet Hollywood locations are run by owner/operators. Another location is a store-within-a-store concept inside Corsa Collections@The Forum Shops in Caesars Palace. A closer look at the Vegas properties where the Collection operates reveals why the locations are big revenue generators for the company.

Vegas: Lucky locale

More than 39 million visitors descended upon Vegas in 2007, up from more than 38 million one year earlier, according to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. Tourists spent $41.6 billion in 2007, up from $39.4 billion in 2006. A significant percentage of visitors are from overseas; the weak dollar and resulting favorable exchange rates have kicked their spending into overdrive. The tourism numbers are equally good for the start of this year, with16 million people visiting Las Vegas from January through May, which puts the city on par to reach or exceed 2007 visitor levels.

Tourists account for 91 percent of shoppers at Simon Property Group’s The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, which has more than 160 stores and draws shoppers from the adjacent Caesars Palace Casino as well as a number of other area casinos, hotels, resorts, award-winning restaurants and entertainment venues. Nearly a third of the center’s tourists are from
outside the US, SPG says, in particular Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom.

imageTown Square Las Vegas, which opened in 2007 and also attracts a range of tourists, is a sprawling open-air venue that has 22 mixed-use buildings, including an eclectic mix of retail and restaurants, an 18-screen movie theater and 350,000 square feet of Class-A office space.

Fashion Show, one of General Growth Properties’ “Platinum Properties,” is one of the top-10 centers in the country both in total size and sales volume, GGP says. The three-level enclosed center is the largest shopping destination on Las Vegas Boulevard, at more than 1.9 million square feet, including more than 250 stores and seven flagship department stores.

Once known as The Shops in Desert Passage, the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino was renovated by owner Boulevard Invest last summer to give the center a contemporary design, with streamlined and modernized storefronts. With 1.2 miles of shopping (thus, The Miracle Mile), the center has people movers, a backlit sidewalk water feature, contemporary kiosks and more than 170 specialty stores, 15 restaurants and live entertainment on a virtually constant basis that draws millions of shoppers every year.

“You can’t ask for more high-profile locations than these malls in Vegas,” Andrew says. “There’s so much foot traffic in these malls. You really do hit people who may not have known anything about your company. But they see your products and they’re hooked. That’s why it’s so important to be in these well-trafficked malls.”

Sales have been steady at the Colonie Center cart that opened in February and he expects sales to increase as word-of-mouth about his collection spreads. That’s how he’s been able to establish the Collection in Vegas.

The four carts on The Strip now generate an average of $30,000 in sales a month, Andrew says, sometimes from winners fresh from the tables. During the busier times of the year, sales can top $50,000 a month. This will be the first winter holiday season for the company in Albany’s Colonie Center, so sales records there are still to be set.

image“In Vegas, we can get one sale for $1,600, but we’re building in the Colonie Center,” Andrew says. “I think it’s just a matter of time, a matter of people figuring out who we are.”

The company doesn’t rely solely on its cart locations for revenue. It also sells its products in several boutique and specialty stores and in Sam’s Club stores across the country. The Sam’s Club line offers the same products that Andrew sells from his website and carts, but the bigger sellers from the Sam’s Club locations come from the Collection’s gemstone line. Crystal pieces tend to sell better at the carts.

Unique products bring sales

Sales are strong overall for the company because “our products are so unique and different,” Andrew says. “There are not a whole lot of designers doing what I’m doing. Our products can be glitzy with crystals and other elements, but can also be worn on an everyday basis.”

The Collection has a wide range of price points to appeal to a variety of customers. Earrings typically retail for $14 to $75; necklaces run $29 to $300.

Andrew is hoping to continue growing his business by wholesaling more frequently to entrepreneurs who operate their own carts. “We’re actively looking for independent entrepreneurs to open up retail locations for us,” he says. “They’ll purchase the products from us and carry it on their own cart. That’s the ideal for us. That’s the way to really grow a business.”

imageCarts offer the company greater flexibility when negotiating leases and have lower start-up costs compared to an inline, he says. Plus, “The carts have really helped us increase our brand visibility. We want to get our name out there. Our future plans include expanding into the biggest tourist areas of the country. The tourists do such a good job spreading our name when they bring the products back home. And the bigger we grow, the more interesting designs and more interesting price points we can offer.”

The Colonie Center location in particular has given the Collection entry to a new market: bridal parties. Sales of bridal party jewelry now account for about 25 percent of sales in at Colonie. Of course, Andrew sells to brides at his Las Vegas locations-the city being the unofficial wedding capital of the world-but the percentage of bridal business at the Vegas locations hovers closer to the five-percent mark.

“Does the wedding business in our New York location surprise me? Yes and no,” Andrew says. “It’s hard for brides to find custom Swarovski jewelry. We customize our jewelry for the brides. ‚Ķ There are fine jewelers who cater to brides, but not a lot of fashion jewelers like us. For whatever reason, jewelry hasn’t really caught on in the bridal business. When brides find us, they really like us.”

Test, expand, repeat

Expansion plans are in the works for carts in Florida and Boston, though talks with malls in those areas are still in negotiation. Andrew has been so impressed with the success of his cart business that he recommends other artists and craftspeople give the business model a try with their own products.

“It’s a good way to test market a product without getting too deep into it with a storefront,” he explains. “You get the flexibility to see what the customer reaction is to your products without having to invest too much money up front. Carts are a really good venue for products like ours.”

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Dan Rafter

Based in Chicago, Dan Rafter has written for the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Business 2.0, BusinessWeek.com and other publications. He can be reached at danrafter@sbcglobal,net

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