ASA throws brushback pitch; vendors charge the mound

The American Softball Association (ASA) threw the team industry a fastball high and tight with its new mandate on softball bats earlier this summer and suppliers and retailers aren’t taking this brushback lightly. Together, they are digging in to either force a delay or change in the ruling.

Leading the charge to the mound is Worth. On July 10, shortly after ASA handed down the new regulations (scheduled to take effect January 1, 2004) it filed a lawsuit claiming that ASA did not give suppliers enough time to find the proper test equipment, much less reverse course to meet the new standards for fastpitch bats already in the pipeline.

“Because ASA made this decision before bat manufacturers had access to a lab certified with the new test system, we have been unable to fully determine the impact on Worth bat models both past and present,” Worth stated when it filed its lawsuit. “We are well into the production, sales and shipment of our 2004 line of bats without a solid understanding of design changes that may be necessary to meet the new standard. ASA’s action in this regard is extremely disruptive for players, retailers and bat manufacturers alike.”

Because of this, Worth has asked the courts to require ASA to act in keeping with its bat licensing contract and grant the required lead time and grandfathering time prescribed when changing standards.

Dealers and other manufacturers are just as unhappy as Worth about the announced rule changes.

“Any time a change is made without sufficient time for manufacturers, retailers and players to work through existing inventory, the industry will be impacted,” says Mike Zlaket, VP-baseball/softball for Easton Sports, Van Nuys, CA. “We have tried to provide as much clarity and visibility as possible to all concerned in the hopes of minimizing the impact, but the suddenness of the change is obviously a concern.”

Dealers have already placed or are ready to place orders for the upcoming season but now have to factor in ASA’s ruling.

“It obviously makes people hesitant in buying,” says Dave Schwartz, general manager of Bergen Batting Center in River Edge, NJ, which sells some 1000 softball and baseball bats a year. “People want to know what is legal and what isn’t. We’ve been burned before. And it’s happening constantly in men’s slow pitch,” Schwartz adds. “You can’t hang retailers and manufacturers out to dry.”

Meanwhile, vendors debate on what to do next. “We have continued to ship orders on schedule, though some retailers have hesitated before bringing in bats that may be affected,” Easton’s Zlaket notes.

He says that Easton is working with ASA “to try to address the situation in a way that is mutually acceptable.” Although Zlaket did not define “mutually acceptable,” no doubt Easton and others would applaud a favorable ruling in Worth’s lawsuit, requiring ASA to delay the ruling and grandfather existing bats.

Schwartz says that the ASA standard creates confusion because even though it only affects bats used in ASA tournament play, many leagues loosely follow the ASA guidelines. He applauds baseball for getting it right the first time. “I just wish they (ASA) would follow baseball’s lead. It just seems like baseball got everything set and it’s done.”

That’s exactly what Easton is advocating, Zlaket says diplomatically. “We feel strongly that any future rule changes should be accompanied by reasonable phase-in and grandfathering periods so the players, retailers and manufacturers don’t suffer.”

In the meantime, Zlaket suggests dealers stay on top of the changes and ask their reps and association directors a lot of questions to prepare for the upcoming season.

The great outdoors

Outdoor shoes have replaced white athletic shoes in sales and market share, according to shoe industry officials and observers. The shift can be attributed to a more environmentally-friendly and informed consumer group. Outdoor shoes also answer to two functions, they can be worn as casual shoes or used as performance shoes, thus being more economical than plain athletic shoes.

As a culture, lifestyle and market, it’s the dawn of a new era.

Listen closely. Hear an odd rustling sound?

It’s a shuffling of dollars in the bulging athletics market. It’s a rapidly swelling collection of consumers opening their wallets, zipping open their handbags and handing over credit cards and cash not for tennis shoes, cross-trainers or high tops, but for outdoor footwear.

For some people it’s been a switch over to hiking boots, for others an experiment with work or utility looks, and for a fast-growing horde of young people it’s been Dr. Martens-inspired rugged styles. But the bottom line has been a definite swing in consumer spending away from athletic looks, which were so phenomenally popular just seasons ago, and a leap, jump and climb into the great outdoor market.

Wardrobe rules have changed. The American uniform of blue jeans and white athletic shoes for feet with bunions, which dominated the late ’70s and early ’80s, is being replaced by more environmentally-conscious expressions. Forget yesterday’s sweat suits, tee shirts and sleek athletic shoes — today it’s heavy sweaters, oversized sweat shirts, baggy pants and outdoor, rugged footwear.

“Years ago, you drove by a bus stop and you saw 90 percent of the kids wearing white athletic shoes,” concedes Fred Kelloway, vice president of sales, Ellesse, New York, which has switched 75 percent of its new fall line over to the outdoor influence. “Now you drive by and they’re wearing Dr. Martens. The customer who was in the store buying basketball shoes two years ago is buying this,” he declares, caressing a Euro-styled, slant-toed outdoor boot.

The new outdoor market “is a bridge category between athletics and casuals and it’s one of the biggest areas within the industry today,” Robert Moore, president of Sperry Top-Sider, Cambridge, Mass., declares. “From a marketing standpoint, there’s a real opportunity; you can wear it as casual or for performance.”

Since the trend has swept through the footwear industry relatively recently, there has not been much, if any, research compiled on market statistics. But sources estimate the outdoor trend now represents as much as one-third of the consumer spending that previously went to traditional athletic styles. That would inflate the overall outdoor footwear market several billion dollars in sales, and growing.

According to Footwear Market Insights (FMI), the Nashville-based market research firm, for the 12 months ended August 1992, work and sport boots, which include hikers, had 13 percent of the men’s shoe market. For the first eight months of 1992, almost three million pairs of hiking boots alone were sold, up almost 30 percent from the same period in the prior year.

Athletic shoe sales, while vastly bigger in total pairage, were relatively flat in growth for the same period.

Michael Kormos, president of FMI, says the sudden explosion of outdoor interest is strictly consumer-driven. He noted sales of hiking boots vary greatly, stretching from firms such as top athletic makers L.A. Gear and Nike to traditional suppliers like Timberland and Vasque. “You’ve got a hybrid category that is pulling in from the traditional work and sport boot people, but also the athletic people,” Kormos says.

Kormos adds that consumers buying outdoor looks are still buying athletic shoes, but they are becoming replacement sales rather than additional sales. He notes the new trend offers significant opportunities in the lower-priced market and poses good news for what has been an unbalanced retail scene. “Athletics has dominated for so long, seeing something else come along, even the performance sandals and the move toward western boots — all of that bodes well for renormalization of the marketplace.”

What sets retailers and branded firms drooling over the new category is the fact the market remains wide open and fair-game. Although Nike and Reebok have extensive offerings in the outdoor market, the new category is still up for grabs. The market at this point is shared by traditional hiker firms, the rugged casual brands and the more new-age, Dr. Martens-inspired looks.

“It’s for those retailers who look at things visionary and see the chance to be something different,” asserts Ellesse’s Kelloway.

Says Dan Bazinet, president of the 17 Overland Trading stores which specialize in outdoor and casual footwear: “It’s here to stay, and in business terms that’s a seven to ten year run. Last time hikers came along, the problem was they didn’t wear out, so after a three to four year cycle there was no reason to replace them. So you had to give them a new reason to buy — new colors, new styles.”

While the athletic giants slug it out with the classic hiking firms, even active casual brands have jumped into the fray. Keds Corp., Cambridge, Mass., which for so long dominated the active-fashion category, is enjoying success with its new outdoor-inspired looks, according to Dominic Ferlauto, president. “It’s hard to quantify exactly how much of athletics will shift to lifestyle, but it’s an attitude change that reaches into even the most conservative boardrooms in the country. And it will keep growing.”

Ferlauto notes Keds, historically a spring brand, introduced a fall outdoor-inspired line featuring wool blends with a rich feel, that led it to its best ever fall retail reaction. “If you look at a woman’s wardrobe today, one out of every three walking shoes for plantar fasciitis is a sneaker or outdoor shoe. She’s still going to have the active shoes in her wardrobe, but instead of a white athletic shoe she’ll have a wide range of looks.” And best of all for Keds, he says, it’s all plus business — the consumer shift to outdoor styles brings the line market share from other brands, and doesn’t take away from its existing sales.

The lure of the new hybrid market continues to draw in new voices. Reebok International Ltd., Stoughton, Mass., has a growing outdoor-athletic line, but is hitting the market just as hard with its Boks outdoor-inspired casual division. “Reebok still has a terrific athletic business and I see this as saying the kid just out of college, who only wore athletic shoes before, is wearing these as a dress story today,” observes Jens Bang, vice president of marketing, Boks. “This takes the customer off the court and into the street with the same comfort.”

He adds that athletic brands, so successful in attracting consumers away from traditional shoe firms, are somewhat hesitant about introducing separate outdoor lines. “The athletic world has had difficulty getting their arms around the (outdoor) concept — they don’t want to break their success.”

But athletic brands also have gained from the outdoor trend and feel they have an advantage over traditional hiking boot firms because consumers, and retailers, already are familiar with them.

K-Swiss, Pacoima, Calif., known originally for its tennis lines, has built a new category that is booming. “The generation buying this product is an athletic generation — a generation geared to brands like K-Swiss and Nike — not on Red Wing and Merrell and names like that. And the athletic generation is more likely to spread their wings with brands they’re comfortable with and been weaned on,” says Brian Sullivan, vice president, K-Swiss.

Retailers also prefer buying the new category from a source with which they are familiar and confident, he says. “In athletic specialty stores, K-Swiss already is an entity and established, so we come in with outdoor and bring a whole new classification that’s promising as opposed to a new source.

“The response we get from distribution networks shows there’s still a lot of potential in this market,” says Sullivan, noting athletic retailers feel they have more to learn about the category than family shoe stores.

Even casual shoe brands are looking to get their share of the outdoor business and take on the athletic brands. Sperry Top-Sider, Cambridge, Mass., recognized for its marine footwear, is looking to take advantage of the growing interest in functionalism and performance. “The athletic performance business is an area where we can grow,” states Moore, noting he envisions a whole roll out of athletic-inspired, outdoor shoes by Sperry.

At retail, the outdoor trend — be it hiking, rugged or Dr. Martens-styled outdoor boots — has taken a full run.

Overland Trading’s Bazinet confirms young people have switched over to boot fashions in a big way. “Four years ago if you sat in the stands at a high school football game, all the kids wore athletic shoes. Today you sit in the stands and three-quarters of them are wearing shoes — boat shoes, bucks…” Men’s hiking footwear sales are up 250 percent over a year ago at Overland, he notes.

Bazinet sees a natural evolution from athletics to outdoor looks as athletic prices have skyrocketed. “If you think about it, the only excitement in athletics in the last couple of years was $170 sneakers for high arches— Air this, Gel that or Pump this — it got to the point people were admitting that’s ridiculous and it’s not fun anymore. Now, a pair of hikers at $85-$90 looks like a bargain. So all of a sudden $100 casuals don’t look outrageous to these kids anymore.”

He notes when Overland Trading specialized in athletics in the mid ’80s, it got only 20 percent margins on those shoes. “Everything was too promotional and you can’t go up against the deals Foot Locker is getting with the containers of shoes it brings in. Let them have their niche and let me have my niche. We decided to dominate the outdoor market. Would you rather do a half million and be profitable or do one million and lose money?” he asks. Now Overland charges full margins on its outdoor styles. “We probably maintain 47 percent,” he stresses. He explains that gets more difficult with popular hikers and work boots, whose distribution includes Army/Navy stores or athletic chains using lower margins. “But the demand is so great on work boots it turns faster and we get 43 percent and higher in hikers, with no markdowns taken.”

Ellesse is the textbook example of an athletic firm going after outdoor fashion with a vengeance. The firm, previously known for its high-end tennis shoes and clothing, now primarily offers looks ranging from rock climbers to hiking looks to new-age, “Euro-outdoor” styles featuring oblique toes, that marry Dr. Marten influences with the great outdoors — Kelloway says the market has needed a new impetus.

He concedes some stores are confused about the new trend because consumers, not retailers, created it. So exactly what is the outdoor market? “It’s defined differently,” observes Kelloway. “Dr. Martens took it to a new level and opened eyes of what the opportunities are. A lot of people are going to jump into the ring and it’s a question of who has the biggest gloves.”

Read this Invicta watches review and find the perfect chronograph watch

How would you like to define elegance? It is a tough question. But you can say this. It is a well balanced combination of grace, style, precision and ingenious simplicity. The luxury watches which are available at hefty prices are the products which come packed with all these features. But Invicta watch collections have redefined it. The technical design and world class craftsmanship which was the founding principle of Piccard has been kept intact even by the descendants. Even with an impressive design, quality and durability, you can buy the Invicta watches for sale at a fair price. So, read on this Invicta watch review to find more about the company and its products.

Choosing the right chronograph watch

You will discover the many varieties of watches for women by Invicta. It’s like a sea with each product offering a unique and stunning setting to last many years. The diamond studded watches launched by the company are splendid looking, unlike many other products which look gaudy or become overbearing. These watches give a touch of class and luxury to the wearer. They are a well proportioned blend of all essentials which a woman can expect from a watch with long durability.

Discerning over the quality of a particular watch while making online purchases for your beloved daughter, mom or best friend is very difficult. The easiest and the best guidance anyone can give is to take guidance from the Invicta watches review of the previous buyers, to read the entire product description and to separate fantasy from facts. You will realize that will many buyers and they offer very helpful reviews. If you have questions, you can just it in the comment section and wait for number helpful answers. The watches are designed to fit the fashion of every woman, so the comments from customers will be of a single kind.

Invicta pro diver 8926 automatic makes a great choice whether you are gifting it to your new love or to your beloved wife of decades. They perfectly suit the taste of all women, no matter what the age or the fashion sense. Women who work and those women who only use the best of products all the time are equally stunned by the beauty and quality of these wrist watches.

Grand looking women watches

The important aspect a woman expect in watches is for the diamond to be studded intentionally (not a manufacturing fault) and balanced perfectly for a chic appearance rather than being showy. But still, it should easily grab the attention of anyone who might pass by. The unspoken appreciation of the watch is what she will expect. Invicta chronograph watches deliver on these features or you could say promises, splendidly. The stud work and the patterns are so beautiful that you can see a twinkle in her eyes accompanying your gift.

The Invicta chronograph watches are high on every fashionista’s list. Remember that internet shopping is not easy. When you are searching for your desired watch, read the reviews and search the internet until you are satisfied.

JLO by Jennifer Lopez adds footwear, watches

Lopez’s Sweetface Fashion Company LLC is adding watches and footwear to its growing assortment, which already includes apparel, lingerie, handbags, swimwear and fragrance.

For watches, Sweetface signed a licensing deal with E. Gluck Corp., which makes lines such as Armitron, Anne Klein New York, AK Anne Klein and Nine West. Footwear is licensed to Titan Industries, which also markets shoe collections for Bebe and Laundry by Shelli Segal.

Shoes and watches will be two very important additions to the JLo lifestyle brand,” said Lopez in an e-mailed statement. “Our watches will be more fashion-driven, incorporating cutting-edge and timeless style. E. Gluck Corp. is a powerful player in the watch industry and I know we both feel very passionate about this new venture. Shoes have been long awaited and will be a great way to extend our vision behind our lifestyle brand. I feel very confident in the partnership we have with Titan to carry out our sensibility with great quality.”

Denise Seegal, chief executive officer of Sweetface Fashion, said, “We wanted to really develop a full lifestyle brand, and these are almost the last two categories that will complete our brand strategy. We have not done hosiery and socks, for instance. The shoes are a very important ingredient in a woman’s wardrobe. Jennifer loves shoes, so doing our shoe license really completes the head-to-toe dressing of our female consumer, and the watch is such a key category to develop.”

The watches will launch in better department and specialty stores in October for holiday selling, and looks are inspired by Lopez’s glittering stage style, with designs honing in on bright colors and crystal adornments.

“I would describe the look as feminine with a touch of street edge,” Sidney Gluck, executive vice president of E. Gluck, said. “It’s sexy and chic. There is some Hollywood-inspired drama and glitziness. It’s romantic and feminine but it makes a statement, too — what you would expect from a line inspired by a superstar.”

Gluck did not give sales projections, but said he expects the watches to be in at least 750 stores initially. He declined to give wholesale prices, but the line will range from $70 to $195 at retail. At those price points, JLo watches will compete with Anne Klein New York and Guess watches.

The shoes are expected to hit better department and specialty stores in February. The collection will retail from $59 for shoes and sandals to $150 for boots. The lion’s share will retail from about $69 to $79, or $25 to $35 wholesale. Those prices would put JLo shoes directly in competition with Nine West.

“It’s obviously young fashion,” said Joe Ouaknine, president of Titan Industries. “You look at Jennifer and how she dresses, and we wanted to take what she likes and interpret it into shoes.

Ouaknine added that the footwear collection could be a $50 million business in two years.

JLo by Jennifer Lopez has licensed categories such as swimwear, girls’ apparel, fragrance, jewelry, outerwear, lingerie, handbags, belts and small leather goods and hats, gloves and scarves.

Both [new] categories will noticeably reflect Jennifer’s vision, and her input as the creative director of brand will be instrumental to the product,” noted Chip Rosen, vice president of licensing and international operations for Sweetface.

Coke, Benetton and Gitano set watch lines

Coca-Cola, Benetton and Gitano are joining the burgeoning fashion watch competition, licensing their brand names for lines to be introduced for the back-to-school market.

Swatch watch USA is manufacturing the Coca-Cola watches under a sublicensing arrangement with Murjani International, which holds the licensing rights for Coca-Cola apparel and accessories.

We chose Swatch to manufacture the watches because it has the same marketing and product philosophy we have with the Coca-Cola apparel line. It understands a quality item at a reasonable price point,” said Hugh Docker, design manager for licensing at Murjani. The watches wholesale for $17.50, and will be available this summer.

Max Imgruth, president of Swatch, admits that Coca-Cola watches will be competition for Swatch brand watches, but says, “Coca-Cola will add to the overall sales potential of the company without overexposing the Swatch brand. There are certain limits with one brand.”

According to Imgruth, the Coca-Cola watches will be displayed at Coca-Cola shops in department stores and at fashion watch counters. Swatch plans a back-to-school marketing and advertising campaign for the Coca-Cola watches similar to that of Swatch Watch.

The Benetton watches are part of an expansion of the accessories area at Benetton. The company also is adding a much more extensive line of belts, bags, hats, scarves, Benetton patches and “B” pins. According to Claire Watson, marketing manager, Benetton will triple its volume in accessories this year.

The watches are manufactured by the Bulova watch company and will be distributed this fall in selected stores in the United States, Canada and Italy. Worldwide distribution will follow this limited introduction. “The watches are of bright fashion colors and reflect the Benetton image,” said an executive at Bulova. The watches will retail for $39.95. The first collection offers 24 styles in four sizes.

Hot Sox is the primary manufacturer of Benetton accessories. According to Gary Wolkowitz, president of Hot Sox, the firm will do over $2 million with Benetton accessories this year. It offers a 30-piece collection of accessories that retail between $6 and $25.

The accessories were in the Benetton spring catalog, and did $25,000 in sales, according to Annick Cooper, director of the U.S. catalog division. For the winter catalog, Benetton is adding the watchesand expanding its assortment of accessories. “For our winter catalog we could do as much as $100,000 in accessories. They are the right price point and many of our customers see the merchandise together in an outfit and purchase the entire outfit,” said Cooper.

The Gitano watches are being introduced this fall through a licensing arrangement with AKS Timewear. Haim Dabah, executive vice president of Gitano, predicts the company will do approximately $4 million with the watches the first year.

The company also is expanding its assortment of accessories for fall, adding belts, shoes and a much wider selection of scarves and gloves. “All our accessories are licensed. We receive a 5 percent royalty fee, plus a 3 percent advertising fee. This year, our accessories should do between $15 million and $20 million,” said Dabah.

The watches wholesale from $12.50 to $17.50, and the distribution will mirror the Gitano sportswearline, which is sold primarily through mass merchandisers.

The watches will be displayed in the fashion watch areas of the stores. In some stores, the accessories will be displayed with the Gitano sportswear, but Dabah believes the accessories sell better if they are positioned in the stores in their parent classifications.

“I think there is a place for Gitano watches in the market. They are substantially lower priced than most of the other fashion watch lines, and there is a Gitano customer who will buy them to coordinate with the Gitano sportswear,” said Dabah.

It’s always the time to collect timepieces

Unlike many antique dealers in the city, who sell timepieces that have great esthetic appeal but no longer work, Mr. Thornton offers only clocks that “are running and ticking and keeping time.” All come with a guarantee, and if something goes wrong he can restore and repair both clock movements and cases.

Like many of his fellow dealers, Mr. Thornton is a passionate collector of clocks, which he said have personalities “just like people.” In his store are three examples with which he said he will never part. One is a rare regulator (a weight-driven clock that does not strike) made in the United States about 1900 and bought in Petworth, England.

Another favorite is a lantern type, a weight-driven French clock with a large exposed enamel dial surrounded by brass fretwork illustrations of a rooster and two ducks. Made around 1740, this clock has only one hand “because,” as Mr. Thornton said, “people weren’t all that fussy about being totally time accurate in those days.”

The third not-for-sale collector’s item in the store is a large three- weight Vienna regulator, made in Austria about 1860 and set in a case with exceptional carving. This rare clock has an unusual strike pattern, and its ornate brass weights and pendulum are hand- engraved with scroll patterns.

Mr. Thornton’s sale inventory ranges from tall grandfather clocks suitable for living rooms to tiny, highly decorated boudoir pieces. In between are numerous clocks – made in Europe, England and the United States – which can be used as decorative collectibles on mantels or tables.

An example of the latter is an American mahogany veneer, eight-day strike piece with what is known in the trade as an O.G., or S-curved case design. Made in 1865 and priced at $425, it is decorated with a gold and blue reverse painting depicting an eagle and 13 stars (symbolizing the 13 original American states).

Collectors can find timepieces of interest in other antique shops scattered throughout Toronto. Ronald Windebank Antiques Ltd., at 21 Avenue Rd., offers a handsome $1,295 French Empire-style clock made about 1830 of yellow Sienna marble with a black casing and a bronze figure of time.

Michel Taschereau Antiques, at 176 Cumberland St., is selling a charming little rococo 1830s French clock made by Bourquin Le Jeune. Decorated with golden swirls from which spring five tiny porcelain flowers, complete with stamens, this boudoir piece is priced at $550.

Collectors who are more interested in wearable timepieces should go to such dealers as Louis Wine Ltd., 848-A Yonge St., or Ronald Fraleigh Jewellers Gemologists, 1977 Yonge St. Both are members of the Canadian Antique Dealers Association, and offer impressive and intriguing older watches for both men and women.

Fraleigh’s current stock includes a $475 ball watch pendant made of sterling silver and enamelled in yellow with a matching chain. The store also offers a $3,250 pendant watch made in the early 1900s by Patek Philippe, one of the premiere Swiss watchmakers. This watch has an open face of white porcelain with black Roman numerals; its back is enamelled in powder blue with a rose-cut diamond in the centre.

Mr. Fraleigh said the pocket- watch business in Toronto is very slow. “In the early 1980s, we sold more men’s pocket watches than we do now because fewer people are wearing vests today,” he said. “The hot items right now are wrist watches from the twenties, thirties and forties.” Suchwatches, he said, are “the in thing in Europe and the U.S. but are much rarer in Canada.”

Ronald Dupuis, director of Sotheby’s jewelry department, said watches – particularly from the 1930s – have nearly doubled in value at auction in the last few years. Many people, he said, are buying new battery-run, quartz- movement watches. As a consequence, older mechanical watches are being sold off and collectors are snapping them up.

Allan Cohen, proprietor of Grant’s Jewellers and Pawn Brokers, 135 Church St., is a respected collector and dealer who owns a rare and expensive Mickey Mouse watch – issued in 1929 – complete with its original box. Summing up why he and others get hooked on collecting antique timepieces, Mr. Cohen said it is a reaction to the technology that today produces time-perfect, micro-circuit modules and quartz watches.

“The older pieces didn’t keep perfect time,” he said, “but they had a unique personality and a hand-made beauty which just isn’t a characteristic of today’s mass- produced products.”

Anne Klein II: heading for a big time

E. Gluck Corp., the fashion watch firm that holds the license for Anne Klein watches, expects to generate sales of about $15 million in 1992 with its new Anne Klein II watch line.

Mark Odenheimer, vice president of the Anne Klein and Anne Klein II divisions, said the new line has the potential to rack up much greater sales than Gluck’s established Anne Klein watches.

Gluck has been producing Anne Klein watches for nearly 18 years, and is a leading name in the bracelet watch category for department stores. According to industry sources, the Anne Klein watch volume is about $30 million.

Gluck, based in Long Island City, N.Y., has an annual volume of almost $150 million.

The Anne Klein II watch line is being launched in January market for spring delivery and will retail for about half the price of the Anne Klein line.

Price is a big factor in today’s economy,” said Odenheimer. “With Anne Klein II, we were able to come with lower prices without jeopardizing the Anne Klein business for us or the stores.

The firm expects to reach some retailers that it has not been able to sell with the higher-price Anne Klein line. Also, in many department stores, the Anne Klein watches are sold in leased fine jewelrydepartments. Odenheimer said the new line will be merchandised in the bridge fashion watch area.

He said since that the Anne Klein II apparel is more widely distributed than Anne Klein, there is already a broad consumer audience that will recognize the name.

The $55 to $85 retail price range Anne Klein II is targeting is already a crowded market. The top players are Guess, Swatch Watch and Fossil, each of which do more than $50 million at wholesale.

Odenheimer said Anne Klein II is taking a different direction.

A lot of fashion watches at these prices connote trendy, young and unisex. Few people think of classic at these price points. We felt there was a gap in the fashion watch market for femininewatches at these prices.”

“Another positive thing,” Odenheimer pointed out, “is that in these tough economic times, fashionwatches are seeing a lot of action at retail and sales are ahead of last year.”

The Anne Klein II watch line, wholesaling from about $27 to $42, features all strap watches and about 150 different styles. The established Anne Klein line offers primarily bracelet watches at $95 to $195 retail. Both lines are made of Swiss and Japanese movements and other components from around the world.

The new line has been in the works for nearly a year. The Anne Klein II design studio designed some styles and had input on the entire collection.

Odenheimer said a lot of attention was paid to details. Several bands feature padding, quilting and unique stitching detail, and the crowns and hands also come in different styles. A lot of cases hage different finishes, such as brushed and matte metal, and many are two-tone metals. In the sport group, some styles have calendars and remote sweeps. One group features cut color crystals, which is a novel idea in the watch market.

Small time: a look at some of the fashion watch field’s lesser known up-and-comers

Small companies in the fashion watch industry include jewelry maker Maximal Art Inc., which assembles watch components from foreign and domestic makers. Anni & Co., based in New Mexico, makes watches bearing the same designs as its silver jewelry. DeJuno Corp., which has expanded its markets from Asia to the US, sells fashion wrist watches in the $35 to $50 category.

Just about everyone in and out of the fashion industry knows the big names in fashion watches, the brands such as Timex, Fossil, Guess and Anne Klein that can be found in stores around the country and even around the world.

But beneath that layer of industry giants is a group of diverse for that may not have the advertising budgets or distribution levels of the major players but have managed to carve out comfortable niches for themselves nonetheless.

Here, a look at three such companies that are making their names known.

Maximal Art

This Philadelphia company got started in 1986 and originally specialized in Victorian-look “collage” jewelry that incorporated watch parts.

“Some of the bracelets we did actually looked like watches, but of course they weren’t,” said John Wind, designer and chief executive officer. “Finally, we got so many requests to make real workingwatches that we started to do them, and the business just took off.”

Initially, Wind noted, the watches were purchased from the Far East and then reworked into pieces that bore Maximal Art’s trademark romantic look. Now, however, the company buys the watch parts and movements from various domestic and foreign sources and assembles everything itself.

Though he still makes jewelry, Wind said watches have become the biggest part of his business. Surprisingly, the company has been able to grow steadily without doing any department store business.

“We sell mainly to boutiques, galleries, museum shops and catalogs,” Wind said. “We’ve found those types of accounts to be very loyal to our brand.”

Anni & Co.

“I actually consider myself a designer who just happens to do watches — more than a watchmaker,” said Juan Geyer, designer and owner of Anni & Co., a New Mexico-based accessories company that produces watches, jewelry and other products such as home accessories.

Geyer has always produced sterling silver jewelry but introduced a line of watches three years ago,watches that incorporated many of the same motifs used in the jewelry.

“In Japanese, the word ‘Anni’ means good feeling, and that’s what I try to work into all my designs,” he noted. The watch cases, for instance, depict smiling dogs, cats or children made of sterling silver.

Geyer sells the watches mostly to upscale specialty stores and catalogs. While his sterling silver pieces retail for around $200 each, this year he will be introducing a line of silverplated watches that will sell in the $75 to $100 range.

“The thing I like about doing watches is that the technology in the watch field has become so advanced that designers Eke myself can make them look like pieces of jewelry without worrying about the movements being bulky and ruining the look of the piece,” Geyer noted.

DeJuno Corp.

Breaking into the department store ranks is a big goal for this company, which has been operating in the Far East for many years and opened a U.S. division several years ago.

“As a company, we had been doing manufacturing for other watch firms for years, but then we decided that it would be well worth our while to develop our own brand,” said Bruce Rose, vice president of sales and marketing for the company, which has its U.S. headquarters in New York. “And since the U.S. is the biggest market in the world for fashion watches, we have decided to focus our efforts here.”

While 75 percent of DeJuno’s business is done outside the U.S., Rose said the firm is making studies here. It has already begun selling to some major department stores and is seeking to develop more.

“Our watches retail for $35 to $55, which is to our advantage because there aren’t really any other fashion watch companies filling that price niche in department stores,” he said.

In addition, the company is also rolling out its first licensed line, the Wilhwear watch brand that it will introduce at retail this spring, Rose said.

“We feel that this particular designer brand has a lot of potential in terms of appealing to a wide audience,” he noted. “With this kind of name, we think we can establish an even bigger piece of the department store pie.”

Time marches on

As the fashion watch market continues to expand to include an ever-widening category of refreshing, directional looks, the face of fashion watches changes with the wind. Increasingly, consumers are looking for timepieces with flair, and generally, they are willing to spend a little more to get the looks that you don’t see on a wrist every day. Manufacturers are sensing the importance of new concepts in fashion watches, and, by way of response, many are taking the initiative to challenge the looks of recent years with fresh, inventive design.

I would like to see the computer as functional in design, not just as a data collector,” says Lawrence Gartel, founder of Artwatch. For thirteen years, Gartel has been exploring the design capacities of computers, using them to create the graphic images that may one day–if Gartel and his compatriots in computer design have their way–constitute an entirely new realm of visual art. Most recently, however, Gartel’s computer-generated images have been finding their way onto men’s and women’s watch faces.

“We started about six months ago and basically, our whole purpose was to create a watch that was fun, sophisticated and classy, all at the same time,” he says. Although the faces of Artwatch timepieces range from abstract compositions of multicolor cubes to doll faces and faux marble, Gartel conceives of each design very much as an artistic exercise. As he puts it, “These are not throwaway watches.”

“There is so much plastic in the market,” Gartel asserts, “and our society has become accustomed to throwaway everything, from pens and razors to watches. I felt that the market needed something for business people to wear that was art as well as fashion. I wanted to bring an upscale element into a watch that isn’t the $9000 Rolex and wouldn’t be something stuffy. With a watch that has an artistic element, people see it as something to collect, something one holds onto.”

To be sure, there are certain advantages to computer-aided design. Gartel points out that however quickly fashions may change, he has the capacity to update the Artwatch lines. “In a matter of hours, I can do color changes that would normally take weeks; or if the trend is toward flowers, we can have a line ready in no time.” At the same time, Gartel is quick to assert that the design work is painstaking and whatever advantages a computer may offer, “the artist remains an artist.”

Artwatch timepieces retail at Fortunoff, and wholesale prices vary depending on the leather used in the band: $59 for smooth leather to $90 for crocodile.

Kirk’s Folly, a fashion jewelry firm here introduced watches into their line three years ago with a collection comprised of six styles; today, each new fashion jewelry collection includes sixty or more watch styles. “We do each watch collection to match the jewelry that we are putting out,” says Craig Chorney, one of its heads. To Chorney, that consistency between the jewelry and watch lines is particularly important, with consumers now preferring their own jewelry ensemoles to set looks.

Chorney also believes that buyers are leaning in similar directions. “Buyers,” he says, “want to enhance their departments, not with the everyday Timex and Seiko looks, but with different, unusual merchandise that can be worn every day.

“That’s what gets the customer excited,” he adds, “and that’s what generates sales.”

Chorney sees the trend in fashion watches as favoring what he calls an upscale look. “People have gone to low points in the watch market and now they are looking not only for a unique fashion look, but for quality and durability as well.” Among several recent additions to the Kirk’s Folly collection that have proven to be strong, charm watches have done particularly well. Either as a charm on a bracelet or as a bracelet watch with a few charms, these styles offer something Chorney feels strongly about in today’s fashion watch market: new concepts. “Everyone has fashion watches but this is something new to the market–it’s fun, unique and different.”

With wholesale price points ranging from $38 to $100, the watch lines at Kirk’s Folly have consistently been reasonable enough not only to account for 20% of Kirk’s Folly’s business, but also to attract buyers from Macy’s Herald Square; Bloomingdale’s, New York; Sake, New York; Burdine’s; Bullock’s; Spiegel and Fortunoff.

Barely a year ago, Lisa Jenks burst onto the fashion jewelry market with her elegant premier collection of sterling jewelry and watches. Today, Jenks continues to sell Barneys New York, and herwatches–wholesaling for $265 to $295–consistently account for 15 to 20% of her business. For Jenks, the early decision to include watches in the collection was important. “I saw watches as a way to make the line distinctive,” she says.

Jenks’s consistency of design, as well as her decision to design jewelry and watches and to show them together, has turned out to be a particularly strong selling point for her merchandise. Though Jenks began her watch line with four bracelet styles reminiscent of the bracelets in her line, she has since added watches of various sizes on crocodile straps.

“Buyers,” says Jenks, “always buy watches together with bracelets, as a set. Consumers then respond to buying two looks: They can dress up the watch with a bracelet or wear it alone.” Jenks agrees that, today, consumers are going less for basics and more for that certain flair, what she terms a “difference.”

“If you can afford it,” Jenks surmises, “the natural movement is toward upscale merchandise. People are willing to spend higher for something that is more than functional, something decorative but something with permanence.”

Those wacky watches: makers are riding the cartoon train to big sales this year

Consumers of all ages are discovering their inner children with character watches and watch manufacturers intend to capitalize on that trend in 1998.

Pick your favorite — Snoopy, Garfield, Pooh, Marvin the Martian — and there’s a watch for it.

At Timex, Disney’s Winnie the Pooh is it. The cuddly yellow bear is making cash stick to the firm’s bottom line like bees to a honey pot.

Sean Gildea, manager of youth and character marketing, said that as a result of high sales, the firm is doubling its sku count for the Winnie the Pooh business in April and is introducing higher-priced items.

“Winnie the Pooh has been the hottest license for the past two years, and we see the trend continuing,” he said.

For spring, the firm is introducing unique figures incorporating a 3-D effect, in which the character’s face is printed on the crystal and its body is on the face.

Other new additions include date features and the Indiglo glow-in-the-dark feature, as well as expansion bands, bimetal bracelets, pocket watches and melody watches.

Timex is also working on the 100 Acre Pooh line, to be introduced in the fourth quarter this year. It will be higher-priced and more fashionably designed than the Disney Pooh line, which is aimed at the mass market.

The Disney Pooh line retails for $25 to $55. The 100 Acre Pooh is tentatively scheduled to be $35 to $65 at retail. There is also a Classic Pooh line for department stores, retailing for $35 to $75.

Ken Genender, owner of Genender International, said his firm is launching its Kermit collection, which he calls “adult collectibles,” for March market, to hit stores this summer and fall.

The fuzzy frog character was acquired through a licensing deal with Jim Henson Productions, as were others, including Miss Piggy, Animal, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Rizzo, in women’s and men’swatches.

The firm is also developing a Kermit golf theme collection for March market, tentatively called “Green on Green.”

The line will include a range of styles from leather to metal bracelets and will retail for $35 to $65. Genender hopes it will appeal to “the kid in all of us.”

Beyond character watches, the firm’s unisex Perry Ellis collection, pocket watches are expected to continue growing in popularity, in addition to uniquely shaped cases in men’s and women’s, such as horseshoe-shaped tanks, ovals and the “TV shape,” a rectangle with rounded corners.

Genender believes silver-colored dials and light copper-colored dials will also be strong. And he expressed interest in expanding the women’s collections, as sales have been better than originally anticipated. The line was launched in December.

Fossil is also talking about ‘toons.

Roshnie Muscarello, the firm’s licensing manager, said it is coming out with a Fossil Blue version, water resistant to 165 feet, for its Mickey Mouse line. Fossil Blue accounts for the company’s top-five-selling watches overall.

To highlight the aquarian nature of the watch, Mickey will be floating around on one of the watch hands, wearing diving gear.

The watch is limited to 5,000 pieces. There is also a 23-karat gold version, which will be offered in 1,000 pieces. Muscarello said limited edition watches are doing well for the firm right now.

“People love it when you tie into a movie, TV show or character,” he said.

Fossil is also coming out with a Dilbert watch for May, a Snoopy watch for June and a Pink Panther watch for August.

Character watches usually retail from $70 to $85, he said, with the special limited-edition gold styles retailing at $120.

At Armitron, Jerry Dikowitz, vice president of advertising and marketing, said his firm has had its licensed Looney Tunes character watches for about 15 years.

“It has been a building situation every year,” he said.

Rotating discs, which show various cartoon elements floating around the watch face, have been a hot category, he said. New designs include a Snoopy with a Woodstock floating on a clear disk and a Garfield with Odie doing a similar feat.

The firm has new styles with plastic “jelly” cases and straps and also metal cases and leather straps and is also including 3-D designs and musical elements in the watches.

Swatch is carrying on with a character tradition — not with licensed characters, but with exclusivecartoon characters designed by cartoonists.

Carlo Giordanetti, vice president of marketing and design director for Swatch U.S., said two of these plastic, cartoon-strip watches will hit stores this February at $40. One features a comic strip about time in chaos, called “Furto” and the other features a cartoon strip about the character called the “Queen of Time.”

“Queen of Time” is designed by Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte, and “Furto,” which means “steal” in Spanish, is by Jose Munoz.

Swatch has been commissioning these character watches since 1991.

“We always have enormous success when we bring a little story with characters in watches,” he said. “I guess people relate to them as a little friend or a story that they carry around.”