Rare Woods Dax will have its own product development group, separate from that of Decorel.
The new company will, however, enjoy the benefit of Decorel’s systems and service organization. “The high-end market has not been as sophisticated on the replenishment side as the mass market,” Scheyer says.
Just as upscale market frame vendors have been pressed to approach mass market price levels, they are also being pressed to match mass market service levels.
Giron notes that Fetco and other upscale market vendors are responding not only to a demand for “great fashion at marvelous prices,” but to a “tremendous emphasis on service.”
Another vendor helping to bring the mass and upscale frame markets closer is MCS industries, which has begun selling to both markets under the same brand name, instead of using different names, as in the past.
The company is moving to a single brand name in order to raise its profile, Reiter explains.
Formerly, MCS used the Prism brand name for frames that were more mass-market-oriented and the Classic name for upscale frames.
Now, the company is deemphasizing these names and playing up its own. Some MCS frames are clearly intended for one end of the market rather than the other and need no further differentiation, according to Reiter. Frames that can go either way will be differentiated by face paper.
M.W. Carr, on the other hand, created a new brand to enter the mass market last year. However, because the mass market was a new one for the company, here again the effect has been to blur the distinction between markets.
In 1993, M.W. Carr, launched two brands to flank its established Carr brand, an upscale mass market entry called Greentree and a high-end designer brand called Portfolio.
The three were differentiated by price, but the company has now moved to minimize the price difference and make design bear the burden of differentiation.
In the Portfolio brand, for example, retail prices no longer exceed $25 and start as low as the key $9.99 price point. (However, the company encourages retailers to sell these frames at $10 to differentiate them from promotional $9.99 frames, Lazaris says.) Lower prices are expected to broaden the line’s appeal.
With the Greentree brand Carr has been targeting regional mass merchants, craft stores and home stores.
Carr has also been able to exploit its manufacturing capability by doing private label work for two larger mass merchant chains, Lazaris reports. “This was something we had not anticipated that I think will provide substantial growth for us next year. The mass market is interested in upgrading looks and in upgrading prices modestly.”
How much chance is there of price upgrading in the upscale market? None, according to Block of Loui Michel.
With mass merchants now offering frames comparable to those in department stores, Block says he doesn’t see how a department store can justify a $30 or $40 price. In fact, the median price is still falling, he says.
What Block can see is “some holding of prices” in the future due to the increased costs of raw materials, especially extruded plastic.
Although his is a minority viewpoint, Joe Schriver, senior vice president of Burnes of Boston, is more optimistic.
According to Schriver, the $9.99 price point was dominant only for a short period (“higher fashion was then waning”) and, this year, frames that are moderately fashionable and that retail between $10 and $25 have become much stronger.
Because of improved technology, these frames are as good as those that formerly retailed between $35 and $50, Schriver says. “That area will continue to grow at a significant rate.
We’re very excited about what’s happening. We see both unit and dollar growth in that area. The $14.99 price point, for example, is becoming much stronger.”
These frames are also often merchandised at a percentage off, which “we think is a better way to go” than price-point merchandising, Schriver adds.