If any one word describes what sells in the storage cases and bags category, it's "portability." Making a case with colors, extra space and a price that fits a budget adds much sizzle, but these products, first and foremost, gain consumer attention by the way they're designed to move around.
More and more, laptops are being carried from work to home and back; camcorders and digital cameras are going a long way to record major and not-so-major events; while audio and video storage is moving constantly from the bedroom to the car to other homes.
Retailers, who are more closely addressing this healthy-turn, high-margin accessories category, are allowing a generous amount of shelf space to merchandise ever-wider assortments. As the number of SKUs continues to grow, merchandise managers are trying to be even more selective.
To assess how key retailers are handling cases and bags, buyers were asked about strengths and trends. The following shows what some of the major players are doing to make the most of a growing business:
Best Buy finds that black is still far and away the dominant color in notebook computer cases, but the retailer does note some popularity for trendy blue and silver. Best sellers among computer bags are the entry-level types, with price points ranging from $39.99 to $69.99.
The Eden Prairie, Minn.-based chain claims some in-store success merchandising computer cases underneath its notebooks. This display tactic is coupled with aggressive promotion, such as the current "free bag with a purchase of a notebook computer" and "free notebook accessories with the purchase of a case."
For computer cases at Best Buy, the wheeled and backpack-style products are the hot trend.
Good Guys finds that cross merchandising is its most effective method for selling add-on cases and bags. The Brisbane, Calif.-based retailer not only encourages a high degree of customer awareness, it also reminds salespeople to complete a transaction by making sure shoppers have something that will carry both a player and CDs.
Good Guys' case and bag departments run a bit larger than average, stocking 55 SKUs, with key vendors including Case Logic, Ambico/Recoton and Sony. Case Logic represents about 50 percent of Good Guys' camcorder bag business, with the chain offering seven models that range in style, function and price point.
With retails from $19.99 to $39.99, Case Logic's best-selling camcorder types include a midsize black nylon bag with front and side storage pockets for $29.99; a black Koskin bag for digital camcorders at $29.99; and a black nylon bag at $23.99 that converts from a waist pack to a regular shoulder bag.
Sony has re-entered the camcorder bag scene at Good Guys with a $34.99 model that has turned out to be the department's No. 1 seller since its debut in late April, according to the chain.
Camcorder bags double the unit volume of still-image bags, said Good Guys, and more than double the dollar volume. The average retail for camcorder storage is $27, while photo tops out at $19.
The chain carries 15 SKUs of camera bags, with the average price point ranging from $11.99 to $19.99 for compact-size cameras and $29.99 to $44.99 for the digital and SLR still cameras. These larger bags have additional space for accessories such as memory cards, lenses and film. The top seller is a $13.99 black, compact-size bag.
While black is by far the best-selling color at Good Guys, blue and green play a role on the sales floor, primarily to add flavor. The chain does 75 percent of its sales in nine models of black, 20 percent in four models of blue, and 5 percent in two models of green.
DVD storage -- to accompany Panasonic, Pioneer, Sharp and Sony hardware -- includes two models. Good Guys carries a case for a portable DVD player and a DVD media case, both at $29. The DVD case far outsells the media-only case, said the retailer.
Good Guys also finds DVD storage products a welcome addition to the storage assortment, and said these allow salespeople to cross-sell items with the purchase of portable DVD hardware.
When it comes to CD storage, Good Guys reports that once shoppers have chosen a fabric for a CD wallet, they will continue to buy in that category. So nylon maintains a leadership position in the chain's overall volume because it is the most mature fabric.
However, Koskin, or "pleather" as it is sometimes called, is starting to become as popular as nylon.
As for colors, Good Guys said customers make their choices based on product type and current color trends.
Bright sports colors, for example, tend to tie in best with portable CD players. Sports yellow and blue for combination CD player and CD disc storage have been good sellers at the chain, with retail prices ranging from $12.99 to $17.99.
Kmart, which thinks 15 feet of display space is ideal for cases and bags, offers 27 SKUs in the category.
The Troy, Mich.-based mass merchant finds the best-selling average price point for 24-capacity CD/DVD wallets is $9.99, while 48-capacity does well at $12.99.
Among the trends in its cases and bags department is a move toward colors, which will be introduced in the third quarter.
Kmart will promote a 120-capacity CD/DVD album, sold as a two-pack with a free 24-capacity CD/DVD wallet in the fourth quarter. Another merchandising idea for Kmart involves new packaging in the category that is being developed with one of its vendors.
ShopKo, which offers 33 case and bag SKUs in an average 16-lineal-foot section, likes to merchandise product directly under CD racks. Best-selling average price points are $12.99 and $14.99 regular price, but volume accelerates when price points hit $9.99 and $12.99. CD cases at $12.99 and wallets at $14.99 are among the best sellers.
ShopKo likes to merchandise the category in ads, with price points hitting $9.99, $12.99 and $14.99. When the chain runs a deep special, it will feature cases and bags at 25-30 percent off.
Hot products at the mass merchant include multifunction cases that hold CD players and CDs, along with phones and pagers. Customers also like soft, metallic colors that match, for example, the colors of Panasonic or Philips portable CD players.
Tweeter Home Entertainment Group is reporting customers prefer smaller camcorder bags to match smaller hardware, such as the newest digital camcorders.
Cross-merchandising bags with hardware serves a dual purpose for the Canton, Mass., electronics-only retailer. It reminds customers they need a carry/ storage bag when they purchase new equipment, and it keeps the bags in the forefront of a salesperson's mind.
Tweeter inventories soft-sided CD storage, and Discman and camcorder carry bags. Black is most popular for Discman and CD bags, but blue and yellow are also featured. The average best-selling price point for CD storage is $15; $35 for camcorder bags.
Ultimate Electronics reports that as more hardware has come out, especially the popular digital products, sales of camcorder bags have picked up over the past six months. Consumers prefer larger bags with multiple slots, said the Thornton, Colo.-based electronics-only chain.
Camcorder bags average $30 to $35 in the most popular price points, while computer bags move well at the entry-level price points in the $50 range.
Although Ultimate Electronics moves some cases and bags with color to younger shoppers, sales are primarily in traditional black. In fabric, leather or leather-like material has become more popular than nylon.
The chain is enjoying high growth in audio cases for portable CD and DVD players, as well as cases for MiniDiscs. Consumers prefer cases that contain product plus software and lean toward both 24- and 48-capacity CD cases with a player.