The question of accountability

With soft retail conditions not leaving us anytime soon, one of the key areas that retailers need to focus on is accountability for sell through. Not to mention, timely delivery for their stock. The days of putting new garments in your shop and sucking it and see, are over – and this extends to all areas of the fashion industry. In this economic climate the need to analyse ranges and ask if its saleable, is imperative.

phoebe_soloPhoebe Garland co-owns Garland & Garland Fashion, with Robert Garland who was described by Ragtrader as a “veteran rag trader” with over 30 years experience in the fashion industry, while Phoebes Garland was nicknamed “Powerseller” on her birthday by Assia Benmedjdoub, editor of Ragtrader. Between the two of them, Phoebe & Robert Garland have over 50 years sales experience in fashion, publishing and advertising. Garland & Garland Fashion is a leading fashion agency based in Sydney and they are regularly sought for comment from various media on business fashion topics and issues.

The time and money wasted on sampling is enormous for manufacturers and distributors, especially if orders don’t go into production. And more importantly, the need to ask if it’s suitable for the current economic climate in terms of price points is critical. Last year I met a very smart distributor/retailer who picked the eyes of our ranges from Europe she was importing. And she is not alone; agents have been doing this for years. She was practicing what I like to call, the “ZARA” strategy of tailoring ranges to suit the southern hemisphere. These are the smart ones, especially the ones that can bring it in time for Australian delivery times. Everyone importing goods from overseas, should work with companies overseas that allow them to do this, otherwise the alternative is paying for samples you really don’t need to bring in can be very costly.

company-bjgeruiteIt has always baffled me how China can be so uncompromising on minimums. Obviously business has been too good for them for way too long. Most manufacturers both large and small struggle to meet minimums on styles/colours/fabrications when dealing with China. More recently I have heard some of my clients noting that many factories in China are closing due to the lack of volume business in Europe and the USA as a fall out of the GFC.  How many times has a retailer ordered something only not to have it produced not meeting minimums in one of the ranges you buy? Just as common, is the problem for manufacturers lamenting about not being able to meet minimums imposed on them by uncompromising makers requesting they meet 600 per colour/per style (which is standard) or much worse in some cases. Personally I find this kind of uncompromising behavior by makers to be utterly ridiculous. I mean ‘in a perfect world’ wouldn’t we all like to have volume labels that produce volume orders, but let’s be realistic, there are fewer labels able to do this with such a saturated market. Surely some orders are better than none?

And speaking with other agents I am not alone. It can be more than terribly frustrating to spend three to four hours showing a range to a retailer only to have half the styles not to have gone into production, while you could be showing another smaller range, with a tighter fabric story who can meet the minimums. Frankly, this is costly to makers, retailers, distributors and agents and this is something the fashion industry can no longer afford. It’s a massive time waster.  Recently at a range release, I was very refreshed to hear one of our apparel companies addressing this issue and attempting to find a solution to making their ranges more saleable.

On one particular challenging label, they had the foresight to recognise times are changing and certain fabrics just were not selling in one of their ranges, so they cut the knitwear element for the summer season as they couldn’t meet the minimums. There were a lot of withdrawals in the season before, and after hearing first hand the minimums of knitwear in China from makers directly, I can’t say I am not surprised they did this. (Last year in Hong Kong, I almost passed out when speaking to a knitwear maker at the minimums they wanted.)  Secondly, they were smart enough to recognise their range was too big and cut it back considerably as well as well as advising the other fashion agents that they were intending to focus on their best sellers and expand their ranges on their best sellers. Well bravo to this company! I walked away feeling much admiration for them in putting their ego aside. The whole result seemed like a very logical solution and a step in the right direction to understanding their customer and more importantly meeting their numbers into production.

clothes_1This kind of honesty is most refreshing in an industry built on fragile egos and politics and particularly where designers seem to take it so personally when you pull things from the range or dare to tell them the “commercial truth” about certain garments that just do not sell.  The amount of time we have culled ranges back is becoming far too often, for various reasons; garments mainly being totally inappropriate to the climate, too large a range, which overwhelms the buyer, taking up way too much space in a showroom, double ups in stories or because a garment has effectively priced itself out of the market. And sometimes dare I say it “because there is a garment that is just too hideous for words”. (Insert – ego massaging here for the fashion designers.)

A lot of manufacturers seem to be producing these very large sized ranges and it just doesn’t seem to make sense, as ultimately it’s making it harder to meet minimums on styles. Except in the case of the labels that are doing exceptionally well and have a proven consistent strong wholesale client base.  For every range where there are withdrawals, you could be having a smaller range which there are no withdrawals and know you can get the orders in, but more importantly know you are going to receive delivery and not have the order cut back.

Quite simply, orders getting cut back affect everyone, as retailers and agents have essentially budgeted for our orders to go into production. When we find they are not being produced, quite simply, we are unable to make this money up.  We are all in this business to make money, yes everyone!  So I urge manufacturers and distributors to look at your best sellers in this difficult market and cut your ranges back to tighter stories and tighter fabrications. Take smaller risks of knowing your exact customer and where you might actually meet the minimums by gaining the sales, and therefore keeping everyone happy including manufacturers, distributors, the maker, your fabric house, your retailer and your fashion agent.

Your thoughts are always welcome!

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