One of the best quotes I’ve heard about the apparel industry is summed up like this; “Fashion is a perishable item”, said by renowned, long time survivor of the fashion industry, frock queen Leona Edmiston.
And perishable it is. Historically, looking at most apparel brands, many are lucky to survive ten years. It’s a constantly evolving industry that can change dramatically from one season to another and requires a thick skin for manufacturers to listen to all the feedback required to make their ranges successful.
Founders of Givoni Daywear, Givoni Sleepwear and Slade, Michelle & Brandon are non-emotional about this, and embrace the bad feedback equally as well as the good. Their motto is simply “All feedback is good feedback”.
While some apparel companies may still chug along, many fashion ranges can go off the boil quickly if the product does not evolve and they do not respond quickly to feedback, (including the less favourable feedback) for potential sales opportunities.
Emilie White, Buyer of Birdnest echoes this. “Not listening to the customer and diverting from the core values of your brand is imperative. Having a community of customers that offer honest and open feedback seems to be the best way to create a successful apparel range.”
Results from the previous season always show a clear outline what they liked and didn’t like, and engaging your community for feedback and allowing them to review products means you always have the chance to meet and surpass their expectations in the new season ahead.
In the last two years, the wholesale fashion industry has seen a dramatic decrease in the volume of sales, which is purely indicative of the tough retail market. So what does this mean for fashion labels who have a strong wholesale business? It means buyers are buying less ranges and are less likely to take a risk on a new brand, unless they absolutely love it and can see a strong commercial return from it. There is an exception; if it falls under the “umbrella” of an existing company they are already buying from which has proven sell through. The market has become much tighter. Maintaining sales however doesn’t just come to the sales person, it also stems in house with many manufacturers needing to address ways they are losing sales. Here are the biggest culprits of loss of sales.
Deliver late at your own peril. If you are delivering late, you are clearly not ready for expansion into department stores, and overseas markets. No major retailer will put up this, no matter what the excuse, where you are located or what the problem is in production. Chances are they could also return the order if you deliver really late, which can be very costly to the manufacturer. In a recent article in Ragtrader on how to break into major retailers, buyers from Bergdorf Goodman and Shopbop were adamant about this.
Aisha Bennett, Bergdorf Goodman buyer stated, “You should ship on time – always. Always, always, always. Whatever you have to do, ship on time” , on securing an order with the famed luxury department store.
While Jenny Fuchs, Shopbop.com buyer agreed “It is important to pad your delivery windows – never deliver late to Shopbop!”
Sounds simple enough but you would be surprised how many deliver late. Delays due to Chinese New Year and production problems remain the manufacturers biggest enemy. However one thing that manufacturers overlook, is the impact of late deliveries on repeat stock sales. Retailers need to get stock in early to get enough sell through before the discounting starts. If they don’t, they will be left with too much stock, which will affect their next buy on your label. What you are doing is simply handing the sales over to another label who have their logistics right.
Not backing up with a bit of in season stock on best sellers.
If a fashion label is experiencing strong indent orders and your product is selling well at retail, if you are not backing up on a small amount of best sellers of in season stock, this is where up to 50% of sales can be lost. Many retail buyers are afraid of indenting with a sluggish retail climate and unpredictable weather. We have seen a strong percentage of buyers forgoing indenting in favour of picking up in season stock. And the in season stock business can be lucrative.
We once sold a brand for the first time to a retailer who started with a bit of in season stock, before her first indent buy. Unsure about the product, she said she could sell no more than $8K of this particular product. We mentioned to her the former stockist in the same area (who closed) used to do $18k per season on indent but not stock. Reluctant as she was, we sold her $2k of in season stock. Then something happened. Every Saturday we used to get calls from her for repeats of this product. By the time the next indent season came around we had sold her $38k of this label in stock sales, which she then proceeded to indent about the same amount for the following season.
Backing up on a bit of stock allows retailers to get confident in the sell through of your product before the next indent period rolls around, so gives them a chance to place larger indent orders. It also can be great cash flow, providing you are marketing the stock to the trade properly.
One of the most frustrating things is limited sizing in garments. It’s amazing how having a few extra sizes can add to your sales. Many apparel companies are not addressing this correctly. One of the biggest oversights in sizing is not adding an XS to the popular oversized garments. This is where you can probably drop the XXL and pick up extra sales by adding an XS. As is this case in reverse, with more fitted structured stretchy garments, adding an XXL (particularly if you have a label targeting an ageless customer which has a preference for easy fit) can add 20% extra sales onto your business.
Ranges too small.
Any range that only covers one standard size garment rack is simply too small to be taken seriously by any major buyer or the experienced fashion buyers that buy well and in-depth. Experienced fashion buyers are simply not going to forgo another label to buy a small range. A good size range will be a minimum of at least 60 pieces, it can be multiple styles in multiple colour ways and prints but it must be comprehensive with commercial colour stories and be able to merchandise well. Having a small range does not allow for an amount of elimination from the buyer. Cutting extra styles or sampling in more colour ways, can also mean a lot more sales providing the range is good.
Not investing in look books, images and marketing.
We can live or die by images. Some labels have been so bad we won’t showcase on social media or we wont send out to retailers as it can actually turn them off and is no way representative of their range in person. Good imagery and styling is crucial to selling to retailers. Fashion will always have an aspiration element to it and if you aren’t doing something to inspire customers and retailers you are not giving them something to love. The bottom line is if they don’t fall in love with your product instantly, they wont buy it. Place as much importance into a photoshoot as you would with your range, it’s your biggest selling tool.
Overselling, having integrity and be honest about your faults.
The temptation to oversell can be great, who doesn’t want big orders? Many times I have seen a new fashion buyer opening a boutique for the first time with limited experience and they run around to every agent and every trade fair overbuying. Some manufacturers and agents relish in this and can take advantage.
Overselling is the biggest mistake – this is usually how it goes down. You will get a first big order from them, but then you will see the next order a big step down as they have way too much stock they are holding over. The orders will decrease over time and you have not only lost trust in that retailer, but the retailer will question whether your product is selling correctly and they would have moved onto a new product. They also probably won’t be able to pay it off in a timely fashion either. How successful was overselling them in the long term?
Be honest about what is selling in the range and be honest about what is perhaps not the greatest garment and point them where they could buy better. There are always the best sellers in ranges and what I like to call “The Dogs”. Every range has them. The amount of extra sales we have increased by being honest and steering buyers away from bad styles and onto the better styles far outweighs the overselling. By building strong trust in buyers means they feel comfortable about coming to you to buy again and they will trust you to lead them to the right ones, which means potentially more sales long term. I always respect the operators who understand their customer. Don’t get me wrong, our buyers also know I am pretty passionate if I think something is a winner and it’s overlooked or if they haven’t bought it and I do expect buyers to support brands properly after it is working for them after a couple of seasons.
Returns and issues.
One of the biggest culprits of loss of business is being difficult to deal with when there are problems with garments. Sure, there are some retailers who are notorious returners, but if there is a genuine manufacturing fault, no retailer should have to wear this. It’s also illegal to not take a return and issue some form of credit. Try giving the benefit of the doubt. It’s amazing how much it makes retailers have more confidence in buying from you again. Don’t be difficult about this. The amount of times I have lost business in the past from manufacturers being difficult about returns is alarming. Too often I will hear from a buyer, “I will not buy from them again” if the manufacturer makes the retailer jump through hoops for a return. I urge retailers to also act with integrity – just because business is bad, don’t return garments because you can’t sell them.
Giving them a reason to buy your range with no buyers’ remorse.
Sounds simple enough but it’s amazing how little things inhabit sales. This includes factors such as good margin for the retailer, 100% markup is not enough. A comprehensive balance of stories with breathable fabrics in machine washable garments, a good balance of prints, texture and with a mixture of plains. Having a point of difference is also important. Too many ranges are a mess with no ‘stories’ and add no “wow” factor on the racks. It’s like they have just grabbed a heap of garments out of a warehouse and stuck them on a rack and it looks terrible.
Understanding volume price points is key. Sometimes you may have to mark something up less to get a higher volume of sales. Really look at the garment and ask yourself if you would pay full price at retail without blinking. Give people a reason to buy two garments in one purchase, with a basic plain garment matching the colours in the print story. Stories are vital to selling fashion. The pants business can also be enormous. Key pants can be a huge part of sales with good fits in multiple colour ways can double or triple units across size runs. Timing is also crucial. Many times we also decline taking on ranges as timing is wrong and doesn’t fit in the buying schedule. Too many apparel companies are releasing ranges way too late in the season. Mid-July till the end of September is perfect for Winter indents, with February 1st to April 1st for summer indents.
Most importantly the buyer has to love your range to really buy it well. I can’t stress this enough, every range has to be a great range, as the competition is fierce. It’s all about the product at the end of the day.
So what do the key major buyers want globally?
Having a distinctive core value of brands is particularly important, with all major buyers agreeing with this in the article in Ragtrader.
Aisha Bennett also doesn’t want to see repetition.
“We pick up certain brands for certain reasons and I, as a merchant, don’t like to have a lot of repetition or duplication on the floor. As designers can sometimes be influenced by different trends or other designers that are successful, they can sometimes lose sight of what brought them to our store and what made them unique in their own way.”
Jenny Fuchs maintains focusing on the vision of brand is key.
“I also think you should always stay true to your own vision. Just keep marching towards that because there are so many designers in our space. I just think if you stay true to who you are, eventually the market will react to you. You’ll be in the right place at the right time, that’s the most important thing.”
While Natalie Kingham, Matchesfashion.com buying director, thinks having a global vision is also important.
“Some advice for designers would be to think globally; to remain true to their DNA and their essence of their designs; to not look sideways, to look forward and believe in what they’re doing. The customer will respond to that. Designers shouldn’t be too influenced by what everybody says – they should take all their advice on board, but they should also edit that advice and remain true to what they really believe in.”
About the Author, Phoebes Garland
Phoebes Garland is the Co-founder & Co-owner of Garland & Garland Fashion, a boutique leading fashion & consultancy agency based in Sydney, and founder of Fashion Initiative. Between the two of them, Phoebes & Robert Garland have over 60 years’ sales experience in fashion, publishing and advertising. Phoebes is an industry mentor to designers with Australian fashion industry body, Australian Fashion Chamber and is on the Advisory Board for Fashion Design Studio (TAFE NSW). Phoebes Garland is also an ambassador to Shake it up Australia Foundation and contributes articles to Australian Fashion industry magazine, Ragtrader.
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