Welcome back! This Sunday's post is all about how to get boutiques interested in selling your collection to their customers! For any new designer, exposure is key and having a boutique sell and promote your designs can go a long way to building up your reputation. Around a year ago, I attended a talk by Ryan James, hosted by Fashion Foundry. The attendees had the amazing opportunity to discuss with Ryan, the factors went into his decision making, when it came to which brands we would consider showcasing in his Glasgow boutique. The experience was extremely eye opening, and so I'd love to share what I learnt, in case any new designers reading this, are looking to take this exciting leap!
Lesson Number One: Do your Research
When approaching a boutique, really evaluate why this particular boutique or retailer would be a good fit for your designs. It would be understandable if you thought you were being efficient by approaching every single boutique you could think of, but in doing so you've probably not altered your style of presentation to fit each and every individual stockist. And it's really important you do, because every boutique is unique. Understand why it is this specific retailer that appeals to you. And don't forget why this retailer should be interested in your specific designs. Who's their demographic, what do you like about them, how did you hear of them, what brands do they sell already?? Plan your presentation as though you were the retailer. What would impress you? The most important thing to keep in mind, is that in most cases when you approach a boutique (as opposed to a large scale retail giant), you are most likely going to be speaking with the owner themselves. They will understandably have their emotions tied up with the business, so showing that you have researched their boutique, and understand their point of view will definitely earn you extra brownie points!
Lesson Number Two: Be Considerate
Once you've done as much research as you can manage, approach them carefully and sensitively. DO NOT walk in on a Saturday afternoon and demand their full attention. I, myself have had C.V's quite literally shoved in my face as I've been talking to a customer and I can tell you first hand, it is the single, fastest way to a "no". A lack of understanding or self awareness, that in that moment, you are hindering the relationship building with a customer and the sales person, is an absolute no no. People understand your passion, but there's a right time to show that energy and the minute you walk through the door is not it - especially if you've walked in during peak trade! Keep in mind, most boutiques are modest in size, so if you rush at the owner with all your lookbooks, and without warning, they will probably feel backed into a corner (quite literally). The best approach, is to visit the store as a normal customer one day. Make sure you do actually want your designs displayed there. Then ring up later and ask to set up a casual meeting. Take your lookbooks in, walk your client through it and then most importantly - leave! It can be tempting to stand there until you get a "yes" or a "no", but realistically you wouldn't make such a decision yourself on the spot like that. You'd like time to look through yourself, think about it, converse with any co-owners and respond later, at a time that suits you. Your potential client is the same, so once you feel comfortable that you've explained your collection and you've provided your contact information (don't forget that!), politely leave the premises. You'll be able to tell instinctively what the vibe was, once you leave. Based on that, a follow call a week or two later, might be appropriate, but you'll need to gage the situation for yourself!
Lesson Number Three: Pre Select the Garments
Based on lesson one and two, pre-selecting the garments from your collection shows that a) you have done your research and b) that you're considerate of their time. As a single business owner (most likely with boutiques) it can be overwhelming to assume every role in the business. Merchandising, visual merchandising, finance director, salesman, buyer - you name it! This person does it all, and so prompting them on which pieces you envisioned would be perform best in their store (and why), can really go a long to way to making yourself seem both helpful and professional. Is it a premium fabric? An update on another piece they are already currently selling? An easy piece that can be styled with anything? If you approach this right, you afford yourself the opportunity to rave about your amazing collection! Remember lesson 2? NOW is the time! Show them why your passionate about your pieces. When a buyer is assessing what to offer their customers in the future, they're thinking about how they can sell it to them. So while you're raving about why exactly your pieces are so wonderful, your potential client is now thinking of all the things they can talk about to their customers. But remember, be careful not to over step the mark. The aim here is to prompt and suggest and show that you've put real thought into the meeting. The goal is not to force them or seem like you're trying to do their job for them - remember no one will know their customers better than they, so stay humble and be prepared to answer any questions they might have!
Lesson Number Four: Story Telling
Expanding a little on point 3, if the meeting is going well, be prepared to answer questions about yourself. Another great selling point for the owner is that they can talk about the designer to their clients. Interesting stories about how you started your brand, how you designed your first piece, what your vision is long term, are all talking points for the sales person to help the customer form an emotional connection with your pieces. Remember most boutique shoppers, are so, because they want to find one of a kind, unique pieces that can't be purchased off the high street. And part of what can make something so unique, is the human touch behind it. So have a think about any antidotal stories you have about your design experiences, because they really allow the buyer to understand more about you as a person. As emotional and creative as fashion is, at the end of the day you're going there to secure a business deal and people like to know the people they're going into business with. So be ready and don't be too alarmed if the line of questioning shifts from your clothes, to you.
Lesson Number Five: Know Your Numbers
As mentioned already, this is a business deal. People (if they're nice) will afford you some allowances for mistakes (at the end of the day we're all human), but you really don't want to make your buyer feel as though you don't have an understanding of numbers (specifically your numbers). If all goes well, the boutique owner might want to start talking numbers right there and then so be prepared by knowing what numbers would make you money and what numbers wouldn't. It's not the type of thing you want to have to work out in front of someone. Make sure that your business model can afford the margins that you agree on at the end of the day. Basically - after the boutique owner takes their cut for selling it, do you still make money? And understandably, you'll want to drive your own margins as high as possible because cash is king. But do remember that your boutique owner has huge expenses to maintain that you don't. The premises, lighting, electricity, cleaning, tidying, packaging, (just to name a few), are all expenses you, yourself save on and the retailer takes on. When you've put lots of work into your designs, you would be understood for thinking "why would they take more than 10% - JUST for selling it?", but you risk insulting your stockists when you fail to understand their financial positioning. So negotiate. But stay fair! However if the margins you're giving to your stockists are preventing your growth, consider a direct to consumer business model - but keep in mind you lose that important exposure! Another thing to think about is terms of payment. Terms of payment can create conflict between yourself and your stockists because you will want paid when you hand over the stock but the stockist won't want to pay you, until they have sold it. It's in every retailer's best interests to minimise the risk they take on so, talk to yourself first about what conditions your business can take on. Although keep in mind, if you opt for the pay later agreement, you put full faith in the retailer that they will sell those garments eventually and keep them in perfect condition until that day comes. However - some retailers will deliberately take on extra clothing than they think they can psychically fit on the shop floor, to cover them, should they sell through more stock than planned. So while you're hoping that someone might buy your designs any day now, they might actually be sitting in the back, acting as backup stock. And then you receive it back once it's out of season. How to get around it then? Send someone in (not you) to check your clothes are getting treated they way they should be. If they're not - politely demand them back! If this scenario concerns you, think about putting a clause into the contract agreement. Also - damage and returns! Be prepared to have a conversation around who is liable should a garment be returned as well as what happens if the garment becomes damaged on the premises. Customers can be rough with the clothing they try on but it is your retailers responsibility to minimise the chances of any real, serious damage that can't be repaired. But be reasonable, should the situation present its self. Mistakes do happen and you as the seller must allow for those financial set backs. Most large scale retailers allow for theft and damage of 10% but if your retailer forms a habit of returning faulty good to you it might be wise to remove yourself from the boutique (as long as your sure the quality of your garments are not the issue). Last point - over time you will most likely be selling to several retailers. It's ok to agree different selling fees, as those matters should always remain private, but so not agree on different retail prices. If you do happen to allow one retailer to sell a particular garment at a particular price (that's different to your already existing stockists), it's retail etiquette to notify them. It is then up to them if they want to change the price - but most retailers will, as it's polite in industry to price competitively and compete on service.
I hope that was helpful for anyone who is looking to approach a boutique in the near future. The event was a while ago now, but I thought the information was really insightful and would make for a great post. I've tried to remember as much as possible but should anyone have any questions, don't hesitate to write me. I'd be delighted to expand on any points I've made. Next week's blog post is back to HERSIDE. The blog will discuss how we've planned out our first collection. Lots of planning goes in before we can start the creative process so I'll be sharing how we did that next week! If you'd like to be reminded of when that post goes live, subscribe to our emails, to have the post sent directly into your inbox!
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Have a gorgeous Sunday!