Dealing With Buyers – by Renato Grant
Your latest collection is hanging, nicely pressed and steamed. You’re proud of your hard work, the days and months gone into sketching & producing it. The sampling and re-sampling until it’s just as you want, but there’s something missing? Where are all the adoring buyers placing order after order for it? Your collections remain hanging and you agonise over how to get orders without having to spend a fortune.
Here’s where we can help. My name is Renato Grant and I run Hemisphere Associates, a London based fashion agency representing primarily designer womenswear exclusively throughout the UK and Europe. Our job to sell first and foremost. To attract the right buyers from the right retailers and have our collections stocked within their store, be it an independent retailer or international department store.
I started in the fashion industry some 21 years ago; actually I was working as a warehouse hand for a popular high street fashion supplier by the name of Coppernob who still supplies the high street today. One day I had to carry a huge roll of fabric on my shoulder from the warehouse and through the showroom which was a dusty, messy job at the best of times. Whilst walking through the showroom I noticed a young man sitting across the table to a rather attractive young lady, surrounded by garments on a rail, drinking wine, taking notes and laughing & joking! I asked a colleague what he was doing and was told he was a salesman selling styles to a buyer. That was it for me! The decision was taken! I was to become a salesman. Naively I thought that was it, I was under the impression that selling was a matter of flirting, drinking wine and writing! Although not entirely wrong, I couldn’t have been further from the truth!
Not having any wholesale sales experience whatsoever and after many a failed attempt to break into fashion sales, I was finally offered a very junior position with fashion giant at that time, Jeffrey Rogers, and was allowed to sell fashion knitwear & t-shirts from the showroom to stores. Here’s where I cut my teeth so to speak. I had to learn each & every aspect from every department within a fashion company, from pattern cutting & costing, design, production, sales, shipping and delivery. This was to give me great benefits when focusing on sales and the sales language I had to use. Since those early days I have gone onto to head up sales teams for major designers, exhibiting in Fashion Weeks all around the world, culminating in the launch of Hemisphere Associates in 2003.
Sales techniques are unique to us all, however, in this particular wholesale arena there are definite dos and don’ts with regards to approaching & attracting buyers. Something as simple as sending your mail out so that arrives at the store on specific days can make the difference between it getting opened and looked at or binned! So, coming back to you, the designer, with a beautiful collection and few or no buyers. What to do next?
What I write about below is not taught at college, will not be a part of any sales & marketing course and cannot be learnt from books. This is down to experience of having done it for so many years and sheer hard work & roadwork. Roadwork is where you literally go on the road and drive around the country visiting everyone you supply, finding new stores to target and taking details.
+ The very first thing you need, prior to finishing your collection, is a database of the right stores to target. Do not try to Google this information or cheat because the slightest error in detail and you will fail, you will not make that appointment and not take an order. Your database has to be accurate in every detail possible, from correct buyer contact to postcode.
+ Designers are not salespeople and vice-versa so a designer will not do roadwork. That’s our job, and knowing the collection intimately we must know the type of store to target. Targeting 20 or 30 stores is not enough, you need a minimum 100 stores to target. 50% of which will have a reason not to view you.
+ Once you have your database correct & ready, you are now in a position to target. This is possibly the most vital stage. Remember what you do here is being done by every single salesperson not only in the UK but literally worldwide these days, trying to attract the attention and spending budget of these retailers so it is vital to get this stage right.
+ There are little ways you can tempt buyers into viewing what you send. Certain days of the week give a higher probability that it will get seen but what you send to them and how is key. If you develop a stunning full colour brochure complete with dazzling word perfect sales letter and send this to 100 buyers, believe it or not, 60-70% will get binned! Why, because buyers literally get inundated with this type of mail out throughout the selling season and if they were to try to go through each and every one nothing else would get done.
+ Do not rely on email campaigns initially, most boutique buyers don’t read them or they get junked or if directed at a department store most company firewalls will reject them and you have no way of keeping track of this. Emails are courtesy second stage correspondence once you have spoken to the buyer in person.
+ Let’s assume your mail out does get looked at. How will you know & what do you do next? Here’s where timing is all important. Your mail out should be staggered. You send out say 25 per week so you are comfortably able to follow up 25 with a phone call the following week. You may be asked to send it again, or email something (now you get an accurate email address, perfect) but what you are doing is managing your time. You will not make contact on your first call. You will probably have to call that buyer 2 or 3 times therefore 25 is workable per week for a small designer.
+ Let’s assume you get the right buyer on the phone, they have your details in front of them, now it’s up to you to make an appointment. That’s your goal, nothing else matters. Make that appointment. Before you get a buyer on the phone have in front of you 3 or 4 key points you want to get over. Be it general price point of the collection, stores already supplied, collections you sit next to (here’s where roadwork pays off because you already know what labels they stock so you namedrop one or two and if you don’t make sure you research the store beforehand so you know a little about them. Buyers hate when salespeople know nothing about their business but want to sell something to them!).
+ Whatever you do, do not harp on about the inspiration behind the collection, the colour palette, this is a designer talking and buyers are generally not interested unless they specifically ask. They want to know how expensive you are, who you supply already, do any celebrities wear your styles (you’ll be amazed how effective that is) and when/where you are showing from. Keep your phone call light and brief but effective. Give them sales dates of the collection; do not expect them to write anything down, it should all be on your mail out anyway. What I do is make sure I call on a Thursday/Friday afternoon that way there will not be too many sales calls after me so I’m harder to forget! Helps having a name like Renato also!
+ Let’s assume that you can hear that the buyer is showing interest but has not committed to an appointment and won’t until they have made more appointments. They like to do this. At this point ask for an email address. Once you hang up, give it 10 minutes and send a courtesy email with 1 low res image this will register so when you next call they will have not forgotten you amongst the 101 similar calls they have taken or avoided.
+ Make a note to call them again and persist until you make that appointment! Personally I never take a collection into a store to sell it. I have done many a year ago but generally it’s not a good idea. Your collection will not look its best coming out of a hanging garment bag. You will have to wheel it in on a sample rail, find a corner and try to present in the best possible manner while a customer wants their attention too!. What do you think will happen? You will come off second best and possibly come away with a nice comment or two but no order.
+ The ideal scenario is have them fix an appointment to come visit you, again this can be harder to do than it seems as buyers are reluctant to travel outside of their comfort zone when visiting new labels as again, time is money and they figure they may lose an hour looking at something they may not like which is away from all their other appointments! Buyers are notorious for making appointments and not keeping them. Once a buyer makes an appointment with you, try to obtain a mobile number from them, nothing worse than sitting around for a buyer who is not coming!
+ Once you have a buyer in front of your collection, sell sell sell! If a buyer makes comments about how nice the collection is but makes an excuse not to order, they are being polite. Just ask them for an honest truthful opinion, break down the barrier and they will tell you the truth whether it be your too expensive for what you’re doing, it’s not the look they are after, you’re not well known enough yet etc – get the truth. Better to know now and target another store.
+ If a buyer shows interest but won’t commit because they want to view other collections first then do not give away your line sheets. They will be lost anyway as line sheets get given away freely. Best thing to do here is again email a few images over and stay in contact. The likelihood is that once a buyer has bought all, there will be no budget left; this is why it is vital to take that order by any means necessary once you have them in your showroom/office.
+ This comes down to your individual sales technique and on that we all differ. Use a model if need be, makes a big difference, tell them the collection is going to your agent in New York next week and then onto Hong Kong, play bigger than you are, give an impression of success and not of desperation but take that order. Once you have an order or two you can now name drop and providing the store is of a high calibre that is a powerful indicator to most other buyers. The psychology of buyers!
+ Do not under any circumstance offer complete exclusivity to take an order as you will rue that decision later on! SOR is risky also as you may get back more than you bargained for which is now dead stock. If a buyer likes it enough they will commit. Our job is to persuade them that our collection is ideal for their consumer. We can enhance this if we have press coverage, celebrity endorsement, a good store following. It’s harder for a new collection with just a beautiful collection, but here’s where sales technique is all important.
I am often approached by designers asking me to represent their label in the hope of taking orders with the stores I deal with. Unfortunately, in most cases I cannot, why, because if I were to sit a new label alongside my established designers, although the collection would get seen by the very best boutique & department store retailers throughout the UK/Ireland and Europe, the likelihood is that the buyers order will be greatly reduced because their focus is on what they have made an appointment to come see.
- Research the retailer you are targeting. Know a little about their business and designers they carry.
- Database. You need one which is specific to your product and as accurate as possible
- Mail out. Must be of a specific type, unique and staggered. Timing of your mail out all important
- Targets: You need a min of 100 stores to target.
- Follow ups: Target 25 stores a week. Follow up with a phone call & or email with 1 image. (Make it low res or it will take too long to download and you will upset the buyer.)
- Appointment: This is your 1st goal. Try to get them to come to you as buyers are very fussy as to where geographically they will go.
- Order: ultimate goal. The difference between taking nice comments and being stocked in the right retailers is taking that order.
By Renato Grant