Fashion industry insider Nicole Ryder who has worked both as a buyer for major department stores and as creative director for an emerging brand reveals how to sell fashion to major retailers
Recently we interviewed Nicole Ryder the Creative Director of Volver Design Group about the process of selling products in the fashion world. Ryder has an unusual background having been both a partner in an emerging brand (Volver) as well as deep experience as a buyer, having worked for Saks Fifth Avenue and Daily Candy in that capacity.
What advice would you give someone trying to get started as vendor in the fashion world?
You’ve got to do your homework, both about your product and researching the marketplace. I can’t stress this enough. And the first step in that process is to determine the DNA of your brand.
DNA? I’ve never heard that term used in connection with fashion. What do you mean by that?
Basically, you’ve got to define all of the characteristics of your product. What’s your brand’s target market: young, mature, urban, and/or professional? What materials are you using, and in what colors? What’s the price point? And what brands do you see your item being displayed with, that is, what are the comparable brands?
In order to answer these questions, you also have to research the stores to find out where your brand would fit. It’s important to know whom you’re going to focus on, so that you can remain focused during your market season. Otherwise it gets overwhelming; there are a million stores out there, but that doesn’t mean that they are the right stores for you necessarily. You need to come up with a game plan and be focused. After you’ve done the planning, you need to decide how you want handle sales.
How many different ways are there to sell?
More than you might think. The classic approach is to either handle your sales in-house, that is, in your own office or design studio. Or if you’re just getting started and don’t have offices you want to invite buyers to, you can hire a multi-line showroom, also known as a corporate showroom to handle the job.
To find showrooms, factories and more, see “Fashion Industry Resources”
So, the buyers actually come to you?
Yes. But it depends on relationships; you have to have the relationships with the buyer before you can do this. Not everyone operates the same way, but buyers are usually on the hunt for new brands or trend items for each season. When they plan out their season, they have to have their bread and butter, which are the brands that perform for them day in and day out, but they also need an assortment of new brands that they think their customers would gravitate toward. Ultimately that’s who they’re buying for, their customer, whoever that is.
Every store has a different customer so it’s about knowing your customer and knowing the style or type of brand they might like. If a buyer really believes in something, they do a test. They might try a few pieces and see how it goes, and then revisit the line the following season. Some stores give their buyers that freedom, while other stores can’t because of corporate restrictions. Every store operates differently. There’s definitely a season-by-season obligation to certain brands, usually their core business.
“The number one rule of buying is that you’re buying for your customer; you’re not buying for yourself. And the rule for the brand or vendor side is that you really have to stay true to the DNA of your brand.”
So relationships are important, but how do you establish relationships with buyers if you’re a new company with a new brand?
So, what do you do? You take your list of stores you’re going to focus on and go hard with it. Send out your emails and make phone calls. Try to connect through social media. You can find buyers on LinkedIn, and you can promote your product through blogs and using Twitter. There are a lot of different ways you can do it. The main thing is getting your brand in front of the right buyers and the right crowd.
Do you use a script when calling buyers on the phone?
We never use scripts. Typically, I would identify myself and simply state that I think my product would merchandise really well with their existing brands and i would love the opportunity to present the brand to them. Then I would try to lock in an appointment. Most often they request additional info such as a brand profile and a look book or line sheet and get back to me.
If you were to walk into a major department store, whom would you ask for?
Personally, I wouldn’t just walk into the store, but there are ways of contacting them corporately. However, sometimes on the store level you will be able to get someone’s attention. For example, I was in Bloomingdales and the handbag department manager had asked about the purse I was carrying, which was a Volver bag. So we started talking about it and I said it’s actually my line and here’s my card, and she suggested maybe speaking to her buyer or her general manager about putting a trunk show together. Which is where they maybe don’t commit to the line, cause they don’t know if its for their customer or not, but they will test you out and offer you a trunk show.
Look, if you don’t take chances, you’re never going to know what might have happened. They might say “no” the first time, but after they see you a couple of times they might look at your line. In some cases, they might have seen your work in another store, a smaller store.
Most people don’t realize this, but buyers do “comp shopping” all the time; that’s always been a big part of the job. You have to visit the competition and see what they have. You shop better stores to see what the trends are, and see what brands they have and how would you translate it to your customers. You know a buyer might walk into a store, and she’s comp shopping and see your brand, and say, hey this is really cool and it would work great for my customer. Again, it’s about doing your research and doing your homework. It’s the same on both sides as a buyer and a vendor.
The No. 1 Rule for Buying and Selling Fashion
Remember: The number one rule of buying is that you’re buying for your customer; you’re not buying for yourself. And the rule for the brand or vendor side is that you really have to stay true to the DNA of your brand.
Okay, you have an appointment with a buyer, how should you prepare for that meeting?
You should make sure that you have all your samples, and those they’re tagged properly; you don’t want to be searching for information during the meeting. Sometimes you don’t get an order then and there. They might have to go back and look at their assortment and their financials and think about where your line might fit and plan. So you need to have line sheets prepared for your buyer to take with them and a place there to write their order. A line sheet is essentially an order form for your brand and it should include a photograph of each item, any color options, wholesale price, and sometimes the retail price, and maybe some kind of description about what kind of fabric or other materials used to produce the item. Information about delivery is important tool.
As a buyer, what do you want to see from a vendor?
I would like to see a line sheet and I definitely would like to hear their input on what styles have been very strong for them for that season and what they’ve been checking, and probably delivery information. Lead time etc. Also, as a buyer you do want to know if there’s any kind of press on the pieces in the line. Usually if there’s press, then that’s probably one of the items you want to have in your store.
After getting the order, what happens next?
For a new company, the safer way to handling the financing question is to do “cut-to-order.” At Volver, we cut-to-order. We don’t hold stock because our product is of a higher price point. It’s less of a risk for a new brand to at least have the orders in hand and know what you have confirmed before looking for financing. Because then you’ll know exactly how many dollars you’ll need. And you’ll know exactly how much you’ll be making back from those orders.