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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We need each other

This week's post is a long one, but, I think, a good one....

Over the past week, my team and I have been working on solidifying our sales strategy for the Fall 2010 Collection, and now we’ve finally started to implement the first stages. Even with this year’s strategy in its infancy, I am already thinking five steps ahead.  For example, once our dresses hit the stores, then what?  Do we leave it up to the store owners to do the selling – in other words, do we leave it up to the retailers to make sure the collection gets into the hands of consumers? Welllll, something about that idea does not sit very well with me.  Control freak that I am, I need to be involved in every aspect of the selling process, which includes all the various stages until our dresses reach the end consumer.    

Come on, we all know what an important role “shelf space” plays at retail level – where and how a product is placed in a store can make or break its sell-through. In fashion, shelf space is even more important because fashion purchases are emotional purchases. Very few women need another dress; they are, instead, shopping for the experience, and if a dress speaks to them, they will buy it. So, my question is: how do you make a dress speak to a woman when she walks into a store? To find an answer, I went straight to the source…store owners.  I made some calls and even dropped by local stores that carry our brand. And to my surprise, the majority of these store owners did not have a clear or concise answer...and some didn’t even fully understand exactly what I was talking about, which made me quite concerned. Of course (and thankfully), there were few stores who did have merchandising skills, and they were eager to share their strategies. It just so happened that these were also among the more successful stores carrying my line...coincidence? I doubt it. With so many stores not understanding the importance of proper merchandising – i.e. creating an emotional appeal to the clothing being sold – I was inspired to write this post.  Hey, if I can help retailers sell more (especially in this economy), it’s a win-win, no?

I went through my mental notes and started jotting down what some of the stores that have impressed me were doing well, and, equally important, I jotted down what were some of the practices that did not impress me. 

So, here are some of the Do’s and Don’t that many retailers – not just fashion retailers – can follow to improve the emotional appeal of their products.

a)      Project a clear vision.  Make sure your store has a clear vision and point of view.  To help with this, know what sort of customers you are looking to attract. Being a jack-of-all-trades is risky, and will hinder you from branding your establishment; I know branding is an over-used marketing term, but it is a very important marketing practice. Women’s fashion retailers (the market I know best) must know their customers. Are you dressing women in their 20s or corporate executives? Girl going dancing or women attending galas? Unemployed college students or “the trust fund brigade”?  Identifying the traits of your target customers will allow you to better merchandise the brands you carry, as well as allow you to market yourself better to such a customer base...and it will force you to start thinking like your customers, to better understand their needs.  For example, ask yourself: where do these women go at night? If you know the answer to that question, you can tailor your inventory, your displays, and even your sales pitches much more effectively. Do these ladies work, and if so, what sort of jobs do they hold? Are they in suit-wearing positions? What do they do on weekends?  Do they live in apartments, penthouses, suburban homes, or country estates?  You get the point.

b)      Quality vs. Quantity.  I can’t stress this enough: with a limited shopping budget, most woman would rather buy one quality item than three pieces of junk.  Why? Well first, one item takes less room in a closet than three items…and we all know a woman’s closet space is a great example of a limited resource…there is just never enough. Second, women want value for every dollar spent. Quality vs. quantity does not mean you stock up on expensive brands, though. Quite the contrary, actually – there are plenty of fashion labels that provide great quality for the dollars spent, so be on the look-out for these. Okay, readers be aware – here’s some shameless self-promotion:  if you are looking for quality merchandise, check out my Fall 2010 Collection--talk about getting the most for your money J!

c)      Hire the best.  In any business, especially in small business, we are only as good as the team backing us. So, hire the best talent. Having one great salesperson on the floor will move much more product than two mediocre salespeople – so once again, quality over quantity.

d)     Offer incentives. Nothing motivates people more than monetary rewards. Giving your sales staff a mere hourly or weekly salary is not enough to get the best out of them – you need to incentivize good performance. Set sales goals for each week and month, and reward them accordingly…you will see how quickly the cream rises to the top. 

e)      Offer value-added services: Offer such services as on-premise alterations, and if this is not possible, have the phone number of a good-yet-affordable alteration place handy that you can refer your customers to.  It helps to cut a deal with this alterations place...for example, giving special prices to customers you send them.  As all we ladies know, if we find a great alterations person, we tend to go back to them over and the promise of references from you should be enough to entice some sort of deal.

f)       Create strategic alliances with local businesses.  Seek out businesses in the area that have the same customer demographics as you do, such as high-end salons, and work with them on promoting both of your businesses together. For example, run store promotions for holidays and events together – say, on Valentine’s Day give away free manicure coupons if someone buys $200 of merchandise or more in your store, and, on the flip side, have the salon give away discount coupons for your store to customers who get their hair or nails done. Not only do alliances like this generate revenue for both businesses, but they also build good will, increase visibility, and leave lasting impressions on customers.

a)      Don’t clutter the store:  Too much merchandise in a store gives off a bad vibe.  It makes a shopper think no one shops in your store, and it makes it hard to find things.  Clutter make it difficult, if not impossible, to create a store vision. Instead of keeping old items, out, put items that aren’t selling on sale. In fashion, the sale rack is VERY important; we are not selling mundane commodities, we are selling images and emotions that are constantly changing, so you always need to bring in fresh merchandise and move out the old. You must reduce the clutter in the store so you and the customer can both see the store vision clearly.

b)      Don’t wait for the customer to walk in. Often, you have to draw them in.  One way of doing this is by having monthly events in the store. Events can range from designer trunk shows (I have participated in many) to a book reading/signing, or just simply a “girls night out” cocktail hour after work.  Regardless of the cause or event, make it into a celebration.  For some thoughts on throwing a fun event to attract customers, check out my Feb 12th blog post, “Thank you, Mom”.

c)      Keep the window display dynamic.  Every two weeks (at least), change your store’s window displays.  Studies show that the human mind works in such a way that people almost view a new window display as a new store. So, the same potential customer that walks by every day may pay no attention to your store until the window display changes. Of course, I recommend this with the assumption that you do a great job with creating interesting and engagingwindow displays.

Everyone knows Bergdorf Goodman in NYC is known for its lavish and over-the-top window displays, especially around Christmas time.  People come from all over the United States to see BG windows, crazy as it may sound. I have spent quite sometime in front of these windows – what can I say, I appreciate them as works of art. Now, I’m not saying that you should go all crazy and spend a fortune on windows display, as does Bergdorf, but you should look at such incredible displays for inspiration. If you have a creative eye, you can easily find one or two details that can be replicated in your store window on a budget.

d)     Don’t leave customers unattended.  There is nothing more annoying than when you are trying on clothes and need another size, but your friends aren’t around to help you. If a salesperson is nowhere in sight, you will have to get dressed and get it yourself – or, even worse (for the store), you may not even bother, and just leave without trying on the other size. A good salesperson always hangs around the dressing room if women are trying on clothes, every so often asking if they need help with sizes, etc. Of course, they don’t overdo it; it is equally annoying to be constantly pestered.  Find the fine line and walk it. 

Well I hope these tips are helpful.  As part of my business, I make a promise to all the retailers that carry our brand: if they need my help in any way, shape, or form, I am available to them, as is my team.  For me, retailers are not just my vendors, they are my partners.

We need each other.


To get you started, here are some of my favorite window displays!

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