10 top tips for landing a fantastic range
With over 25 years as a buyer for retailers including Debenhams, Habitat, Matalan, Shop Direct and most recently Lakeland, Samm Swain has learned more than a few tricks of the trade. Since she wasn't able to join us during Glee Gathering, we've shared some of her top tips to create a buyers' guide to buying which outlines what every buyer must do when walking a show, building relationships and coping when things don't quite go to plan…
#1 Have a shopping list
Whatever size of business you work for, it's dangerous to head to a trade show without a shopping list. Every range has space for at least one exciting newcomer but on the whole it's important to have a list. Start by reviewing last season's collection and understand what's worked and what hasn't. Tick off your requirements and take the opportunity to see products whilst you're surrounded by them.
#2 Leave no stone unturned
As our market gets busier, it's becoming harder and harder to find those “wow” products, but that just means you have to look a bit harder. Whilst you might have some tried and tested favourites on your buying list, don't neglect the opportunities that may arise from suppliers you might not have worked with before. Take the time to explore your options and do your research to avoid falling into the “this is who we've always worked with” trap.
#3 Make time for people
Retail is a busy business to work in and it requires commitment, organisation and, most importantly, communication. Find the time to be there for others; it will pay dividends. Of course, this goes without saying when it comes to the colleagues you work with on a daily basis, but it also applies to external contacts and relationships with suppliers. Find a way to build and solidify your relationships with suppliers as this will stand you in good stead when the latest and most exciting ranges are launched.
#4 Get organised
When you're walking a show, it's a good idea to keep a log of what you are interested in as and when you see it. Jot down product numbers and supplier names in a notebook, as well as the reasons you're interested in it. If you're able to, you could also take a photo of the product and range with the supplier's brand in it. Creating a list and clarity of thinking isn't just reserved for trade shows. Once you've got your stock in, create a detailed spreadsheet with all products and suppliers and keep it regularly updated. Group your range into category, colour, trend or price range. This way you'll be able to assess your casualties and top sellers on a regular basis.
#5 Know your product
Most retailers will know the basic details like colours, pricepoints, brands etc. But do you really know your product? Dig deeper into your data so that you understand as much about your product as possible. Know what's selling and what isn't, what your customers think of your range, why certain things are performing the way they are. Make sure you take the time to read and analyse any feedback you receive and consider how many products you've actually used yourself. Try things out in your home to see how they really perform and to equip yourself to answer customers' questions. You can also consider checking products on other retailers' websites to see how they're positioning them and what they're customers are saying.
#6 Go with your gut
Facts and figures are all well and good, but they will never tell you the full story. As scary as it is, sometimes you have to go with your gut feeling, alongside the knowledge you have available to you. This might be wrong, but don't beat yourself up if it is. No one can predict the future and wrong decisions are the stuff of life!
There's a reason it's called an art. Contrary to being annoying or pushy, great negotiation skills are actually an important part of building your credibility as a retailer and buyer. It can be intimidating at first, but like all things, practice really does make perfect. Go into a negotiation knowing your facts and knowing what you want the outcome to be. Remind yourself of what is important to you and what is important to the other party and start with a strong statement based on that. Even if the negotiation falls through, it's good practice and you will have gained the partner's respect.
#8 Sell as soon as you've bought
The work doesn't stop once you've placed an order. Even before your stock comes in, you need to start being its number one advocate. Get behind your new products; shout about them from the rooftops. Start telling your customers about them before they get in whether that's in your shop or via social media; it's all about building a buzz. You, and your colleagues, need to understand exactly why this product is special and why your customers need it.
#9 Assume nothing
No news if never good news. Whilst delays aren't unusual in product fulfilment, it's dangerous to assume that everything's ticking along nicely just because you haven't heard anything. Keep your communication lines open all the way from writing your order to the stock arriving in your shop. Check in with suppliers, manufacturers, agents and shipping companies along the way, to make sure production is running smoothly and your shipment has actually made it onto the vessel on time. Make sure everything is running on schedule and ask the right questions to make sure you're stock arrives when you're expecting it to.
#10 Don't panic
Sometimes, the unexpected happens; the pandemic is a big one! Before you panic or make a rash decision, stop and breathe. Is everyone else in the same boat? Chances are, yes! At times like these, you might incur extra markdown or have less stock than usual. But, as long as you are calm and honest with your customers, they will understand. In the grand scheme of things, everything will be OK with your business, even if it seems like the end of the world. Retail is a notoriously temperamental industry and sometimes you just can't control everything.
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