ABC Retailing pt. 4

Continuing with the comments that the series (pt.1 pt.2 pt.3) generated, what’s a DE to do? It goes back to the same thing every time; you really have to know who your customer is and why she would buy your line. Knowing that, you can target your media accordingly.

Once, I had the most irritating experience with a friend who is a budding DE, working on starting a line. I asked her “who is your customer.” She says a little something like this “my customer is a young metropolitan woman, who loves to travel and loves to shop. When she goes out to socialize, she doesn’t want to be bogged down by a large handbag and wants a functional, small piece to carry her essentials.”

To which I replied, “That’s good, but where does she shop? What else is she wearing? What publications does she read? What shows does she watch?” And I never really got a good answer.

Sometimes DEs design for people like themselves or their friends. The problem is, DEs aren’t really avid shoppers because they feel under-served by the market (hence the need for their own line). It’s okay if you’re not an avid shopper, but then you should have a keen understanding of the retail scene. You should know where your customer shops and what she buys and what she’s wearing because what you’re selling, needs to fit in with her lifestyle and her wardrobe. When you’re designing, not only do you have to think about what else is in your line, you have to keep in mind what else is in your customer’s closet; this is one key reason basics sell so well.

Now once you know who she is, what she wears and where she shops, you need to know what motivates her (or him, but I’ll continue to use her throughout this post). Why does she buy the things she buys? What makes them work for her? Where does she get her information on new products? From friends? From magazines? From television? Is she an early adopter or does she wait and see?

I know a lot of people don’t like to hear it but media based product placement is important precisely because leisure shopping is an activity best left to teenagers. Most women are too busy either with careers, education, family or a combination, to spend huge amounts of time window shopping. They usually shop with a focus. And many times, that focus is finding the product that they saw or heard about somewhere and going to purchase it because it fills a functional or aesthetic need.

For example, my friend told me that this is the perfect top that’s cut long enough so that my midriff doesn’t show when I raise my arms. I saw these pants in a magazine that hailed them as the prefect, wrinkle free travel pants. I saw these shoes on television and they are exactly what I had in my head for months, now I can finally own them. I heard about it, now where can I buy it?

Contrary to popular belief, the media is actually very DE friendly. The problem is, many DEs are not organized or strategic enough to take advantage of opportunities that arise. They may not have samples, they don’t have a line sheet or a look book, you ask them to send out samples and they don’t have enough time to get off work, go pack up the sample, and take it to the FedEx ship center in time for the cut off for overnight shipping.

Now, more than ever, DE’s need to be strategically involved in consumer marketing, even if they don’t want to. Sure, the retailer can bear the burden, or they can substitute your line with one that is selling better.

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  1. andrea says:

    You make great points. I would like to point out to other DE’s that there are also ways to involve your boutiques in advertising…It lets you share the burden of marketing.

    Many established manufacturers offer their retailers co-op dollars…which means they pay a portion or all of a retailers advertising costs if the retailer advertises their product. This works to target that retailers market and promote your product at the same time. Most co-op dollars are about 50% and the manufacturer requires that the retailer provide proof of the advertising. This is certainly a cost effective way to do targeted advertising as a team effort.

    Philosophically I don’t agree that the manufacturer bears the burden of all marketing. It’s kind of like saying…my store is so cool I can just sit here and let the manufacturers work for me. It feels kind of yucky. I do believe that one should market their line, be in touch with the market place, offer to do trunk shows and other event-type functions for your key clients, but the retailer also has to work for their exposure as well. It’s not really fair to expect a DE to garner press when there isn’t a similar effort on the part of the boutique.

  2. Miracle says:

    It’s not really fair to expect a DE to garner press when there isn’t a similar effort on the part of the boutique.

    As a retailer, let me tell you, it’s easier to get press for, and work with, established lines.

    Let me explain.

    From a strategic perspective, it makes more sense to work with the lesser known DEs, when trying to get press. The concept is that the editor you’re working with probably has not seen that line before, or has not paused to pay attention to it.

    But what often happens is that the smaller DE does not have samples. Maybe they have the ones for their sales rep, but they don’t have any to lend out. And if they do, they don’t have the ability to lend it out for an extended period of time. If a publication decides to feature an item, they often hold onto it up until the issue goes to print. Then they return the items. Smaller DEs often cannot afford to do that, even when they have the samples.

    Lastly, it is often more difficult to get the sample even when the DE has it. For example, a large, established brand often has a NY showroom or PR office that can messenger the items over to the editors, who often need things very last minute. Sometimes, smaller DEs don’t have the shipping set up to make that last minute FedEx drop off.

    This can also be applied to regional publications and local major newspapers.

    So, as a retailer, you ARE working to get coverage, but depending on what types of publications you are targeting, you might have no choice but to pick the more established brand to promote.

    Philosophically I don’t agree that the manufacturer bears the burden of all marketing. the retailer also has to work for their exposure as well. It’s not really fair to expect a DE to garner press when there isn’t a similar effort on the part of the boutique.

    We can sit here and talk about what is and is not fair all day long, or we can talk about how a DE can strategically build a brand. The DE who sits there and says “it isn’t fair, that’s YOUR job” is the one not getting the exposure becuase they feel it’s not their responsibility. Getting promotion is not just a benefit to the retailer, it is MORE of a benefit to the DE because they have consumer driven (pull) demand, and often parlay that exposure to open more store accounts. You will find that most apparel manufacturers with over $250K in revenues either have someone in their company that works on publicity, or someone that they hire to do so. Because it’s a key component of strategic growth.

  3. Andrea says:


    I think we are comparing apples to apples. I did mention brand building techniques that don’t solely rely on the DE. Yes, it’s true that larger companies do have a PR person. I mentioned ways to accomplish what you are suggesting in a different way. There are more ways than one to skin a cat.

    Also, keep in mind that a lot of our key accounts are not necessarily in major metro areas. The methods you are describing really only apply to metro areas. For example, I live 5 hours north of San Francisco…there are several stores here that carry a certain line or lines and have for a long time. This is a good producing area for those lines, but a boutique here would never be looked at twice by any publication…secondly, these are the kind of stores that don’t feel they need to advertise. As a DE, I would want them to advertise to promote the placement of my line. I would offer co-op dollars as encouragement and host a trunk show as well…I don’t think that we are really talking about different things here. The marketing method you are talking about is really only a small part of brand building…I am offering a slightly different perspective that may be a little more realistic to a DE…especially a DE that isn’t in a major city.

  4. Miracle says:

    a boutique here would never be looked at twice by any publication

    A national publication, no, but there are always plenty of regional publications in areas that aren’t necessarily considered “metropolitan.” In fact, it seems easier for a company to get publicity in a local publication (say a local area weekly, monthly or a newspaper or even a local news feature segment), becuase they have a greater incentive to help their local economy by featuring local businesses.

    I mean look at it this way… many publications a store would want to advertise in, also feature editorial product coverage (with the exception of things like the yellow pages). So what would be the difference in using co op dollars to get publicity as opposed to always paying for the advertising.

    There are strategies that larger companies use, that can be adapted to a smaller environment, a smaller company, a smaller budget.

  5. Call me cynical, but I would never assume anyone to do anything for me, fair or not. I work for a company that has about a dozen sales reps–company employees that don’t do anything unless my CEO hovers over their every move. I used to work for a company that used a salesroom with bigger labels than us and they were often too busy with those other labels to pay a lot of attention to us. In an ideal world, everyone would do their jobs, and do them well, but I don’t live in that world, do you? I just take it for granted that a smaller, lesser known company just has to hustle extra for the sales.

    As always, I’m learning so much from this blog and the discussions that arise. Thanks.

  6. Jeff says:

    I came across a Public Relations service on-line called PRWeb and found it interesting. Companies can create press releases, submit them to be reviewed by the the entire media industry as they seemingly all subscribe to the service.

    I don’t know the first thing about it’s effetiveness, obiously, you must have something worthwhile to tell as far as story is concerned. Nevertheless, I did a search on the sight for fashion/apparel companies and found a few small DE’s. I went to their sites, wrote a letter of inquiry about how it worked for them.

    All four owners wrote back and said the results have been good to great. One said several publicaions contacted them. Another said his web-traffic increased dramatically. like 7,000 hits. Still others reported (a bespoke mens suit company)overwhelming business out of it. A smaller Brooklyn based T-shirt company owner told me it increased his brand exposure, with a few localized publications picking up on the story, but not overwhelming business. (when visiting his site, I found the designs somewhat unique but not crazy must have.)

    It is an interesting concept, worth doing some due diligence on. I feel many of you, who can deliever product immediately, should try it. I certainly am going to give it a whirl in the next month or so.

    This is worth considering for some who have a story to tell. It could be a very low cost means of establishing PR. FYI

  7. Mike C says:

    … NY showroom or PR office that can messenger the items over to the editors, who ALWAYS need things very last minute.

    Fixed your post.

    Its standard for the editor to pay the FEDEX charges – they’ll usually give you their FEDEX account # without prompting. (Ask them for it if they don’t.)

    Expect it to take between 1 week and never to get the samples back and expect it to take between 2 months and never for them to show up in publication. (We had a piece show up in Fitness last month that we sent out over 2 years ago and no longer even produce.)

  8. christy fisher says:

    Okay.. I am jumping in here..and I may get slammed because I come from a different perspective..
    Years ago I read a book called “Guerilla Marketing” (it has been revised many times). It has served me well.

    I have never spend a dime on PR/advertising.
    My clothing been featured in ads for stores..and also in editorials.
    I am in the “low to mid sixes” on Miracle’s “DE money chart”.
    (I have dealt with department stores in the past and sales were a couple of more digits then, but I couldn’t keep up with production..and dealing with the “big boys” was hell).
    (I never gave them advertising dollars either, and they still carried my line)

    I am a believer that it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to sell what they make to the retailer and it is the retailer’s responsibility to sell what they buy to the public.

    How did I get the sales?
    1. I made appointments with buyers and repped my own line when I first started out (and I still do in various territories)(you may not think that sounds’professional’ but the stores are fine with that,love it actually, and to me- they are the ones that count)

    2.How do I find my “target” stores?
    I used to use the public library, yellow pages, and the copy shop(true-lol-the old days) I use the Internet.
    Push in a city, look for your target…but don’t stop there.
    Google your Target.. read what is written about THEM..what other lines they carry, etc.. many of the stores I “hit” even have their own sites..some have online shopping, some are simple sites that tell a bit about the store, the owners, etc.
    They will have contact information.

    I send them an e-mail telling them that I stumbled on their site and they look great and I think my merchandise would work well with their mix..and ask them when is the best time to set up an appointment (if they are in my driving area)..or I direct them to my site if they are out of distance.
    If you have a website, you can include link to your site.. but DO NOT spam the buyer with a bunch of jpegs in the e-mail..(that is rude)..
    Tell them just s little about your line and what makes it unique in your e-mail..
    Be real. Be nice. Be human. Don’t try to be a mega corporation- because you are not.
    The buyer will take a peek at their leisure
    (we all would..we are curious sheep ;-)

    Also- send those e-mails INDIVIDUALLY to the buyers.. do not do a “mass mailing” that is impersonal..
    especially at the beginner level-they want to get to know you and you want to get to know them, so take your time and truly “hit your target”..don’t just “shoot buckshot”..
    I have picked up 2 new accounts this week in 2 different states using e-mail and the Internet (and my site is in sore need of new photos).
    Both buyers want my line..two bulleyes- YEA!! (sure, I miss sometimes)

    I did my homework on them before I targeted them. I saw what other lines they carried and how long the store has been in business.
    AFTER the buyer sent a positive response, I offered to send a few pieces on spec so she can see quality (I will pay for shipping both ways..and with luck, the shipping will only be for one way) I let the buyer pick the pieces she wants to sample. I will also include a “gift piece” for her.
    I will write “spec” on the invoice..but it WILL be an invoice that will be due to be paid by a certain date if the samples are not returned. I limit the amount of samples to 3 or 4 items so I am not “taken advantage of”.

    I will include line sheets, etc. in the sampling box.
    This will be my only “expense”.
    (“buckshot” random mailing of line sheets is a waste of your $$$)

    Not all buyers will respond immediately..I do NOT send them second e-mails, etc..asking “did you get my e-mail”

    I DO keep them on a mailing list for a year and send a postcard when new grouping are available.
    (cheap..there are a ton of places who do those for less than $100)
    I also e-mail everyone when my website is updated and new items are added.

    Another way I have gotten editorial layouts is through college students who are majoring in photography and need sheets to send for THEIR business. I am approached all the time from people in Phoenix who want “loaner” samples..

    BTW.. I am in the same boat as Andrea when it comes to “local” newspapers, etc. We do not even have a fashion section in our newspaper. Phoenix does (two hours away), but they take that section out when they distribute the paper in this part of the state (Iguess the paper’s logic is that shops up here aren’t going to advertise in a paper who is 2 hours away)..and we do not have any “local” “fashion papers” (what I call “party papers”)in this area.
    (Imagine that!- 6 expresso houses and no party papers in this area!)
    We also, like Andrea’s area, have great retail shops who do not need to advertise.

    Those are just some of the alternative ways I have chosen.
    I have a friend who got her handbag in Neimans using Guerilla tactics (she sent a free sample using a balloon delivery guy to the buyers office)

    WE have to remember those shades of gray:
    What may work for some who have money to burn in LA and other metro areas doesn’t always play out when you get 2 or 3 hours into the heartland…but there are alternatives..even where there are no newspapers.

  9. Miracle says:

    Its standard for the editor to pay the FEDEX charges – they’ll usually give you their FEDEX account # without prompting. (Ask them for it if they don’t.)

    That’s true.

    What may work for some who have money to burn in LA…

    It’s a misconception that it takes tons of money to have an effective PR strategy.

    I have never spend a dime on PR/advertising.

    See, now we’re getting into semantics. The money spent on shipping samples and line sheets, is considered spending money. You may not be paying a publicist, but there is money being spent. It may make sense to say you don’t pay a publicist, or have a PR budget…

  10. christy fisher says:

    You are correct.. I do not spend money on a publicist or “garnering press”.
    I spend very little money doing “direct advertising”. So you are correct. That IS my PR budget: less than $200. a year.

    The PR/advertising that was being discussed seemed to be focussing on the “editorial/celebrity/putting yourself before the public” thing.

  11. Esther says:

    Christy – you discussed the advertising/marketing approach I have. I use it in an online sense by talking to people directly about my product. In my local offline market, I do a lot of networking and word of mouth advertising. I have read Guerrilla Marketing and a marketing book by Sarah and Paul Edwards. Lots of ideas in both those books to keep your advertising budget as low, but effective, as possible. At some point, you do have to pay for some advertising (internet or other), but it needs to be very focused to get the best ROI.

  12. Suzanne says:

    I love this series. These are fantastic questions to ask myself as I go along. I think for me, the key is to KEEP ASKING them of myself, and not lose touch with my market as I immerse myself in the business end of things.

    Fabulous work, as always.

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