Analyzing sales by size

I’ve written that your medium size should be your median size, in other words, your average size. Now, how many of you can say that your median size sold is the average or “medium” size you produce? If not, this could be contributing to problems with estimating your needed fabric purchases (which will be part two of this post). Accordingly, when I consult with companies, one of the things that tells me the most about them is an analysis of their sales by size. I consider this to be one of their “vital signs” because it tells me so much. Analyzing your sales by size may be something you want to monitor quarterly or when you start planning the next season’s line.

To analyze your size spread, you’ll need to aggregate your sales according to size. And by the way, substitute your sizes for whatever I’m using. If you are making children’s or girl’s clothes, adjust accordingly. Ideally, a graph of your sales by size for most -but not all– of you should look like this:

The reason this is ideal is because this graph of sales by size reflects the efficiency of your spreads (markers) which optimizes your fabric utilization (unless you’re doing BBW which is another story and explains why that clothing is more costly to produce). For example, if you compare how sizes are plotted in a marker (see fig 4.9 on pg 116 of The Entrepreneur’s Guide and be sure to read that entire section to understand how to calculate fabric usage, also see pg 81), you can see that the smaller sizes leave room the larger sizes need to fit into the marker. However, if your sizes are only getting larger and there aren’t enough of the smaller sizes sold, your estimations of fabric use can be off quite a bit. Now, the latter may be unavoidable. If that’s the case, you may need to recalculate your average yardage based on overall fabric need (subject of post 2 on this topic). Now, in most cases if your sales by size look like this…

…it usually means you’re missing a lot of the market. The typical solution to this problem is adding larger sizes into your mix because you want to see some tapering off on the right end of the graph. Now, I realize you may not be able to offer such a wide variety of sizing which means you may want to drop some of the smaller sizes. For example, let’s say that 1X represents a size 2, 2X represents a size 4 etc with 5X representing a size 10. If that’s the case, you may want to drop the size 2 and add a size 12. To really optimize your sales tho, you’d also drop the 4 and add a size 14. The reason I say this is because you may have miscalculated the typical size spread of your market. For example in western wear, a size 2 or 4 is unheard of. The typical size spread of that market is 6-16. I really hope you all appreciate this advice because as a size 0/2, it is not in my best interest to tell you this because it’s close to impossible to get clothes in my size -and appropriate for my age- as it is.

Still, many of you can’t do anything about it. For example, this graph can be common with companies producing children’s sizes 3-6X. It’s not unusual to see higher sales in the larger sizes. This can mean:

  1. Your styles are more appealing to the older girls and less appealing to younger ones.
  2. It can mean that your grade is off in the smaller sizes.
  3. It can mean your grade is off in the larger sizes and your products are more appealing to older girls.

The solution to number 1 can mean restyling your products to meet the tastes of younger girls but then you run the risk of alienating the older girls who are already buying your products. It can also be related to how your product line is marketed and where it’s sold. The solution to number 2 above is that you need to re-examine the way you’re grading your smaller sizes. If I see a graph like this, checking the grade is one of the first things I do. Often, redesigning your rule libraries can make all the difference in the world. I’d recommend checking your grade (or passing it off to a pro for analysis) before you try restyling your product line or tinkering with the marketing. Checking the grade and fixing it is less costly and less risky.

Regarding number 3, it could be that you’ve misplaced yourself in the market. Maybe you need to branch into a similar product line that targets sizes 7-14. This is a common strategy. Just because you’ve targeted a particular market doesn’t mean your target will actually buy them. Rather, you go with the flow. If the younger girls aren’t buying but the older girls are, hit the older girls! I knew one designer who was a real piece of work. She stubbornly insisted on designing for younger girls because she had a young daughter and wanted her “to be involved in the company”. Older girls liked her stuff but she refused to sell in their sizes because they weren’t her daughter’s age grouping. Another dopey thing she did was insist on making her daughter her fit model so her pattern blocks were constantly changing as the girl grew. It was a nightmare. Not surprisingly, she went under a long time ago.

Sometimes the graph will be reversed and the designer is selling more of the smaller sizes than large ones. This can mean:

  1. Your sizes run large and are out of sync with commensurate sizes in the market (e.g. “vanity” sizing).
  2. It can mean that your styling is very young and not appealing to women wearing the larger sizes.
  3. It can mean your styles aren’t flattering in the larger sizes.
  4. It can mean that your grading of the larger sizes is likewise off.

Again, the first thing to troubleshoot is your grade. One way to check your grade is to use your competitor’s products as a point of comparison. Don’t feel guilty about doing that, there’s nothing unethical about it. If the first new cars that roll off the assembly line are bought by competing car makers for the purposes of analysis and disassembly, there’s nothing wrong with doing it with clothing either. If you want to position yourself against the leader, you need to know where they’re starting from.

Still, there can be a wide range of tolerance in sizing depending on your position in your market. For example, I know one company that has their sleeve length off by quite a bit but because they’re a prestigious line, their too-long sleeves have become a sort of status symbol! Anyone who collects clothing in that particular market knows that X company has sleeves that are too long so the women who buy these clothes don’t want the sleeves shortened. They like the too-long sleeves because then their friends will know -at one glance- that they’re wearing a jacket from X designer. I swear, I’ve seen everything in this business!

One last thing to consider is that it may be that you don’t want to expand the range of sizes you’re selling. Just because there is demand for larger sizes in your product line does not mean you should be compelled to meet that demand! This is a choice that only you can make because being a manufacturer does not mean that you’re a democracy. Likewise, it may be that you can’t for a myriad of reasons. For example, when I described my line I got quite a bit of criticism for failing to offer styles in larger sizes. Believe me, I’m fully aware that my most popular size will be the largest one, most likely size 36 C/D -at the outset anyway. Similarly, I realize that I will need to market my products carefully in order to get enough orders in the smaller sizes. My price points will take care of some of that but it will require careful management. There’s no way I can get marker and fabric utilization to within profitable tolerances unless I can cover both ends of the size spread. Since my fabrics will (for the most part) only be available in 44″-45″ width and I’m cutting on the bias, the core characteristics of my product will limit the sizes I can offer -at the outset. Now, if targeting smaller sizes proves to my detriment, then I only have myself to blame. My position on this issue is not contradictory when compared to the children’s wear designer above because she had no limitations such as narrow goods or cutting on the bias.To offer larger sizes, I’d have to increase my price points on the magnitude of 25% or more. Accordingly, I am more than aware that some of you cannot or do not want to offer the largest sizes and I don’t think you should be criticized for it but you can’t blame anyone for lagging sales in the smaller sizes either.

My next post on this topic will discuss costing and fabric estimates based on the sizes you sell.

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  1. SB says:

    This post is so incredibly timely. We are currently evaluating changing the sizing on one of our products, and should be doing the same for another. The specific reason is that we sell mostly mediums, then larges, then hardly any smalls. In both lines. Like you, I’m a solid size zero. But the sales data speak for themselves . . .

  2. SO says:

    thank you so much for all your posts Kathleen. i see no matter which one i read, it will link to at least other 3 very interesting posts too which end up as open tabs in my browser to read later. i can’t keep up reading as fast as i see new interesting stuff here, i keep opening more and more tabs until my browser crashes, which happened a few times already :) and there is always more… while i have not commented here before, this website is like a black hole that sucked me in. and i don’t want to leave until i read all!

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