Do not ship samples to anyone who wants them!

There have been a couple of recent incidents regarding the loss of samples that have been brought to my attention. Under no circumstances are your samples to be shipped off to be placed under the control of parties who have not paid for them. Those of you who own the book I wrote already know this. The only people you send samples to are your sales reps or possibly a PR firm that is representing you. Yes, I know, PR people want two sets but Miracle says “don’t do it” (if they’re starting to get a lot of calls for your stuff, then you can send another set but don’t send two sets as a matter of course).

Shipping off your samples upon request to anyone else is simply not done. Yes, I know that there are some people making one-sies and two-sies who ship things off to be juried in art fairs and what not, but I’m not talking about the “art wear” or craft market. I don’t know anything about that market and don’t pretend to. Likewise, I realize some of you are making very small items, such as inexpensive accessory items and in such case, do as you will. If you’re making staples, throw aways, fine. That’s just marvy, go wild. However, established industrial practices are such that sending off pre-market samples of fashion related goods to a party -such as a retailer- are considered untoward. Furthermore, no reputable retailer will request such a thing –unless they think you don’t know any better. If someone is asking you something like that, then there is already something about you that is giving off the vibe that you don’t know what’s what. You don’t know what you don’t know (read the book). An established retailer would never expect samples from an established manufacturer so why should they expect them from you?

You can do whatever you want but I strenuously discourage the practice of shipping samples of finished goods (there is no problem to send fabric swatches or trims). Only do it if you are willing to risk that your products are never returned to you and are willing to risk that your products are knocked off. This is what has happened to a visitor to our blog (he doesn’t have the book so he was a target for that as well as a lot of other things he hasn’t figured out yet). A retailer in Phoenix AZ, has gotten wise to newbies who don’t know any better. As a matter of course, she now requests samples. Anyone who sends her anything, never hears from her again. I’ve done some checking up on her. Apparently, she’s become really cocky about it with the new lines. She’s pushy and throws a fit if a designer turns her down. Allow me to assure you, anyone who demands samples of you is out of line. If they are willing to pay for them, or pay a deposit, then great. Otherwise, forget it. Sure, I’m sure you know people who do it but does that mean you’ll be as lucky? [There is very little “luck” to this business by the way.] Sending samples on demand is only something newbies do. Don’t do it.

I don’t even like the idea of shipping samples off, even with a deposit. How do you think things get ripped off? I knew a retailer that everybody thought was just a boutique owner (snazziest boutique in town) but he had a deal with his best buddy (who owned a big factory). Whatever Tom said would be hot -and he brought in the samples- they’d cut a gazillion of them. This “small time” retailer would take samples down to the factory and have them copied. I worked there! I know! Those designers never knew how they were getting knocked off. Boy, they’d cry on Tom’s shoulder because he was so nice. They didn’t know the connection. Tom would turn around and buy the knock offs (at a lower price of course) from his friend’s factory so the designer would get burned there too. To say nothing of the fact that previously their line was only local but with Tom’s “help” they went national in one season. Without their label in it of course. Their look was shown at markets they had never even been to themselves. Their look went everywhere and they got none of the credit. Do not leave your samples with a retailer!. And that includes the nice ones. Tom was a great guy! Very charismatic, charming, funny, very very nice. Everybody (except me) liked him. Him, I never liked, even before I knew his tricks. Something about him gave me the willies. I will never understand why designers are so paranoid and want their pattern makers to sign NDAs and then they go off and ship their samples to the very people who are all set to do them the worst damage. That’s why I won’t sign NDAs. Designers ship pre-market samples off to someone who has the wherewithal to beat them to market and the designer is worried about me? What an insult. Heck, with the style numbers they come up with, these DEs may as well tattoo “target” on their foreheads for all the subtlety of it. These guys see you coming a mile away. But does anybody listen to me? Noooooo…

I know, I know, several of you will say that the quality and characteristics of your product cannot be fully appreciated from a web page, post card or a line sheet and a retailer needs to have product in hand for a complete experience. Honest, between you and me I have no doubts you have a great product -really- but people manage to buy over the web or via a catalog without having the product in front of them Every. Single. Day. If you want to show your products in real life, that is what sales calls are for. Get a rep. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to make do serving your local community or region till such time that you have the ability to attend a market or whatever.

Standard traditional protocol for fashion related products is that they are never out of sight of the sales rep. Never. They should only be in the care of a person who has paid for them -the sales rep buys them from you, why should a retailer be any different? And by the way, I’d charge full retail price if you were going to require a deposit. The DE who got ripped off by that lady in Phoenix, shipped 6 high end leather handbags. Word has it that he’s never going to get them back. And because he doesn’t have a signed agreement with her -that she’d be financially responsible for them- he’s out of luck to collect. Fortunately in his case, this retailer’s practice hasn’t been to copy goods. She just wants the free inventory. She’s just into stealing people’s products, not their designs. For now. Maybe she’ll meet up with Tom.

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  1. Heather says:

    HA! I was right. And I just got to this part in your book AFTER I answered an email this morning asking for samples shipped to Malaysia. I kept getting the Nigerian scam vibe and emailed back saying, You’re welcome to order fabric samples, but we don’t ship samples of finished products.

    Heehee, I feel like I won some sort of contest.

    I think I need more excitement in my life.

    BTW, the book is wonderful, worth 5 times what it cost.

  2. J C Sprowls says:

    Question: Since a pre-market sample isn’t in production, wouldn’t it be more appropriate call it a prototype, and to charge the R&D replacement cost as a deposit?

    Or should we just simplify matters from the start, be direct, and sell to reps (i.e. someone who has some skin in the game), exclusively?

  3. Lisa says:

    Hi, I had a question in regards to your comment: With the style numbers they come up with, these DEs may as well tattoo “target” on their foreheads for all the subtlety of it.

    What differentiates a good style number from a bad one that screams newbie or inexperienced?

  4. Kathleen says:

    Hi, I had a question in regards to your comment: With the style numbers they come up with, these DEs may as well tattoo “target” on their foreheads for all the subtlety of it. What differentiates a good style number from a bad one that screams newbie or inexperienced?

    ooh, I couldn’t even begin to answer that here! I’ve written about this a lot. I suggest using the search box in the upper right hand corner for starters. Most of the key details tho, appear in the book rather than the blog. I can’t cannibalize my own sales or I wouldn’t have a blog as the sales of the book support this site.

  5. Pamela says:

    Wow. I think I read this just in time. I am a teeny tiny neckwear DE, my brother-in-law who works for Saks just told me to get some samples together and he would show them to the powers-that-be at Saks. I had a funny feeling, not because I thought they might rip me off but because I hate being in someones debt. I really was considering giving him samples.
    Thanks Kathleen

  6. Mike C says:

    We don’t send free samples to potential new wholesale accounts. If they want samples, we ask them to purchase them from us and they will be subject to our standard (very generous) return policy. If they place a wholesale order, we’ll credit half the cost of the samples to their account.

    We used to send free goods to producers of exercise videos in return for mention in the credits. The ROI on this was pitiful though, so we no longer do that. We will offer sharply reduced prices, as much for the vanity of seeing our stuff on DVD as anything else though. The larger video producers pay for their goods as a matter of course (they also don’t tend to give credit – which is too bad, Denise Austin sells a LOT of videos).

    However, we do send free samples for magazine photoshoots in return for credit. That’s standard practice. Any national magazine will pay the shipping costs by giving you a FEDEX account number to use and they are very good about sending the goods back.

    Speaking of magazines, we learned last week that we’ve got our first cover shot coming up in the November issue in one of the national pub in our space. Pretty cool.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Speaking of magazines, we learned last week that we’ve got our first cover shot coming up in the November issue in one of the national pub in our space. Pretty cool.

    Cool! Front page? I’ll have to buy a copy you know. that is so great!

  8. jean says:

    I’m so glad to read this — it verifies what I’ve heard from my own silk screener. But I’m wondering, when you say “parties who have not paid for them” are you including magazines/media? (I’m rather thinking yes, since you mention PR people.)

    It took a while but I finally just ordered your book! I know despite the fact I’m in the lowly WOATs/GOATs category it will be a tremendously helpful guide in terms of good business p[ractice (And who knows, maybe even help me to evision something bigger … some day.)

    I thought I had read somewhere that there are sample contracts in the book — does that include a NDA, or can you advise where to find one?

    Thanks for such an illuminating blog.

  9. Megs says:

    Excellent!!! I’m very glad to have read this. I have sent off a couple samples. One was to a blogger who reviewed my piece and did a write up. The piece I sent then was part of a contest for customers.

    I won’t be doing it again. My work is mostly one of a kind and it’s hard to send a sample of something that I wouldn’t want to reproduce.

    Great article!

  10. Beverly says:

    Great timing as usual, Kathleen!

    The retailer in Phoenix is not the only one that is taking advantage of free samples by newbies. One of my clients (a DE doing childrens’ underwear) was recently featured in an apparel trade magazine, much to their delight. The very next day, a retailer in the eastern states, emailed them and told them to send her one of each of their entire line (free, of course) to “see” if they would sell in her 2 stores. Since they offer over 35 choices, this would be a sizeable freebee. Figuring this was the normal procedure, they figured they had to do this, when…

    They called me, and I was able to show them your excellent post. So no free samples went out to this retailer. WHEW!

    This story has an even happier ending. After my clients dispatched with the retailer, a sales rep in the Toronto area called them and wanted to see their whole line based on the photos in the article! She had done some research and found nothing like their product out there. Then she asked her granddaughter what she thought of the product, based on the photos -well, the kid loved them! So she made the call.

    All 3 of us trekked into “the City” to visit her showroom with all the samples. Yes, they invited me along, too! The rep loved the line – said it was very unusual, fresh and fashion forward, and she’s now carrying it! She also gave them referrals for reps out west and some in the USA, too. Delightful woman!

    So we are all grateful for your timely post, Kathleen. If my clients had sent those freebees out to the retailer, they would not have had all their samples to show the rep….and this story would not have had a happy ending.

  11. Sherry says:

    This is why I love this blog and the book! You don’t have to wallow in ignorance and learn EVERY thing the hard way. I am so happy to hear people are coming out ahead by using this information and sharing knowledge.

  12. julia says:

    I had been trying to find an indep. sales rep. to pick up my line, so I advertised (for a fee) to an on line company that posts needs for sales reps. I finally had a call from one guy ( after months of posting)he is a road rep. looking to pick up lines. I don’t think that he was ready for me ,I had just purchased your book so I knew what kind of questions to ask him. A couple of the many questions that I asked were related to purchasing samples and signing a contract.He just emailed me today stating that he does not purchase samples,”he has no need for a bag” and that I would need to write up a contract. My question is this, are they just new to the buisness and they may not understand the standards, or are they trying to take advantage of me? Are they not the ones who are suppost to provide a contract for my review? I almost wanted to try to work with him being desperate for a rep. but thankfully I found this site just in time. Thanks.

  13. Deborah Goodwin says:

    With all due respect, in my career I have sent many a sample out, on spec,in an attempt to get an order. However, I duplicated it from my line sample, had a lot of dialogue with the buyer prior, knew the account, knew why they needed the sample (meetings?show to boss?quality evaluation?),made LOTS of follow-up calls, including demanding the sample back unless they wrote an order NOW, and was prepared to never see the sample again. Plus, I’ve never made one-of-a kind, high-end fashion. But it is quite common for an account, esp. a bigger one, to need to see samples before writing an order. So, you need to know the account (check them out with other designers)follow-up immediately and aggresively until they write the order, and be prepared to kiss the sample good-by. And, to avoid the creep mentioned above who got free samples from people to stock their store, you can get a big SAMPLE stamp to place in an obvious place, and/or mutilate the garment or item, as you have to do anyway if they’re coming in from overseas.

  14. andy says:

    For whatever its worth – through the help of a really nice local police officer, the samples sent to the store in Phoenix were finally recovered (the box was sitting barely touched in some warehouse) – so all was not lost, luckily!

  15. Designer08 says:

    I sent samples to a new magazine that was going to return the items after they were photographed. I actually hand delivered them. Needless to say, I never got them back which also included some one of a kind prototypes and they claimed that all the items were in the trunk of their car which was towed. Needless to say, they disappeared and the magazine never happened. Another learning experience that made me kick myself not to mention what I would do to them if I ever run into them again….

  16. Kim says:

    This is old but, I’m a retailer and I have requested samples from designers, and I’ve sent them back. Not that I disagree with this article, but not all of us are unscrupulous and want free merchandise.

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