I spent nearly 2 1/2 hours talking on the phone with “M”, a retailer who’s expanding into manufacturing (she’s so brilliant I almost feel I should be paying her). As is usually the case, we swing off on tangents, kvetching over DEs. As a retailer, “M” has had ample opportunity to see what problems new designers can create for themselves on the sales and marketing end of things. Here are some of her comments (so it’s not just my opinion). The biggest problem are unrealistic expectations and inappropriate priorities.
“M” says that DEs who don’t have a sales rep are more likely to rely on mail pieces to sell their products. While you do have to start somewhere, DEs don’t realize that glitzy piece-mailers and catalogs are a turn-off to retailers because it’s not what they need. Many promotional pieces are designed as though they were intended to appear in Vogue magazine but those are unhelpful because the retailer needs to know the particular features of a product in order to sell it. An art piece cannot convey that. Simple line sheets with feature content is your best bet. DEs have a similar problem with hang-tag design. “M” mentions that not only do most consumers read hang-tags, they read them avidly. Your hang tags should educate the consumer and retailer regarding the benefits of your product. Retailers also dislike glitz because they know they’re paying for it since the cost is rolled into your pricing and they resent paying for something they didn’t want or need. Similarly, they’ll wonder how much of the product’s price is directly related to one’s failure to prioritize spending in other areas they don’t know about. “M” says a DE could load the pretty stuff onto a web site -retailers are rarely motivated to visit- but that it’s fine for marketing to consumers. Just remember that if you sell on web to consumers, you can’t undercut your wholesale accounts. You can’t sell products at a lower price than your retailers. You are allowed to put your stuff on sale but the benefit needs to extend to your buyers; the discounting must be a planned event and not because you’re short on money this month.
Selling at market has changed because many retailers are not buying at market anymore. “M” says that most buyers have filled 95% of their OTB (open to buy) before they ever get to market which means they’re relying on reps or the DEs to come to them first. They just go to market to validate what they’ve already bought and to make sure they haven’t missed that one hot item. For this reason, more retailers are receptive to a first approach from designers at the store level. By the way, if you sell the stuff yourself and get a sales rep later on, make sure you keep your previous accounts as “house accounts” and have those listed in your representation contract with the rep. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying your rep 10% for these clients you managed quite well on your own. Unless of course you’d like the rep to assume the duties of servicing that customer.
Eventually you’ll need a rep and it’ll take time to build credibility so you shouldn’t expect much until after several markets because the sales rep is not going to move other products they represent out of the way and put yours up front; it’s the opposite. Your stuff will be in the back until the rep meets with a buyer who’d be more inclined to take a risk on you. “M” says switching reps frequently is a red flag to buyers. You have to give the rep time to sell your products. Once you gain credibility by filling your purchase orders, the rep knows you’re able to weather the vagaries of manufacturing and your product line will gravitate forward in the booth. If you fail to deliver your products as promised and on time, it makes the rep look bad to the buyer and could affect sales of other lines the rep sells. Developing credibility takes time, over time. For this reason, acquiring house accounts (before you get a rep) can lend credibility to reps and buyers.