Suppliers have been telling us what they would do if they were on the other side of the sales counter. Now award-winning boutique owner Ellie Sanderson turns the tables
For over 15 years I worked on the supplier chain side of retail, so I feel that I have some level of qualification when writing this piece! While that was a multi-national corporate retailer, we could all learn from them and the way they operate their business.
If I were a supplier, one of the most important things for me would be to develop a business partnership with my retailers; partnerships that can be developed and built upon over the years ahead. A partnership where we agree a contract. A partnership where we discuss an exit-plan, in case it doesn’t work out for either of us.
In many ways, being independent is a bit like a franchisee business model. Key agreements should be:
An agreed area of exclusivity
I don’t mean the usual ‘chuck away’ 20-mile rule. How on earth can that be appropriate given the variables?
Key considerations such as population density needs to be explored, road and motorway networks, public transport links, local demographics, shopping districts and journey time to the nearest competitor.
This has to be managed at source by the supplier, the same supplier who has a road map of the UK with target locations on it that have been considered for all the above reasons.
I firmly believe the ‘let me check my map for your area’ is a thing of the past – that map simply does not contain any of the above.
And, of course, product must always remain rare and exclusive.
Annual sales target in order to maintain that exclusivity
I totally support and thoroughly understand that a retailer needs to invest into a collection in order to have the previously mentioned deal on exclusivity. However, there is more than one way to skin a cat and, with times changing, maybe we could consider agreeing sales targets that include stock purchasing.
For example, If I only buy six dresses from one season for one reason or another and agree to sell a minimum of 40 dresses per year – including those samples – then the onus is on me. That will encourage me to track sales, promote product and review throughout the year. If I am falling short, then I may need to re-invest in more samples to achieve the target.
So what happens if I don’t deliver my agreed target? Exclusivity is reviewed, I am asked to buy more samples and so on. I had done this with one of my suppliers already and it worked a treat for both of us, and really helped develop their brand name.
The shame was that the same supplier then went on to divide its range into three sub-labels and, as a result, destroy the business.
This is a huge area these days, because it covers advertising, imagery, websites and social media.
A franchisee who agrees to a contract with their chosen supplier is given a clear plan of marketing support in advance of purchasing, they are told what collateral they will receive, what online support, what social media support.
I currently buy my product, but I have no idea if the imagery will be powerful, no idea if all products will be photographed. I don’t have an agreement on promoting designer days or any other local events.
It’s kind-of agreed and those who shout the loudest get the most. Surely in today’s market we need to be more sophisticated than this?
If I were a supplier, I would hold focus groups with my main stockists at key points in the year. I would want to know how the year is going, what the customers are asking for, liking, disliking. I would want to know what the most searched dress on their website is, the most watched video, most loved and engaged Instagram post.
I would want to suck up every bit of commercial information to keep me tight to the end customer.
If I were a supplier, I would want to make sure every dress in every store was working. If not, then I would want to know why not. We cannot afford to have dresses hanging on our valuable rail space taking no money and having no interest from our brides. Let’s be honest, it does happen.
Exchanging, re-modeling or refunding is something that should be considered. There are too many examples of suppliers telling stores that they are the only one that can’t sell a particular style.
Bizarrely, I used to believe that, myself. I doubted my own sanity. But the reality is that it is hard for any of us to accept failure. It’s hard for a retailer to accept that they bought a bad dress, and hard for a supplier to admit they made a bad dress.
But we have to learn from these mistakes and change them fast. £1,300 tied up in a dead sample for me is £1,300 that should be buying a better one. It is that simple.
Most of all, if I was a supplier right now I would be looking to see how I could create a responsive and customer-focused supply chain.
Not a supply chain that works to deadlines of media shows, but a supply chain that has the end user in mind… The bride. A supply chain that is responsive to those end users’ buying behaviours; and one that can deliver product quickly as soon as a new trend emerges.
I am very aware in writing this honest view that some suppliers will read it and think I am deluded. Those, I believe, will be suppliers whose own business models rely solely on selling samples, rather than focusing on selling repeats.
It was a clear decision on my part ten years ago to work with labels that understand the need for partnerships and understand the need for transparency. I am lucky to work with some of the world’s finest designers and quality brands, and I am proud that those relationships go back a decade with most of them.
I worry at the moment that our suppliers are being driven by trade shows and not customers. Frankly, that is one big mess…
We are expecting a flood of views – those shared from other retailers and those opposing from suppliers. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org; if you’d prefer to be ‘anonymous’ in print, we’ll respect that.