Learning About New Markets
Lets take a concrete example...we'll assume that you are currently based
in Europe and trying to work out whether you should be looking East to
the Gulf or West to North America as your source of new retailers to
work with. As with most things in life the best information comes from
the locals. So whilst you should definitely do some homework on both
potential new markets there are methods other than travel guides and web
research that you can employ before you hop on a plane.
Step 1: Good Desk Research
Start with a combination of checking out the latest shopping and travel
guides in your nearest bookshop. Invest in copies of the best and
subscribing to a handful of Twitter, RSS and similar feeds from key
writers and bloggers based in your potential new market.
Personally, I love a dose of Daily Candy!
From this selection identify key retailers and hot designers and
start looking for trends in who stocks what as well as sartorial styles.
Step 2: Make New Friends
One of the advantages of being part of a network such as NOT JUST A
LABEL is that you are part of a global network of emerging designers. So
rather than rely on the published word, why not connect to your peers
and ask them for the inside track on their local independent retailers?
Also, enquire after their buying preferences of the regional outlets of
global department stores such as Harvey Nichols. Of course you should
expect to give as well as take, so offer to give them an update on
what's happening in your local market. If you're lucky you'll exchange
introductions to buyers and writers.
Step 3: Ask Your International Clients
If you are selling through NJAL you'll probably have sold to some
international clients already. As you will have kept their contact
details (this is important) and pampered them with your nice packaging
and hand written notes (this is equally as important) they will be more
than happy to have a conversation with you about their local market,
trends and retailers. Most people love being considered to be an expert
so solicit their opinions as they are likely to be more expert than you
on this point.
Step 4: Plan to Visit a Trade Fair or Fashion Week...
...particularly outside of the global fashion cities of London, New
York, Milan and Paris. Fashion sector activities may well be less
visible to outsiders, combined with other creative showcases or
organised outside of the two key fashion weeks in the year. Nonetheless
it is vital to visit these before incurring the costs of runway shows in
multiple cities! One sure fire way to blow a lot of cash is to book
stands at fashion events you have only learnt about from the folks
trying to sell you the space.
If you are hopping on a plane to do some research in person, not only
is it worth meeting up with your peers but it is worth taking a few
samples with you so that when you visit independent retailers you can
show them more than just look books if they demonstrate real interest.
If you can book meetings in advance with retailers rather than just
show up and ask for a meeting, so much the better. It comes across as
more professional and they know you have not just made the investment in
the travel but in preparation for it too.
The value of your samples, particularly if you are manufacturing in
low volume in your atelier, will demonstrate the quality of your work —
something many experienced buyers will look for when consulting with
emerging designers. They need to know that your sizing and finish is
consistent and in line with the rest of the designers they stock.
A few things to look for beyond the aesthetic style differences globally:
Do look at the price tag! You can do this not just in a boutique but
also online. Again, why not use NJAL site to see how prices for a dress,
skirt, trousers vary depending on where a designer comes from? For
example, you will find the average prices for pieces from Beirut
designers are noticeably higher than those of their European
Payment Terms - When Will You Get Paid?
If you are shipping wholesale orders you need to be paid at least 50% up
front and more if they are a new customer. It wouldn't be fair to cast
aspersions on individual countries here but let's just say that not all
countries pay their bills on time or at all!
Do check which law you are operating under and if necessary use a
local agent or lawyer to handle the deal if it is financially
Consignment - When Is It Worth It?
Sometimes it is worth being able to say that you are stocked
internationally. This is particularly true in geographies where saying
you are stocked in London (for example) increases your cache with your
local client base. In the long term however it is bad for cashflow and
doesn't do enough to encourage retailers to invest time in developing
the customers for your work.
What does the NJAL sales data say about where the best markets are around the globe?
As I have partnered with NJAL on this series of sporadic articles on the
business challenges of the fashion sector, we have the privilege of
being able to review and analyse some of the headline data generated by
the sales on the site, so here's a few tidbits:
- the USA, UK and Europe are the big three markets for NJAL sales but
whilst they sell roughly equal amounts in terms of numbers of items
sold, the USA is worth 50% more than either the UK or Europe in terms
of the monetary value of goods sold. This is because although the number
of orders is smaller from the US, the customers order higher value
With all this talk of international expansion don't forget that
Pareto's Law (more eloquently known as The Vital Few) says that 80% of
your turnover will come from 20% of your customers. So don't forget to
look after your existing customers!
Sarah Thelwall is founder of MyCake, an online finance and
benchmarking toolkit for creative businesses and the arts & culture
by by Sarah Thelwall / NJAL