Do you feel like you really have a handle on things and that you’re ready to take your fashion business to the next level? Before you develop any growth stage plans, find out if you’re actually ready to scale and seven ways to make it happen!
It seems simple enough- implement new strategies or build out your team and watch the additional revenue pour in. In reality, that can’t be farther from the truth. You have to have a solid, healthy business foundation in place or your brand and bottom line can suffer in a big way.
Your fashion business may be ready for the next level if you’ve been seeing success in all of your current sales channels and you know for a fact that you have a compatible (and profitable) product-market fit. That means you’ve proven your products are wanted by consumers and that there’s a sizable enough market to grow your business (i.e. as opposed to a niche that is too small, certain handcrafted goods…).
It’s also time to think about growth when you need support. Maybe you’re a solopreneur and you’re unable to do more with your sales and because there simply isn’t enough time. This is when you reach the point where doing it all on your own becomes a major obstacle to your success. Maybe you have a small team of 2-3 people but you’re not able to keep up with all of your business’ needs – and forget about outside opportunities!
In both of these scenarios, you’re preventing your business from taking off and you’re actually losing money by not investing in expanding your team. If you can secure the resources and know-how to do it (capacity building, infrastructure, etc.), scale up by hiring a professional team or by taking on a few additional team members. If that isn’t an option for you right now, scale up by hiring outside help from freelance professionals.
Speaking of resources, what are your finances like these days? If you have the cash flow to invest in building out another revenue stream, go for it! But you don’t necessarily need to have tons of cash on hand to be able to grow to scale. You can also scale up with the help of investments from outside investors.
And finally, it may be the right time to scale up if you dream of creating something even bigger than what you’ve already established. So go ahead and chase those dreams (with the proper planning and preparation of course).
7 Ways to Scale Up
1. Expand Your Market Geographically.
Once you’ve reached a certain level of business in your geographical target market, it could be time to move forward into a new region. This can be done through exploring new wholesale accounts in other regions as well as via expanding internationally online. If you do go the digital route, keep in mind that this isn’t as easy as turning on your shopping cart for worldwide shipping. You’ll have to really dive into everything it takes- including regional-specific marketing and advertising, payment types and currencies.
2. Venture into E-Commerce.
After you’ve achieved a strong wholesale business, it’s a good time to start thinking about selling direct-to-consumer online. A successful e-commerce shop of your own means you’ll be able to enjoy your own well of customer data, more precise branding and increased profit margins.
3. Launch Your Wholesale Business.
The same is true the other way around. If your e-commerce business is solidly established, this may be the time to explore potential wholesale accounts. Think strategically, be selective and remember that it’s better to be in the right stores than in the most stores- maintain exclusivity.
4. Open a Retail Store.
Ignore the news reports insisting “retail is dead” because the industry is only transforming for the better. In fact, for the most part, it’s the bigger brands and big box retailers who are suffering most. Why? Because they continue to present more of the same and they lack a sense of “newness”. If you’re ready to open your own store, by all means go for it. Choose from a single brand or multi-brand shop and think outside of the confines of what already exists. We love what Apolis is doing with their NYC shop. They’ve based their brand and entire business model on social enterprise with production in L.A. as well as places as diverse as Uganda and Peru via advocacy projects.
5. Create a Lifestyle Brand.
You can also scale up via product extensions. Look at your business strategically and assess what should come next. Jason Wu just launched an adjacent product line at New York Fashion Week – branded phone chargers, headphones, Moleskine notebooks and Sharpies!
6. Develop a Diffusion Line.
Target another price point for the chance to reach another group of customers.
7. Get Vertically Integrated.
Start to bring elements of your supply chain in-house to gain short-term and long-term benefits such as greater control over your brand and sourcing and producing for less. You can also create a new revenue stream by manufacturing for other brands!
Need help scaling up? Contact us for personalized support for everything from team building and market entry strategy to brand extensions and CEO advice. Schedule a consultation session today. For DIY international growth strategies and support, check out our e-book, Going Global.
A regular calendar just doesn’t cut it when it comes to the fashion business. You’ve probably heard of the retail calendar before. If you’re not actually putting it to use- you’re missing out. Unlike most relics of old retail, the retail calendar is not going anywhere anytime soon. It’s old school but timeless. It’s your go-to tool to get results and tackle sales planning and forecasting like a pro.
Here’s a couple of reasons why you should start using a retail calendar today…
Account for Variations in Time.
If you take a basic calendar and compare this day last year, you won’t get accurate results. However, the retail calendar will give you a clearer picture of the difference between this time this year and this time last year. This is because it accounts for different variations and variables. For example, this year June 12th falls on a Monday but last year it fell on a Sunday. The retail calendar provides the sales day equivalent of today’s date last year instead of simply the same date a year earlier.
The retail calendar is a 4-5-4 calendar. It allows you to compare sales week over week and year over year with comparable periods of time and standardized variables.
Track Holiday Sales.
The retail calendar lets you understand which holidays fall on which days. Not every holiday falls on the same day every year so it’s really valuable for planning. Use your retail calendar to organize sales/markdowns, newsletters, pop-up shops, events and more. When you know when holidays occur over a few years’ time, you can accurately compare sales performance while understanding the how and why.
Determine Delivery Times.
This calendar helps you determine when deliveries need to happen so you can figure out the best week to drop products. Download the National Retail Federation’s retail calendar to start planning production dates for the next few seasons.
See the Bigger Picture.
Add a retail calendar to your fashion business arsenal! You can look at your brand on the macro level- viewing a year in the past, today and two years into the future. Being able to assess this huge chunk of time all at once is really valuable.
Pretty much everything in the fashion industry is accounted for really far in advance because of the fashion cycles. In August, you’re selling Spring/Summer of next year to wholesalers while releasing Fall/Winter online and in stores. You’re also prototyping and developing samples for Fall/Winter of the next upcoming year. Expect to deal with three different seasons at any given time and use the type of calendar that rises to the occasion.
As a fashion brand owner, there are a few calendars you need to have onboard. Get a marketing calendar, one for sales, an accounting/financial calendar, another for operations and – the most important calendar of them all – the retail calendar. Most of these are based on the fiscal year so they’re not a lot of help when it comes to production cycles. But with the right calendars in place, you’ll have a much more accurate interpretation of what’s happened in your business.
Get a good grasp on the past, the present and the future.
There are several new, bestselling brands that seemed to have come out of nowhere to turn into “overnight successes”. They’ve learned how to cleverly leverage everything from distribution to cash flow to catapult sales. Let’s take a look at the seven characteristics these fashion brands share so you can apply them to your business.
1. Flourishing Brand Loyalty
The best brands that thrive – season after season – are the ones that create connections with their customers through consistent brand touchpoints. Brand touchpoints can cover social channels, pop-up shops, event marketing and both print and digital paid marketing.
Two brands who are doing a clever job at taking press and flipping it into paid digital are The Arrivals NYC and American Giant. The Arrivals NYC is doing a kick-ass job with paid marketing on Instagram. I love how they are taking one piece of press (a write-up from Vogue) and using it to drive conversion through the platform. The Vogue write-up was based on buying your new perfect leather jacket. American Giant has also done an amazing job of leveraging a write-up on Slate and using it for advertising on Forbes. The write-up was about American Giant having the most in demand, perfect sweatshirt.
2. Slow and Steady Distribution
Drop shipment and consignment can make it easy to be in many retailers at once, but this won’t pay the bills. Deliberate distribution can be the difference between having the cash flow to continue production season after season or running out of funds.
Mansur Gavriel launched smart. They started selling at Capsule trade show and instead of letting retailers dictate payment terms they asked for a percentage down with the balance on NET 30. Retailers that couldn’t hang, didn’t, and that hasn’t slowed down this hot brand.
3. Strong Leadership
There are so many decisions that need to be made when running a business. Without a competent leader, there is no head to the ship and responsibilities can be deflected very quickly. Businesses that have multiple founders need to be very careful. It’s important not to have too many redundancies in core competencies. While you all may want to chime in on a particular decision, someone eventually needs to make it and they need to be empowered to do so.
Fashion brand Rhode is an excellent example. Founded by Purna Khatau and Phoebe Vickers, this team divides work and conquers. With one half focused on designing and merchandising, and the other half focused on business development and sales, this team has been able to triple their sales in just a year. If there was no autonomy, how on earth could anything get done?
4. Organized, Strategic Operations
Have your shipping and logistics on lockdown. Brands that sell know how to ship. To scale up orders and get repeat customers make sure your packaging is on point and you have a distribution center set up. Don’t prematurely move to a 3PL (third party logistics) provider until you have a sales/marketing/PR strategy in place (so you know’ll when to anticipate sales).
Do your research so you know who you want to work with when the time is ready. Have at least three conversations with logistics providers. If you get stuck, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, we’ve got a kick-ass ops consultant to set you up properly.
5. End Game Aware
Do you want to sell the brand? Will you always be the head of creative? Understanding where you want to take your business will help you make the right decisions. Brands that want to sell to national department stores versus boutiques take different steps to get there. In order to be a brand that sells and is successful, you have to know the end game so you can make it happen.
6. Consistent Messaging
Yes, there are lots of things your brand could be, but stick to the main message. If you are focusing in the environmental sector be clear about what that means to the brand. Your brand story should be able to hold the collection and marketing for seasons to come. Create a brand bible and reference it as often as you need to get to know the difference between your preferences and how the brand develops its own identity.
Five years down the road you may have a brand that develops a strong following, but your own personal aesthetic may have changed. Your customers may not be ready to grow up with you, so a tough call will have to be made. Risk losing them or continue to create what you know will sell. Brands that stick to the key message become staples.
7. Money Smart
You don’t need to be a CPA to know that money in the retail industry is funny. It’s funny because wholesalers always ask for discounts, they don’t always pay on time, they sometimes cancel orders and you have to invest money into production of samples and production way before you see a penny of sales. E-commerce money is also very risky; you are placing your own buys against sales on your site, so you’ve got to have a plan to get those sales. Do it right and you may see a 70% full price sell-through, do it wrong and you may need to have a steep markdown season to clear out merchandise.
Unlike the restaurant industry where you can get cash in hand the same day, the retail landscape requires balancing a tight rope of cash. In fact, even companies that sell $200M a year (a la The Honest Company) aren’t even profitable. To be a brand that sells you’ve got to have a grip on what cash you need to survive. If you don’t have cash to produce, you can’t sell. If you don’t have cash to produce content and to market, no one will know you exist. Understand money and prepare- this is the key to longevity.
So there you have it, these are the seven characteristics of brands that are selling like crazy these days. Get to work on transforming your brand – step by step – and you’ll really start to feel the results!
Don’t worry, slow selling seasons are completely normal realities of retail! Here’s how you can use them to your benefit…
You are launching your startup fashion brand and you’re pumped up to start pitching. Top of mind is how to best position your brand to wholesale buyers. Often misunderstood, the job of a buyer is not only to look and find cool new products but really to act as an investment banker. Much of what a buyer has to do with wholesale fashion is financially motivated, based on margins, probability of sell through at full price, and minimums. At the same time they are getting that information of ‘sellability’ from a variety of sources. Read on for the five ways to make your brand more sellable to wholesale accounts.
It’s easy to want to protect your sales, and never allow a return. In fact, by the time your website is live, you will probably have your product in such great shape that you can’t even imagine someone even wanting to return it. But returns happen and it’s important to have the right return policy. Returns tell you if a product fits true to size, it tells you if your quality matches up to the price point and if your product copy sizes up to the product. As a result, returns are a great litmus test for startups and growth stage brands alike.
Black Friday is upon us, and as a business that may not have $50,000 for an advertising budget you may want to re-consider what options you have. Not all businesses HAVE to participate in Black Friday or the sales leading to Cyber Monday. Your business is only responsible for catering to your audience. This is not the time to go all out on big campaigns if you are going to be bidding against big retailer budgets. This is time to communicate with your customers and take the time to reinforce your existing relationships.
If you will be participating in Black Friday and other sales this quarter then follow these marketing steps to create cohesive campaigns and see results.
Step 1: Research
You are no stranger at evaluating your own digital platforms, but have you really analyzed it? Spend some time looking into your own platforms to see what people are engaging with. Make note of that content. Is there a core user base of followers on your platforms? These people will come in handy. The more organic your engagement the less your digital advertising spend needs are. If you don’t have much organic engagement then you will want to increase your budget for paid marketing and read on.
I’m not a huge fan of Facebook for Facebook pages, but I do think their digital advertising is really smart. Leverage hypertargeting ad placements to get specific with who ends up seeing your ad. Remember: It’s not about the number of people who come to your site, but the number of people who convert (a.k.a. buy things). Since you may not have a lot of time to test advertising to hone in on your Facebook target market, take an educated guess.
As you monitor and pivot your campaigns you may be able to make some tweaks based on what you find. For these ads you will be creating graphic assets to support it. If you need to hire someone fast to do it I suggest Upwork, TaskRabbit and 99designs. Make sure your ad lands on the right shop pages and that you have supporting banner ads to echo your messaging.
Example messages: Free 2 Day shipping Over $50, BOGO (buy one get one free), Free Shipping with Code HOL15.
Twitter has updated their advertising platform to allow for more dynamic product advertising. If you have an active Twitter account then this is a good option for you. If you don’t then I wouldn’t suggest hopping on Twitter right away just to do these ads. The cool thing about Twitter ads is that they allow you to target your competitor’s handles directly. This will allow you to market to your competitor’s audience. If this is a good fit for you, you will need to reformat and change your ad specs to accommodate this platform.
This is a good platform to use for selling. If you have been on this platform for a while I do suggest taking advantage of dynamic pins. At this moment Pinterest is getting ready to open up promoted pins, so you will have to join the waitlist to be notified when it opens up. When you do engage with dynamic pins and change pricing on your products it will bubble to the top of the feed for your followers.
Tip: Do price changes just for the weekend just to get the visibility.
Until they open up their platform to allow smaller brands to engage in advertising this will remain an organic channel for our purposes. The best way to leverage your organic audience will be through giveaways that generate likes, reposts and tagging.
If you have some time to do research into influencer marketing you may be able to get on the radar of high ranking influencers, but be cautious of high ranking influencers who don’t have much engagement on their platforms. Its too easy to buy followers these days, so if you get awed by an influencers 45k followers see if they have a 5% conversion rate (2,250 likes). To track your sales generated by Instagram use Google short links and alternate the products promoted on your channels by day.
Does your brand have a YouTube channel? Have you thought about partnering with a V-logger (video blogger)? If you have a YouTube channel, you may want to create a short promo video about the holiday season. Maybe it’s a sneak peak into the office and talks about your best selling holiday products. Maybe you are offering ideas on what to give for the holiday. These can be free to produce and be edited very fast. On YouTube make sure you connect the links to your product pages! If you couple this with an ad it could become a place to drive sales for your brand.
Creating a banner ad on your site is a great way to harness your own traffic to convert. Keep your messaging consistent, especially if you have different ad promos running. Purchasing banner advertising on niche market websites is also a great option. Smaller, more targeted publications will also be speaking directly to your customer and they won’t be targeted by larger brands- so do some digging you might find some jewels.
Dedicated Blog Posts/Dedicated Newsletters/:
Similar to the Banner Ads, if you are looking for placement on another parties channel it takes a little time. Do some research into niche markets and find potential partners that your product will make a great fit for. It should be a natural fit, as if their audiences were to say “but of course this product/brand would go in my closet/shelf”. If you do find a great opportunity make sure that you find out the number of people your placement will reach, and what similar advertisements have converted.
Getting in front of your customer has to take on a 360o approach. It’s not enough to rely on digital to get the word out. It does take time to create direct marketing assets, find the right outlets, negotiate pricing and get placed. Long-lead publications take 3 months and smaller ones take about 1 month. Keep in mind that the holiday season is the biggest time for ad spending, next to the Super Bowl. The earlier you plan this- the better. While your timing and budget may be limited there are a few things you can do to generate sales.
Putting together a multi-brand pop up shop can happen very quickly if you already know whom you want to work with. Think about the brands that currently target your same demographic but are selling different kinds of products. Make sure your pricing is aligned, doesn’t make sense to have a luxury brand trying to sell to an entry-level price brand. Check out resources like thestorefront.com to get a read on what spaces are available in your target area. You will need to make sure you have inventory to sell and to make it a cohesive campaign will want to have postcards, stickers for shopping bags and back it all up with some placement on your digital channels.
Having postcards handy are great for passing out at events, leaving them at local coffee shops, mailing out to your existing customer base and to your trusty list of bloggers and editors. Use a beautiful image of your product and include all of your relevant contact details plus a few key words or sentences about your brand. To get extra oomph out of it have small stickers printed up with a few targeted coupon codes. You can stick them on before an event or marketing opportunity to track effectiveness of bounce back to your site.
Print Advertising: Magazines, Newspapers, and Periodicals:
For a last minute strategy this type of outlet can be the toughest to target. I only suggest using these channels as a supporting campaign to your digital or live events. It’s tough to track the conversions on these ads, and even with bounce back codes the conversions can be quite low. Heads up: most print advertising will have longer lead times for deadlines. If you are running out of time but want to include this type of channel then look to weekly publications since they might still have some openings.
Step 2: Outreach
Since you are on a short timeline you need to find out quickly which paid and unpaid channels you are going to go forward with. Start by reaching out to the paid channels first to get an idea of deadlines and cost. Make sure to get all relevant data on the target market, reach numbers, and what assets you will need to create the best campaign ever.
I hope you are great. I’d like to chat with you about November/December ad placement on Man Repeller. Could you let me know what your deadlines are for submission and your ad rates? Right now I am looking into <insert type of ads >.
Step 3: Budget
Now while we would love to do everything on our list of potential outreach, we need to optimize for budget and timing. Normally I would suggest we create the budget based on your overall marketing budget for the year, but if this is last minute here is what I suggest. Set aside a minimum of $50 a day on your digital marketing campaigns until you get some solid data on what is working. This should be evident after 7 days of advertising. Once you get a sense of your responsive target market then up your budget and keep trekking.
Creating graphic assets, while echoed throughout this guide, is often overlooked. This aspect can take time and you want to make sure you have the right dimensions and call-to-actions in place. If you aren’t creating these yourself then look to some outside help. A copywriter might also be in your budget if you aren’t the strongest writer. A general rule of thumb your annual marketing budget should be about 15% of your yearly sales. This very much applies to businesses that have tested and gained target insight.
Step 4: Develop Timeline
No matter how much (or how little) time you have a timeline is important. Create an excel spreadsheet with the platforms both paid and unpaid and track it out by week. What channels launch when and what assets need to be finalized by when. Also track your goals and expectations. Are you targeting a niche market? You might have a small outreach but a higher expectation on click throughs and conversions.
Tip on conversion: make sure you have a newsletter pop up ready on your site to capture all these new leads!
Step 5: Develop Assets
Get creative! If you don’t have Photoshop then I suggest using simple graphic design programs like Canva and PicMonkey. Make sure your graphic assets are cohesive, with the same branded fonts and design direction. For this reason it’s best to either have a style guide for consistency purposes or to have the same designer create all your assets and then create the style guide afterwards. Be clear on the dimensions you need and what content can be put on the graphics, or on the text portion of your post. Many ads allow you to create multiple variations to test your image and text, so be sure to take advantage of this.
Step 6: Launch
Whoohoo! You made it. The work is almost over. Remember to be patient and to keep in mind that marketing is a long tail game. The first time you see an ad will you buy it right it away? You might buy it, but you also might not. In many cases it takes up to 3 different social proofs before a potential client converts, hence why I push the multi pronged approach.
Step 7: Monitor & Pivot
Even if your campaign is only 7 days long it’s important to track data on performance. Use your timeline and goal sheet and add your results right next to it. If your campaign is longer, then monitor which ads are performing best and redirect your ad dollars to those ads. Having multiple styles of ads will allow you to compare more effectively. Maybe it’s the image with the model that’s getting the most traffic, maybe it’s the clear product shot. Creating the tests to get the answers you need.
Step 8: Recap
A post-mortem allows you to recap what worked and didn’t work during your campaign. Remember the whole point of doing all of this is to make sales! Over time you will develop the channels that work for your brand but you need to keep records so that next year when you start to plan for Holiday again you can improve your odds of conversions.
Tip: Add a reminder on your calendar for February of the following year to review your recap and start to think about holiday again.
This used to be a very simple answer: two. But in recent years business models have changed on the retail side and on the vendor side. Ever since the market crashed in 2008, retailers have been in the mentality of buy little and buy often. They don’t want to be heavy in inventory and risk high markdowns. This puts brand owners (vendors) in a precarious position with manufacturing. If a vendor doesn’t have the capacity to produce reorders quickly and often then they may loose out on potential sales. Retailers are also looking for more newness more often. They need to keep the retail landscape exciting for consumers. This recent development in inventory management might spin your head and leave you asking: How many collections do I really need to produce?
Lets take a step back within your own business model. What type of business do you want to create? Do you want to focus on slow and sustainable- one collection a year? Or do you want to deliver newness every 3 months in stores? Maybe its twice a year. This is about what drives your desire for brand longevity. How often do you want to do photoshoots, sampling, pitching. You can choose the model, but then you need to stick with it. Consistency is Queen here.
Capsule collections vs. Deliveries vs. Full Collections
There are many ways to deliver product, so lets clarify what they are and how to take advantage of them. Capsule collections have become a favorite amongst brands. Capsules are simply a collection that has about 5-15 skus and are significantly smaller than a “normal” collection size (30-70 skus). I use quotes here because normal is a very subjective word and we all know that fashion is a subjective industry. Brands will introduce capsule collections when testing product ideas or to create exclusivity- limited number of styles and units available.
Deliveries are the dates that your product ships into the stores. Did you know that you could offer to have many deliveries within your full collection? One Fall delivery can arrive 8/30, 9/15, 10/15, 11/1. You can break it up so that there is newness often. And if you pitch and sell it as such, your buyers can then determine how often they want newness.
Full collections refer to the entire collection you are pitching. You can control the frequency by which you release new collections- some brands only sell Spring and some only sell Fall. Other brands do both and include transitional deliveries so there is newness between season.
One comment I hear all the time is: Why are we delivering Spring in February when its still cold out? Retailers know that consumers buy when its needed and that why the “trans” deliveries become an interesting marketing. Trans – short for transitional – is that amazing time of year between spring and fall (Jan/Feb and Aug/Sept), when you are buying markdowns in store and also looking for something new and wearable at that moment.
Once your determine your business model of choice its time to reconcile that with the market. How you communicate that to your buyers is critical. You have to be clear about the deliveries, sku counts and how your product will merchandise season over season. Remember, each collection needs to be able to sit next to one another – one might be on sale and one might be full price but they shouldn’t look like two different brands. When pitching to buyers you will need to be clear about your business model. Your line lists and PO’s should be very clear on delivery dates.
If you are selling online direct to consumer keep in mind that just because you haven’t sold what you expected to sell for one season doesn’t mean it lets you off the hook from creating another season. Too often I hear brands tell me that “its still new to someone”. At the end of the day your brand collections must evolve to tell the story of your brand- even if that’s one collection a year.
So, how many collections a year?
It’s really up to you. Think about your long-term strategy and let’s play with the new business models. This concept doesn’t just apply to new brands. If you are launching a diffusion line, a new retail store or revisiting your current business model, its not too late rethink your retail strategy.