As I am starting my preparations for Surf Expo (our biggest show of the year) I had a flash back to several years ago, when I was a buyer preparing to travel to the summer trade shows. I remember the preparations for a buyer to be far more challenging than they are for me now as a vendor.
Although I started West Indies Wear in 2006, I was running my business at night and weekends only for the first few years. From 2007 to 2011 I worked as General Manager and Head Buyer for a chain of gift shops in S.Maarten. The founders of this company had sold after nearly 40 years of hard work, building up their little gift business from only one store in the early 70's, to 16 stores and 53 employees. They badly wanted to retire, so I was employed to manage the company for the new corporate owners. Of course this company had been their "life's work" so they didnt just sign it over and disappear, they hung around to teach me, and try to ensure their much loved employee's carried on.
At this stage of my career I had a lot of experience in design, pattern making, grading and production side of the clothing business, but never any buying, merchandising, marketing or retailing. This job was a major learning curve for me, but I absorbed as much of their 40 years of experience and knowledge that I could.
This couple did a lot of trade shows over the years but they insisted a show had to pay for itself. It costs a lot money to attend these trade shows, especially when you are flying in from the Caribbean to NYC for example, so you had to ensure the shows paid for themselves. Here is a photo I took in NYC.
We had to find new things for the stores, and we always looked for what was new and trending. I remember being told to sit outside the show, and watch all the buyers arriving. Check out their clothes, shoes, bags etc, hmmmm navy blue is big this season!
This is what we did BEFORE leaving for the show.
This is what we did AT the show.
This is what we did AFTER the show.
Maintaining the perfect inventory level.
As well as the creative buying side of my job, the new corporate owners were breathing down my neck monthly. I was running this company through the tough years of the Global Financial Crisis, and it was a constant juggle between having enough inventory to reach the increasingly difficult sales targets they set me, but not letting the inventory level get out of hand. I was taught to let those inventory levels drop right back in low season, but not too low that the sales figures drop. I guess that is the hardest thing to balance for all retail buyers.
If I had any purchasing disasters, hopefully it was on relatively LOW units (from my initial 4 store trials) but I was taught to move merchandise around, change displays, try it in different stores, but then DISCOUNT it out. Don't keep it at full price, just swallow your pride and put it on the sale rack. Of course the new corporate owners were breathing down my neck about keeping the GROSS PROFIT level where it should be too, so I had to come up with creative ways to maintain my margins. I usually designed new things to have manufactured in China, India and Mexico so that I had a line of high margin items to create a buffer for those SALE months.
My years as a "retailer" were amazing. I learnt so much in my crash course, but I was lucky to have 40 years experience taught to me by the previous owners, but also to have the corporate owners keeping me on my toes with the "numbers game". I have been doing some research on other blog posts for tips for buyers attending trade shows, and I thought this one was good for small business owners. (click here)
Also the Retail Doc Bob Phibbs, has some really helpful articles for retailers. I loved this one with 6 tips for attending shows (click here). I also found this article called Three Ways to Use Merchandising to Drive Retail Sales (click here) I love how they talk about being resourceful and using what you have to make fresh displays. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money.
I will leave you with this photo of another window display. Lovely.... keep your eyes open for inspiration everywhere. Display is SO very important.
The 3 top pieces of advice I learnt were....
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