What Apparel Retail Buyers Are Thinking About Your Product and Other Trade Secrets

This is a special one folks. This interview is specifically for vendors and brands looking for insight into what kinds of things retail buyers look for. Ever wondered what happens when a buyer takes a look at your product? How they decide whether to order the item you have so carefully crafted? Then this one’s for you.

Through our industry connections, Hubba is able to bring you an exclusive conversation with a luxury handbag buyer to show you exactly what she’s looking for in a product assortment (not sure what that is? Definitely read on). Find out where you might be straying from the sacred path of fashion, quality and price and what you might be doing that is preventing you from actually landing that all important Big Deal. Read on and jump on Twitter to share your favorite insights!

H: Can you walk me through the journey of buying a handbag?

B: The journey is super exciting, I see handbags as being the ultimate accessory to every woman’s wardrobe and this category is on the up rise with constant evolution of trends.

For my role as handbag buyer, the journey all starts with determining our customer profile. We have to ask, “Who are we selling these handbags to and what does that customer look like?” In our case, it’s the Canadian shopper and it’s luxury at a value. Every buy we do we think about how to segment our stores to best fit the customer and deliver to them the brands and styles they want. Answering the key question helps us determine the best mix and from there we build our strategy.

There are definitely key core brands we must have and new emerging brands we layer on top. Our core brands we will almost always have a good selection in our stores, but when it comes to evaluating new brands, we use a matrix to help us (every buyer does). Different companies may use different evaluation methods but we typically look at the fashionability, brand, value and quality. In addition to this we break down each brand into segments such as good, better, best. Good is our entry level brands with lower price points catering more to a moderate customer, our Better brands are advanced and look for trendier items, and our Best brands are top tier designer brands that are internationally known. Each of these segments are crucial to our mix and no levels should be ignored, we skew the percentage of Good, Better, Best as needed by market but as long as we have the right brands that showcase fashion, value and quality we are in a good spot!

How do you determine what you want for your stores?

We consider a few things, store profiles are issued by our Demographics and Market analysis team which give us a better understanding of what blend we want for Good, Better Best for that store. Then we break down the brands with this info to develop a well-rounded assortment. Another point we always consider is that things change! And they change often, especially in handbags. A store may be deemed to sit in a Good market but we sales can show later on they turn into a Better store wanting more advance labels and higher price points. This is where we are flexible and take data to analyze daily to ensure we are always chasing into the opportunities.

What do you do when something doesn’t sell?

Buyers are very entrepreneurial, we often own our category as if it was our own store. We want to be close to the product, but closer to our customers so we can predict and cater to them. If you think about it, we have to drive sales and margin while taking risks. In the luxury handbag business there is nothing constant and we can’t keep buying into the same thing. There will be times a Buyer brings in the wrong product, but that is a risk worth taking especially in a trend driven department. We do daily analysis to dive into our businesses to review and action on top ranking styles vs least, what is the selling trend, is it a crossbody season or a tote season, is it black or blush, etc. There are also other reasons why a product may not sell, you bought too much, its priced wrong, the merchandising at store level didn’t reflect the product properly, your too early with trends, etc. But no matter how poorly the item performs, as a Buyer it is our responsibility to figure out what happened and find a solution, the worst situation is for a product sit on the floor taking up real estate.

How do you figure out how much you can sell, how much to order etc? If a Vendor came to you and said i have 40 bags and you only have a certain buy budget, how do you figure out which of the 40 you want to carry?

We work closely with our Planning Partners. They will help us forecast demand and what is needed for each of the stores. It depends on whether you are replenishing a brand or brining it in for the first time, if we have history we use it and if we don’t we use something similar. Understanding store capacity is also important, as you said we have a buy budget so each unit counts. The selection process includes everything I discussed in addition to sales and margin goals. The Buyer’s role is being more product driven in terms of selection, negotiation and building relationships with vendors, and our Planners make the vision come alive at stores with receipt flow, minimum presentation and inventory freshness.

What kind of relationship do you want with your vendor/brand?

We speak with vendors daily, you have to be connected with your sales rep. Being face to face with them often is crucial for building the relationship. Best scenario is to see their assortment in person and sometimes we also end up being part of the design process. If they are launching a new line, we’d be able to make suggestions and ideas (like a new palette), they can take into consideration feedback during our market trips. For instance, majority of my key vendors are based in the US, so I’m travelling there every month, it’s so crucial to actually see and touch the products. Since I buy handbags, I have to pull zippers, see its functionality, carry it etc. As a buyer, you need to think it’s something your customers will buy and at what price.

What can a brand do to improve their relationship with retailers?

They need to understand your business to help drive it. When vendors come on board and cater their sales to you, it’s an awesome partnership. We come to the table saying “these are our goals for your brand” (it could be margin targets, or penetration, or where we see them fit in our assortment) and they can respond with “let me show you what I think will be great for your customers” – this is awesome. They have to show they are thinking about the season and market you’re buying for and providing costing that meets both mine and their goals. They have to be doing what is right for their brand and together we are curating the best assortment for our customer, so it equates to a recipe for success.

Ok, last question—kind of the million dollar question—how do you find new brands to carry?

We look anywhere and everywhere. The easiest place for a one stop shop is trade shows. However we don’t limit our search to just trade shows; now with social media (Instagram, pinterest, blogs, etc). the simple search “new emerging handbag brands” is that much easier. Our team constantly looks online to search our competition, celebrity news, fashion magazines, etc. We try to attend runway fashion shows but are not always possible. In terms of trends, we also get inspiration while we’re in vendor meetings, you just start to see a pattern of key looks for the season, same goes for when you’re at the trade shows.

We want to excite the customer, who always wants to see you’re evolving as a retailer, picking up new brands, and there’s always the chance that some of the new brands might outperform the old favorites. Since we are a true luxury fashion retailer, customers wait for us to show them the latest and hottest handbag brands so we will not stop searching for them!

Wow, thanks so much to our retail buyer for all the insights. Be sure to head on over to your profile on Hubba to make sure your products are looking as sharp as ever, should a retailer swing by for a look.