Unlocking Retail: How to Captivate Buyers’ Interest and Build Lasting Partnerships

Unlocking Retail: How to Captivate Buyers’ Interest and Build Lasting Partnerships


For every new designer and emerging brand, the moment
your creations are launched at an online retailer or on the rails of a shop floor at a retail store is a significant milestone. It encapsulates the hard work, creativity and determination to run a successful business in the fashion industry.

The journey to having your products available to purchase at a boutique or multi-retail store usually begins with catching the attention of a store owner or buyer, which can be more challenging than it sounds. Approaching a potential buyer starts with knowing your brand identity and being able to confidently answer any questions that come up along the way. 

“How do you differentiate yourself, and do you have a point of view or a distinct DNA that shows up in your collection?” asks Chrissy Kim, Women’s Advanced and Emerging Ready-to-Wear Buyer at Bergdorf Goodman, where The Folklore helped to launch jewelry brand V.BELLAN last year. I ask questions about your production, and delivery capability; those are all important things to consider.”

For Sharmaine Harrison, Senior Buyer for menswear at Saks, which is one of The Folklore’s enterprise retail partnershaving a brand that stands out and has an “echo” is something she looks out for when considering taking on a new brand. “For me, the most interesting thing is something that we don’t already have. If a shopper is coming in [store] once a week or they’re scrolling on the site all day, you don’t want to them see the same things over and over again.”

Interest from other retailers, social-media reach and famous customers could also add to a brand’s appeal for a buyer. “We also like to look at where the brand is carried, or if it has a strong social media presence,” notes  Harrison. “Are there a lot of celebrities wearing it? Do I see it walking down the street or when I’m out shopping? I want to know how your brand building is; is there a buzz in my ear saying ‘this is something we should look at?’”


ISRAELLA KOBLA
ISRAELLA KOBLA

Along with a strong brand identity, strategic positioning, and concise communication, thorough research on retail partners is of huge importance. “The most important thing that I would say is: be very concise,” advises Harrison. “If I get a 20 or 30-page deck, I’m probably not going to read the entire thing; we’re very busy, especially during market season.”

Kim likens the process to a job interview, stressing the need for targeted outreach. 
“Do your research on if this is the right retail brand for you. Then it’s about getting your ‘resumé’ in front of the right person,” she says. “Often, I get a lot of emails about home goods, menswear, jewellery – it’s about going the extra step to find the right person and start the conversation.”

Timing is also key when reaching out to retail buyers. “If we’re going into market season or fashion week, and I’m getting slammed with emails, and lookbooks, and showrooms to check out – this is the busiest time for a buyer – I won’t be able to give it my attention,” Kim says. “Just be aware of the process and timing – you wouldn’t reach out to a HR manager at Christmas. Do your homework.”

For many emerging designers today, social media has provided an almost instant way to reach not just potential customers, but retail buyers and collaborators that can help take their brands and products to the next level. 

Emefa Kuadey, the creative director behind Toronto-based womenswear brand ISRAELLA KOBLA, saw her first wholesale order come via social media. “It started on Instagram. I really noticed that once we elevated the quality of our imagery and started being more consistent online, people were watching,” she says. “A local boutique reached out to me, we had a meeting and I sent some samples, and now we work together frequently.” Kuadey’s brand has since seen great wholesale success with the likes of Wolf & Badger and The Bay.

That said, the old-school, physical approach still has some merit. New York-based designer Sade Mims found the door-to-door approach benefitial for her accessories brand EDAS, which has been stocked at Selfridge’s, Nordstrom, Farfetch and Shopbop. “I would go into stores and just pop in with our items. Whether it’d be Fifth Avenue or somewhere in Brooklyn, I would pop into a store, introduce myself and give them my whole story,” she recalls. “That was how I started getting wholesale orders in boutiques. Our first large order was Urban Outfitters and they reached out online around 2018, but my approach for smaller stores and boutiques was very much on the ground.

“I do think when you’re starting out, it’s best to get out there, speak to people in person, which I think gets lost online sometimes,” Mims continues. “These days, everything feels so digital, but that in-person connection is very valuable.”

EDAS handbags
EDAS

The transition from a D2C (direct-to-consumer) business to being a retail supplier is something every brand has to balance delicately, while factoring wholesale viability, trends and market demands into their collections. But the first step is knowing the right time to make the leap. “For me, it was just the right level we were getting from D2C, and people were talking about the brand, which felt like a great time,” says Mims. “It does give you some confidence about your product. It was after about a year of solely doing D2C that we felt ready.”

Some designers take a trial-and-error route, which Kuadey can relate to. “One of the mistakes I made in the beginning was thinking everything would fall into place,” she says. “You need to take control of the planning and strategy to get not just the pricing right, but also the timing of your releases. Timing was a big thing; I realized I needed to work with the wholesale calendar.”

But like with most things in life, being adequately prepared is half the battle. “Because we do most of our work in-house, and partner with manufacturers in Toronto, it was about making sure everything was in place before the larger orders started coming,” says Kuadey. “Things aligned that way but it was all about being prepared and being able to handle the big wholesale orders we were hoping to get.”

While running a D2C brand and wholesale business are two different things, the buyers agree that it gives some designers an advantage when they make the transition. “The great thing about D2C is that you have your own platform. You have all the data about your brand: your bestsellers, your frequent shipping destinations,” Harrison notes. “As a buyer, that information is useful to me. We have a lot of processes but knowing how your brand is marketed, your imagery, the way you style your products; these all go a long way in helping to determine how best to platform you.”

For Kim, a brand’s DTC e-commerce presence is not that important when it comes to considering them for a wholesale order. “It’s more about the designers having the insight into what’s working and what’s not,” she says. “If you start out in D2C and you know what certain classifications work for you, what your price points are and who your consumers are, then you’ll be able to fine tune your product and be ready to present to wholesale partners.

“It’s important to have the control of your brand messaging at the beginning. You want to make sure you have a distinct point of view that you get across to your consumers before it gets to a wholesale partner.”


V.BELLAN jewelry
V.BELLAN

Once you do have a retail partner, and your products are added to the assortment at a store, the work begins on forming and maintaining a successful working relationship. When it comes to nurturing retail partnerships, open communication and flexibility are key factors for success.

“The most important thing is good communication,” says Harrison. “We understand that you are a small brand – you have a team of one, or you operate overseas – but as long as you communicate with me and tell me what’s going on, and ask questions, we can work through it.”

Kim concurs, saying, “It’s like any relationship: communication is key. If you have any hurdles or surprises along the way, say them upfront because we can always find ways to work around them. Especially for emerging and new designers, there are many pain points to work through, but if we are determined to get you into our stores, we’re going to make it happen. Being open and honest with yourself and your partners will go a long way for both parties.”

It goes both ways, and designers should expect clear communication from buyers, too. Mims and Kuadey both highlight the importance of soliciting feedback from buyers and sales associates, as well as maintaining a visible presence within retail spaces.

“Ask questions about how the product is doing, where it’s located on the shop floor, or go a step further and visit the stores to talk to the sales associates to get feedback on the product,” advises Mims. “I also invite buyers into my studio for a chat or a coffee, to let them see our evolution and how the brand is developing in person. I think in-person interaction is so important.”

Kuadey underscores the importance of in-person interactions, emphasizing the value of personal connections and product knowledge sessions with sales associates. “Taking the time to teach them about your product makes them invested in it,” she says. “Being flexible, and having open communication with the people selling your product will always be useful.”


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