Choosing Your Sales Strategy

There are a lot of moving parts in developing and launching a brand. There’s designing your collection, pattern and sample development, creating your marketing and branding materials, purchasing fabrics and trims, and identifying your production partner

It may feel like they’re all happening at once. And in some cases, they actually are. But once you’ve got all the behind-the-scenes aspects of your clothing collection clicking along nicely the next step in building a successful brand is to figure out your sales strategy. After all, what’s the use of having a storeroom full of beautiful merchandise if you don’t know how, or where, you’re going to sell it?

Choose the wrong channel and sales can be a slow drain on your financial and emotional resources. Choose the right sales channel mix and you can grow your business and brand beyond what you thought was possible.

In this article we’ll take you through some of the more traditional sales channels. We’ll also guide you through some of the less-than traditional ones. 

As we dive in, consider which channel is the best fit for you or perhaps you want to consider a multichannel approach. The more, the merrier, right?

It’s an Online World, We’re Just Livin’ In It

Unless you’ve been camped out under a rock for the last however-many years the proliferation of online sales can’t possibly come as a surprise. Online selling offers many obvious benefits to a new brand –  including a relatively low barrier to entry– meaning it’s now easier than ever to get started online. 

To do so, you’ll need to set up an online store. Before you recoil in fear, it’s less complicated and “tech-y” than one might think. Once you’ve identified the platform that best suits your marketing strategy you have options on how to get up and running: via a website development firm, a freelance designer/developer, or you can even do it yourself using eCommerce website solutions such as Shopify, Square SpaceEtsy or Wix eCommerce just to name a few.

Some enterprising clothing brands even sell directly through Instagram and Facebook, using social media to their advantage.

Selling online gives you inventory options as well. You can order your garments in bulk from your manufacturing partner then store the inventory to sell and ship as orders come through. Or you can utilize a pre-order or “made-to-order” strategy. With this approach your customer will wait (typically six to eight weeks) while you’re getting their order made and shipped out. 

Either way, we love the online approach because you collect 100% of the income, as opposed to sharing the profits with a retailer. What’s more, you can get sales for a season or two before jumping into wholesaling, giving you time to  iron out any kinks in your systems.

Pro Tip #1: Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “Drop Shipping”? For some new brands this is a viable alternative. This involves your goods being sold online via a store that is not your own. The online store presents your collection and the customer buys from them. You fulfill the order by sending the goods to the customer from your warehouse. Keep in mind though, for the convenience of selling on someone else’s site, you’ll pay a fee. Typically you split the sale 50-50 (but this can depend on the particular dropshipping site you use).

Your Own Brick-and-Mortar Boutique

If you’ve ever dreamt of being a shopkeeper brick-and-mortar retail may be right for you! The advantage to this selling channel is very real; it provides an opportunity for you to showcase your collection in a controlled environment, while giving the consumer an opportunity to experience your brand exactly the way you imagined.

Retail does come with large expenses – build-out, rent, staff, overhead, and a large investment in inventory – but it provides you with invaluable advantages: a direct link to your customer and a platform for your brand to gather feedback on styles including fitting, pricing and your selection. 

It’s also the very best way to see if your “target audience” is indeed the person you’d imagined. Often designers imagine their customer in a specific way but it’s not until they spend some time on the retail floor that they see who their customer really is. It is truly the best marketing research there is…playing out in real time, with real human beings.

What’s more, just like online selling you keep 100% of the income.

If you’re not quite ready to take on the expense or responsibility of your own brick-and-mortar store, consider the pop-up or pop-in shop option. You’ll still get in front of your target consumer and get their feedback, but over a limited time period.

A Pop-up shop is where you take over an empty retail space and you create your own store. Of course, it’s best to find a vacant space in a busy shopping district with a lot of foot traffic for optimum visibility. Commercial landlords are typically quite open to the idea of a pop-up shop in their buildings. After all, it’s better to have some rent coming in, than none at all, right?

Pop-in shop is where you set up inside another shop. In fact, you could set up a pop-in shop inside the store that is interested in stocking you so they can see how well your product does before they choose to carry your brand.

Pro Tip #2: Invite other brands to join you in your pop-up or pop-in location. By doing so, you reduce the relatively low-cost of this selling channel even more! And think outside the box when choosing your roommate. You don’t need to choose another clothing designer. Jewelry designers, artists and creative people are always looking for good locations to sell their wares. Just make sure that the brand you choose has a complementary aesthetic to your brand.

Go Old School: Wholesaling

This is the most traditional and enduring sales channel of them all. And with good reason – it works.

Wholesale is a B2B (business-to-business) channel – you sell your goods into stores and to other businesses including online retailers. Wholesale is a great opportunity to expand your sales and to reach a wider audience than you might be able to do on your own. 

By choosing an established retailer with a solid reputation as a sales partner you effectively benefit from the hard work they put into building their business. Fact of the matter is, for many fashion brands wholesale is the backbone of their sales strategy.

There are a couple options if you decide to go this route. You can be your own sales agent – attending trade shows, contacting retailers, and “cold-calling”. Conversely, you could sign on with a wholesale showroom or hire an agent.

An agent or showroom already has relationships with stores and buyers, and are more likely to get you better sales since they already have these relationships. But for this an agent will take anywhere from 10-15% commission on sales, as will a showroom (plus a showroom fee). 

For wholesale to work well for your brand you have to:

  • Sell in line with a retailer’s buying seasons. These seasons may be on a different schedule than a direct-to-consumer sales channel
  • You have to have your production processes well-established with delivery taking no more than 3 months from order. What’s more, you need to plan well and deliver on time as stores may actually refuse to accept an order that is late
  • You’ll need a lookbook, linesheet, swatch cards and order form ready (these should be digital as well)
  • you have to have room in your pricing to allow at least a x2 markup for the retailer

Don’t forget to consider attending a trade show. If you’d never attended, a fashion trade show is an education in itself. What’s more, it’s a great way to get in front of store buyers in an environment that truly represents your brand. The exhibitor fees can be a bit steep so check carefully if your budget will allow it (plus the travel costs involved). 

Consider shows like MAGIC, LA Market Week, or Designers & Agents (aka D&A), just to name a few. Smaller markets such as Atlanta, Dallas and Portland also have their own fashion week trade shows and are considerably more affordable than the major markets.

To have a successful trade show you’ll need to have:

  • a great booth / display
  • a clear outline of your ordering process
  • clear delivery dates
  • sales staff who can SELL (maybe that’s you?)
  • pricing that allows for a good cut for the retailer
  • a signup platform – like an ipad on a stand or a guestbook so you can collect email addresses

So, there you have it. Once you’ve made your decision on a sales channel(s) for your collection we advise you to do even more research before signing on the dotted line. And don’t forget, whatever you decide, it’s not permanent. If, after a season or two, you find it’s not working out the way you expected you can always switch it up! 

At Teg, we’ve seen designers start with online sales, only to add in wholesale as their brands grew. If all the sales channel options have your head spinning, it’s not a surprise. In fact, it’s one of the most common discussions we have during our mentoring sessions.

Sometimes it helps to have a sounding board. Feel free to give us a call at 800-916-0910 or reach out to us at https://tegmade.com/get-in-touch/.

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