In yesterday’s post, we discussed some of the factors involved in how retailers choose which bras to buy, focusing mostly on past sales experience, quality, and price. Today, I want to continue the discussion with even more considerations that go into a yearly buying plan.
In a perfect world, retailers would have an infinite budget to bring in all of the gorgeous lingerie on the market. In the real world, we only have so much budget and open cash flow, and with literally, hundreds of new styles and colors available every year, impulse control is essential. Overbuying quickly leads to issues, ranging from decreased ability to write special orders to excess debt to potentially closing the shop’s doors permanently. As a result, it’s important to set a budget and choose styles which have the most likelihood of optimizing that budget. Here, inventory turnover is key. If it is a fashion style, you want it to sell quickly and at full price; if it’s a continuity bra, you want it to sell often. This also applies to your size assortment too. If you sell a 32DDD 10 times more than a 28E, it stands to reason you want more selection in the former size. Unfortunately, this means some truly exceptional pieces never make it to your store, but it’s more important to stay in business than it is to bring in everything you want.
The Size Rotation: Whose turn is it?
I couldn’t think of a more professional title for this section, but when you carry 120+ sizes in your shop, not every size is going to get something new all the time. There has to be a system for rotating in new basic and fashion items based on your current assortment. If I just spent $1000 this month on my 32-38E-J customers, then I am not going to be spending another $1000 on them next month too (unless, of course, a miracle happens, and everything I bought last month sold out). Instead, I’m going to shift my focus to another size cluster and then another until I eventually rotate around to that size range again. Not only does this ensure the inventory stays fresh, but I think it also helps customers not feel left out from my buying plan. If I only bought new things for one size range, my other customers wouldn’t feel appreciated or like the store was interested in addressing their demands.
Retail stores only have so much space without broaching the topic of expansion (don’t even get me started on upfitting), meaning they have to maximize the dollar value of inventory vying for space. One of the worst things is dead inventory hogging valuable space on your sales floor. Sometimes, you can purchase new storage units which help you organize products more efficiently, but in other cases, you have to use sales and clearance to clear the excess before bringing in new products.
When a bra releases can be almost as important as everything else I have written in both posts. In some cases, there are scheduling conflicts where several amazing bras are all releasing within the same, lets say, six week time frame, but you only have so much budget to spend. Other times, an otherwise fantastic bra may release in what is a traditionally slow period for your shop, making it unwise to tie up cash flow. For example, I reign in spending and new purchases between October and January because our sales drop from the successful summer months.
Lest my earlier statements about the popularity of purple lead some to believe I would adopt a monochromatic fashion palette, I also take into account the overall mix of my inventory. Striking the perfect inventory mix is a complex, ever-changing dance in which retailers participate. With fashion items selling out, old styles being phased out or discontinued entirely, and new demands arising, it’s challenging to determine the right proportion of sizes, colors, and styles in your shop. When planning new inventory purchases, you must examine your existing inventory as well as any open orders you may already have. This is true for both basic or fashion purchases. It’s important to have a diverse selection in your best-selling sizes, not just of basics but of fashion items as well, but you also need to cater to the less common sizes too. In some cases, this means complementary new products or styles, but in others, it involves bringing in something completely new to satisfy increased demand for a particular size cluster or bra style. With specific regard to fashion colors and prints, I also think it’s helpful to consider group appeal. I try to choose prints and colors which are harmonious with the other inventory, and since my customers seem to have similar preferences, this is actually pretty easy. Many manufacturers, when discussing new fashion colors, often talk about “groups” or “hangs well together” because it helps sell multiple products to one consumer. In any given season, most manufacturers—if they don’t use a unified color palette and theme altogether—have clusters of colors/prints that are pretty similar. Two companies which succeed well here are Eveden and the Little Bra Company. Eveden subscribes more to the groups philosophy and has even started a panty program in Freya, known as Fancies, designed to work interchangeably with certain collection. Little Bra Company, on the other hand, finds a way to work with a seasonal palette so that every style works well, and the matching coordinates for one bra could easily substitute for another.
The Company Itself
To be totally blunt: If I hate dealing with a company, I scale back what I buy from them or cut them out altogether. If you make me put out metaphorical fires week after week, drop my orders, don’t answer my emails, do not process payments, and/or generally are a pain in my butt, I don’t care how good a product you produce, I am going to find ways to replace you or work around you. I won’t name names (this time), but there are definitely companies we no longer work with or those where we only carry the products we absolutely have to carry.
Order Minimums/Terms Agreements/Markup/etc. — Aka Future Post
This category doesn’t apply so much to brands with whom we have existing agreements, but we are always searching for new growth opportunities through brand expansion. Engaging in a supplier relationship usually involves analyzing not only the products the company offers but also what kind of agreements they have with retailers and the marketplace as a whole. There’s a lot involved here ranging from how much product we have to buy to carry their products to how their payment structure works, so much so that I think I will save this for an entirely separate post later this spring.
Special Considerations for New Basics
While most of the above constraints, like budgeting and quality, all factor into choosing new basic or core styles for the shop, there are also some special considerations applied here. First, past sales can still be a useful tool for figuring out which core styles to carry in your store. Just as you can look at what basic styles sell well to determine which fashion items to purchase, the same can be true in reverse. For example, the Cleo Marcie has always performed strongly in our shop, which is why I jumped at the chance to carry it in both new basic colors. Of course, as with the earlier example of the Amelia, there are some bras which perform well specifically because of the fashionable aspect and thus would not make good basics, but by and large, with my shop, I have found people prefer basic colors. They may buy one or two pretty bras a year, but the rest are some variation of a neutral color.
In addition to tracking sales, the inventory mix is another key factor in determining new basics. Sometimes a fantastic style is discontinued (I am looking your way Natori), and you need to replace it Other times, a style is under-performing and needs to be phased out then replaced. I have mentioned before that I tend to focus my inventory mix into size clusters, and that is especially true of basics. Basics are our stock and trade and compose the majority of our business. As a result, it’s important for us to have multiple options for multiple breast shapes for multiple women in each size cluster. It’s also important to have the right mix of neutral colors too. Beige and black dominate, but it’s good to look at some in-between colors like mocha or cappuccino too. With basics, I am always looking for new products to make the inventory more rounded, and for some size clusters, I’m on the lookout for any style. Period. There are definitely areas where our inventory is weakest, wireless bras and small cups to name a few, and we’re working to rectify that this year as our budget allows.
With basic bras more than fashion, we tend to branch out and try new styles. Whenever you try a previously untested style, there is going to be some risk, especially if it is a size I cannot personally test. In these cases, I sometimes rely on feedback from sales reps or other retailers, but that is not without risk either. I have some truly exceptional sales reps, and then I have some who . . . well, not to be mean . . . just aren’t. One rep convinced me to buy bras when we first opened that were discontinued less than six months later. Ultimately, they were donated to TROSA, and I learned a valuable lesson about trusting my instincts and doing the legwork. Even with experienced retailers, the recommendations sometimes to do not work from store to store. Each boutique is different, and each customer base is different. It’s hard to ensure a recommendation from one shop will work in another. For me, I love to read reviews and check Bratabase for feedback on fit. Sometimes I will try out new styles on customers through our special order policy before making a decision.
Hopefully this series has provided you with a better understanding of some of the factors which influence a retailer’s decision to stock certain bras. It’s not that we don’t want to carry your size or to carry that gorgeous bra you absolutely adore. It’s that we have to consider so many different buying components, and with a huge plethora of choices, some are not going to make the cut. But, hey, that’s what special orders are for!