If you’re launching a fashion brand, one of the first questions to ask yourself is; should I sell via high street retailers or my own website?
It used to be the case that every new fashion label wanted to get into high street stores. But with the advent of e-commerce and the internet, that’s not such a certainty. Now it pays to consider carefully the best placement for your brand.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. If you have the skills and expertise to create a slick ecommerce website and promote it, then cutting out third-party retailers will help maximise returns while minimising RRP.
For many brands, however, high street shops can be essential for survival. Once you’re in, you’ll begin selling volume fairly quickly, helping you to grow faster and reach out to more retailers. But, if you don’t sell, you’ll lose your shelf spot pretty quickly.
Solillas launched seven years ago and within our first two years we were picked up by Urban Outfitters. Since then we’ve gone on to secure deals with Office, Liberty, Schuh, and Selfridges.
That’s not to suggest that getting into high street shops is easy, so, based on that success, here’s five top tips for getting in with the high street retailers.
- Quality and Unique
High street shops are saturated with great products, with new brands popping up all the time. To cut through, your product needs to be high quality, fairly unique and supported by a strong brand. Retailers need to protect their own brand, so items of a substandard quality are likely to be rejected immediately.
One way to convey the quality and uniqueness of your product is to tell its story. How did you arrive at the design? What are your manufacturing principles? Where are the items made and using what materials?
For example, footwear is a hugely oversaturated market. However, no one was selling shoes based on the traditional Spanish design, and produced in Menorca. That was our unique twist and made for a good story. It really helped retailers understand our product.
- Find Your Position in the Market
Look for sub-markets that you can align with. Our footwear, for example, shared similarities with other traditional-inspired footwear like Birkenstocks. By looking into this specific market, we could position ourselves alongside a brand that was already established, and retailers could immediately understand the key points of difference.
Finding your position in the market can also help you get to grips with any regulations that you need to comply with. The EU has some of the strictest regulations in the world, so it can be useful to start there, and the UK is expected to follow similar frameworks post-Brexit.
When it came to our manufacturing process, for example, we needed to consider the source of our leather, the tanning methods, the design and support needed in the sole. With sales, we needed to consider where we wanted to base our head office and our distribution centres; how we paid tax, import duty, and VAT; what to do with the information held on customers; and how we kept any payments secure. Then we had to consider our website, its security, cookie information, and so on.
It may sound boring, and to be honest it can be, but slipping up on just one of these compliance issues will expose your inexperience and see retailers recoiling rather quickly. They have their own reputation to protect, so won’t be interested in any product that puts that at risk.
- Choosing Retailers
Limit the retailers you contact to those which align with your brand. If your brand is high-quality and handmade, for example, then you won’t want to be associated with a budget retailer and they probably won’t want to stock your product.
Make a priority list of retailers based on how closely they aligned with our brand, then gather contact of their buyers from their website or through LinkedIn. Find out what they need from you to move on to the next step. It will usually involve a sample and some marketing materials, followed by a face-to-face meeting. But every retailer is different.
- Choose a Deal You Can Over-Service
Choose retailers that you can continue to make happy within the deal agreed. If a retailer puts high demands into the deal that you will struggle to service, then you’ll constantly find yourself on the back foot and the relationship probably won’t last long.
If, however, you can get a deal which you think you can easily over-service, then you’ll keep your retailer happily reordering for years to come and have a fruitful relationship. Never take a deal you’ll have trouble servicing just because you like the retailer – it’s probably not worth it in the long-run.
- Marketing Your Brand
Some retailers impose restrictions around marketing, others expect you to lead the marketing. Demonstrating that you are working to spread the word, tell the story of your product, and create your own sales is likely to improve your retailer relationship.
For many fashion brands, high street retailers are the perfect way to go. Our footwear is pretty unique, and while that helps make a point of different in-store, online customers are less sure about what they are getting. They need to be able to see the product, pick it up, and try it on in order to really understand it. In-store placement allows for the hands-on interaction that really sells our footwear. And once we had our foot(wear) in one door, others keep opening for us!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonnie Matthew is founder of Solillas known for its bohemian update on a traditional Spanish leather sandal, crafted in the Balearic Islands.
Designed out of their studios in London, every pair is still lovingly handmade using premium leathers in second generation family factories in Spain, using traditional techniques and classic stich-down construction.
First launched in Urban Outfitters in the UK in 2012 and now sold nationwide in OFFICE stores, Schuh, Selfridges, House of Fraser and Liberty.
Having been credited with pioneering the trend for Balearic sandals in the UK, Solillas won, in 2015, Best New Business at the Drapers Footwear Awards and as well as receiving finalist places in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 for numerous Drapers awards including Best Women’s Fashion Brand and Mainstream Brand of the Year.
Last year Solillas gross sales topped £1m and since 2014 they have sold over 100k pairs.
To date Solillas has been fully owned and funded by its founders, husband and wife Jonnie and Sarahjayne Matthew.
Solillas crowdfunding at https://www.seedrs.com/solillas
For more information see: https://www.solillas.com/