16 ways to increase your fashion brand’s profitability this year
A business and insight article by Ben Muis
If you follow the mainstream news, you could be forgiven for thinking that the curtains are coming down on both fashion brands and the retailers that stock them. The continuous bombardment of features highlighting closing retail stores or bankrupt brands and dare I say it, the consequences of Brexit, are at the fore of a high level of negativity.
But there are also success stories, growth businesses in the fashion industry who are working hard to build on their success. The industry is still very much alive, but it is changing. Periods of change are tough because they tend to affect the most established businesses more, but it is not always bad for everyone.
Running a fashion brand successfully means overcoming a huge variety of regular challenges.
One of the many challenges in running a fashion brand of any size is to keep an overview of the total business whilst being forced to focus on pressing urgencies. It is a draw-back of being in what is typically a fast-paced industry. Entrepreneurs are commonly drawn into whatever the daily pressures are, but sometimes you do need to take a step back, look at your business and start a project that will help you grow or increase profitability.
The first reaction might be to put pressure on sales volumes, but even though this is important it is not always required to grow revenue in order to significantly grow profits. The typical fashion business has plenty of opportunities to grow their gross or net margin. To help you see this I have outlined some ideas to consider. Any branded fashion business can probably take at least one action point from this list to kick off a project or add new string to their bow.
I hope that it helps make this year more progressive for you and your team. And of course, if you need more information, advice or support, you know where to find us.
About The Author: Ben Muis
Ben Muis is a consultant, mentor and speaker with more than 30 years of practical fashion industry experience at all levels. He has been involved in more than 20 brands and has a real focus on the improvements to strategies, direction, processes, technology and sustainability that can lead to the increased abilities and subsequent success of a fashion, sports or related business.
01. Communicate - go back to your existing audience and offer them what they really want
How good are you at communicating with the customers or consumers you already have? Do your retailers only hear from you when they need to buy or pay? Do your consumers just get notified when the sale starts? Really think about who you are dealing with and what would be interesting to them. Any increase in the frequency of communication should be interesting to them, not to you. So, your messages or calls should have the purpose to enhance their lives and business if you really want to be valued and front of mind. Don’t sell in these messages but instead make sure you are actually being helpful.
EXTRA TIP: COMMUNICATE.
Get out of your brand for a few minutes and think about who is on the other side. What would interest them that you could find and show them. There is nothing like a brand that cares enough to give advice or include their end-consumers in their lifestyle. Are you a swimwear brand? Do a short series about sun exposure and aftercare. Are you an outdoor brand? Do a real customer review of a lesser known hiking destination. Are you a cycling brand? Get involved by doing a survey of your customers favourite cycling routes and publish it to your customers in a series of articles. You can always put that new top as an advert at the bottom, but the goal here is to generate interest and a sense of belonging. Engage, write, share. Of course, you can make sure that your images all feature your product so that the destination or topic is always associated with your brand’s lifestyle.
Identify good products in your business that are either not as successful as they could be because of their relatively high price or low margin compared to what the market appears to bear. Those products should be looked at closely to see if they could benefit from resourcing or redevelopment to make them more successful and profitable.
03. Create a new sub-brand
Sometimes it is also good to take a step back and look at the big picture when it comes to your brand identity and collection structures. In many cases the brand structure makes sense to the people inside your company. Does it however make complete sense to your customers and consumers? Is there something your brand could realistically add or extend that would put you in a better position to attract more new customers in the next year or so?
Don’t just think about going down in price, also consider going up with a sub-brand. For instance, by doing something that is a collaboration or limited edition, or maybe even benefits a certain goal or charity that would appeal to your audience. The goal here is to get additional customers that won’t alienate or cannibalise your existing ones, so think about this strategy carefully.
04. Sell more through your existing structure and network
There are many ways of doing this, but we will focus on a simple but clever technology solution because many of the other methods are already covered elsewhere in this article.
The system is Stockbase. Their simple method essentially makes the brand’s stock available to the online systems of the retailing stockists. So, imagine you are a retailer with a website showing the products that you currently have in stock. It may be that you chose to buy a certain brand’s jacket or pair of shoes in a variety of sizes and a quantity that you felt comfortable with at the start of the season. Now, a size has sold out (or you never bought it), but a customer is browsing online and wants to buy that size. If they find that the size they want is not in stock they will most likely move on to another retailer. The sale is lost, and the customer may well be lost for the future as well if the other retailer gives a good experience.
However, if the retailer would have had Stockbase linked to your stock levels, the system would have live-checked your stock brand during this transaction. If the product was in stock at your warehouse it will just offer it to the customer without them even realising that this is what is happening. The resulting order and fulfilment are then triggered automatically so that the retailer (and subsequently the brand) can take the sale instead of losing it.
In its home market (the Netherlands) Stockbase is already very established and even independent retailers are reporting up to 14% increase in sales because of having the system linked to the brands they stock.
The brands tend to stimulate the retailers to sign up, because it increases everyone’s sales, reducing the amount of product left at the end of the season and subsequently increasing the average profit percentage for the season. Everyone wins.
If you are interested to find out more, just contact Rodrigo at the London office for more information.
05. New markets - Distribution & Sales
When a brand expands into new territories, it is rare that they have a similar infrastructure and backing as they do in core or home markets. Too often the words ‘we are in Italy now as well’ just mean that a few Italian retailers bought a few dozen pieces each at a trade show. Within Italy, the brand is then still very much unseen or unknown and the additional sales would in that case have been more profitable if it was in the home market. But if there is a market that has shown some interest in your product pay real attention to it.
Finding a partner, distributor, agent or sales team that truly has the belief, desire and drive to help you build the brand to its full potential in that market can be an amazingly beneficial exercise. The key is to put yourself into a position where you can treat that market with the same care and attention you would give your home market, which often means you will have to trust a local partner as your eyes and ears to deliver that care and attention.
06. Add something to your product that encourages repeat sales on your own website
When a paying consumer walks out the door with your products at one of your stockists or when they receive their parcel from your warehouse: what is in the bag, attached to the product or noticed in the box that genuinely enhances the customer experience? If you would buy a winter coat, what do you find in the pocket? A voucher to redeem online for your free polar fleece scarf? If you buy shoes, would you register to receive your free mini shoe care set? Does your graphic T have a competition attached to win festival tickets?
It does not have to be expensive and it can be a non-monetary item like a 6-month subscription to a lifestyle magazine that you negotiated for free because of the exposure their marketing manager wanted.
EXTRA TIP: ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE.
Retailers love it when a brand does something that enhances their footfall. Doing a competition where one or more customers across the country can win something that is in line with the lifestyle of your brand will also make the retailer look good. This also is an opportunity to negotiate enhanced positioning in the window, on the shop floor, by the counter and you will find that even the sales staff will have you front of mind for a while. The benefit of this is amazing. Customers redeem their entry by registering directly with you. You can for instance give away a great prize that is attractive to your target lifestyle group, but in addition could give ‘losing’ entries a discount voucher to your store or to selected non-sale items from your brand in that specific retail store. This would encourage people to engage / register when they buy but to also come back and redeem their voucher (which you can remind them of as often as you like). If you need to do specific product development for this (for instance the free item that you can get with a paid one if you use a voucher), then consider this. The retailer would have to stock the paid item to get the free one, so you can allocate the marketing expenditure to the cost of the product while you still make a profit on the total in most cases.
07. Increase Online Sales
Selling directly to the consumer is usually allot more profitable than selling via retailers and distributors. That does not mean that we do not need the retailers. They have a different level of footfall which cannot be ignored. The same with distributors, they run a country that you otherwise would not make revenue in. The distribution income is extra profit, extra is good. Initiating a further move to online sales enhances your profit further due to the lower overheads associated with online fulfilment vs physical direct retail.
So, what can you do to increase your own, direct online sales? The principles are just like increasing sales in any store, it’s the methods that are different.
08. Create own Marketing channels
What is your audience interested in? What is your lifestyle association? Can you create a channel (blog, vlog, magazine, app) that goes into the topics deeper but is also completely associated with your brand?
This would also attract people that are of the right mindset to later become your customer and an extended audience can stimulate retailers to buy deeper into your brand, not least because you will have an audience to send to them for launches and other events.
09. Spearhead products for target audiences
What one product could you develop that will give new volumes to your sales? Sometimes it is time to think about what most of your customers would buy from you if you had it in the right version and price. This does not mean taking a huge risk, it is more the opposite.
You are looking for a fairly safe bet that you can execute really well at the right price. This one product can be used to guide people back into your or stockists’ stores, preferably because they will replenish it when it wears out.
Not sure which product that would be? Ask your retailers if they could have what they wanted from you, what it would be.
10. Collaborations in sales infrastructure
Joint showrooms, tradeshows and landing pages with other brands increase audience, cross-fertilisation and enhances your exposure and opportunities.
This is a strategic and big impact point. It will take some inspiration, meetings and discussions but the efforts can be incredibly profitable in the long run. Which other companies are serving a level of the market (not necessarily in the same retailers) as your brand? Would you all benefit from combining forces on some levels. For instance, if one of you has a showroom and that showroom could be shared between 3 or 4 brands this would reduce the cost and increase the exposure of each brand instantly. As each of the brands invite customers the other brands also get exposure.
The same applies to tradeshows. Taking a stand as a collective, rather than individual brand, gives negotiating power, more exposure and real savings. A larger stand with sections can for instance share the same bar, transport and installation company. The same principle applies, the brands attract different retailers, but all retailers get exposed to each of the brands to some level. Opportunities to sell more at a lower cost.
11. Offer a real warranty, because product registrations = database expansion
If you are very confident in your products, why not offer a free warranty for a reasonable period? Yes, this does need some setting up but gives several key advantages.
As a brand offering a warranty, you win on the shop floor against other brands when it comes to trust (a key factor in long term consumer brand confidence). Consumers choose to register with you to activate their free warranty, giving you the power to entice them back to the retailer when new ranges are delivered. Maybe you can even invite them to a future special preview evening with a drink in-store.
You can incentivise the warranty registration with a voucher or gift. The resulting entry into your consumer database is valuable as it would have cost you significant advertising funds or effort to find a motivated and spending consumer that has already proven that they are willing to buy your products. Reward them for trying your brand or coming back. Make the promise to look after them real. If you need to find a local tailor or alterations shop to help you deliver on the promise of repairs or replacement, do it. Having another 100 or 1000 real consumers in your database is worth the effort, especially when new product launches and events need to be successful or when you are trying to win a potential stockists’ trust.
12. Retargeting with purpose
The concept of retargeting may be familiar to you. The principle of repeated visibility of your brand and product to a consumer who visited your site recently is used by many. It makes sense, considering that approximately 96% of consumers who visit a site for the first time do not buy.
The key is to do retargeting (or remarketing) in an intelligent, custom and helpful way, rather than just repeating one generic ad to everyone. A helpful product highlight in one circumstance, a sale banner in the other and a change in approach if the customer did already buy the product from your site.
In that case you want to compliment what the customer bought, rather than repeatedly showing the item they now already own.
13. Introduce technology that drives efficiency, transparency and visibility.
Extra profit is sometimes created in places that you do not expect. For instance, could your sales team or customer services support deal with orders in a much more intelligent way if they had advanced software and apps? This may well lead to a better balance within the order placed and subsequently a better sell through, as well as a reduction in the hours spent on processing the orders both by the sales person and the back office.
On the other side, how efficiently do you handle the product development and production of your fashion products. Remember, time is money, and repetitive tasks or lack of visibility should be eliminated if you want to achieve long term profitability.
For example, how much time are you and your team spending on administrative duties like maintaining spreadsheets, looking for information, creating reports or overviews, assembling information for purchase orders, going back and forth with suppliers on emails to clarify or negotiate, arranging testing and approvals…?
Reduced cost = profit
The multiplication of tasks times the number of products makes an average fashion company quite a complex beast. The right technology solutions can transform business processes. A PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) system pulls all the processes related to product development, approvals, supplier management, pricing and production into one system. This means that much of the time spent on the very manual administration, communication, approval and follow up tasks can be re-allocated. This usually leads to a design, development and production team that can focus on the product, decision making (rather than fire-fighting) and situations that need their attention. This dramatically increases capacity and usually leads to much better decision making as the range evolves.
A good system shows the tasks that need be completed and will warn if something is not hitting the timelines or approvals that were expected. Managing by exception becomes the norm and both the business and product wins, while expensive costly mistakes or unnecessary expenses on samples of items that are not hitting targets are eliminated early on.
EXTRA TIP: PLM TECHNOLOGY.
Our recommended fashion specific PLM system is WFX (http://www.wfxondemand.com). It is quick to implement, affordable for most brands and has a proven track record in generating great results. There are free online system demonstrations and some nice video’s showing the positive results at brands that are already using the system. If you want to have a closer look, contact Rodrigo and he will arrange for more information or system demonstrations.
The principles of licensing are genuinely very interesting if executed well. You built a brand which will have a value in the market and an appeal to a certain type of consumer.
What else would that consumer buy from the brand without damaging the values of the brand? Also, which consumers in other markets than your core ones could gain more access to your brand if you found a licensee there?
Because of the high profit percentage and low maintenance cost associated with licensing, even achieving 1 or 2 new deals a year in new categories or receptive countries can help your business profits grow even in tough climates.
15. Build sustainable thinking into your business
The fashion industry does not have the best reputation when it comes to sustainability or ethical trading practices. If it is not enough that it makes sense to do the right thing, whatever you do, you should consider that the word is out.
Over the next year to five years many new regulations and consumer reactions will come into force that will ensure fashion companies dramatically decrease their pollution footprint. The link between plastic and polyester is only a documentary away. The way that cotton is so incredibly water intensive has already started to reach the general public.
Start thinking about what you can do to your packaging, material choices and transport methods to reduce your impact or do something in a more responsible way. It will reduce the impact on your business profits once the regulations hit, because you will have organically started to comply. It makes business sense and makes you, your customers and your accountant feel better as well.
16. Motivate your people
People are as strong an asset as your brand itself. See what you can do to build on the motivation and loyalty of your people without forcing them to do things they do not appreciate.
Happy, motivate staff cares about the business in a different way. You tend to see they are much better at looking out for opportunities to save money and sell more. If you introduce genuine reward systems, for instance by increasing commissions for a specific period or product range or having a team benefit if certain goals are achieved you should see a response.
Just like with your customers, you need to make sure that the message or incentive matches your audience. What will your people respond to? A week off for the team with highest average profit %?
Why not take this year to add one or more new strings to your bow which can help to grow and guard your future profitability?
There are always things you can do to progress your brand, your team and your structure. Take the one or two ideas from the list that can kickstart this for you, appoint some help in doing it and set realistic but ambitious or exciting goals within each.
Brands are relevant, retail is too. Just because we are in a changing landscape does not mean we can’t do well. We can all look with hindsight and say what we think Blockbuster should have done when the movie on-demand market changed. That now applies to us and we can’t do it with hindsight. We must stay ahead. For the more progressive in the market, the opportunities are greater than most can imagine.
Want to learn more? Let us know and we will invite you to our online seminars and let you know when we add similar content.
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