Should you sell fashion on the high street or online? Jonnie Matthew, founder of Solillas, takes a look at how startups in the fashion industry can make this choice.
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.
If not, then high street shops can be essential for survival. Once you’re in, you’ll begin selling volume fairly quickly – but, if you don’t sell, you’ll lose your shelf spot pretty fast.
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.
Based on that success, here’s six top tips for getting into high street retailers.
1) Quality and Uniqueness
High street shops are saturated with great products, with new brands popping up all the time. To cut through this competitive environment, 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, and without something unique, you aren’t offering anything new.
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, Solillas ostensibly sell shoes. But that is a hugely oversaturated market. However, no one was selling shoes based on the traditional Spanish design, using high quality leather produced in Menorca. That was our unique twist and made for a good story. It really helped retailers understand both the unique design and the attention we pay to quality.
2) Find Your Position in the Market
Even in a fairly closed market like footwear, there are still 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 for selling something quite unique, and retailers could immediately understand the key points of difference.
3) Adhere to the relevant regulations
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 and materials used, 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.
4) Choosing Retailers
First off, you’ll want to limit the retailers you contact to those which align with your brand. If you’re selling something 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.
The best way we found to go about this process was to make a priority list of retailers based on how closely they aligned with our brand. Urban Outfitters was a great match as the products they stock are trendy, premium, and high quality.
Once you’ve created your priority list, go out and gather contact details. Retailers will often publish lists of buyers to contact with new products or you can always search for their contact details on their website or 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.
5) Choose a Deal You Can Over-Service
It’s also important to 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.
6) Marketing Your Brand
Even if you manage to secure a great deal with a retailer, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t do your own marketing. Some retailers may impose restrictions around marketing so that it doesn’t interfere or cannibalise their own marketing efforts. But 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.
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