How to sell more at wholesale: 5 tips from a fashion buyer

If you’re a fashion brand that’s ventured into the world of wholesale or B2B (business to business) selling then you probably know how disheartening it is when your emails are ignored or a tradeshow isn’t as successful as you’d hoped. Don't worry, it happens to the best of us from time to time! 

As a retail buyer and consultant, I work with clients in this area and they often ask me what’s really important to potential new wholesale customers. This post should give your brand a steer in the right direction as the principles in these 5 tips are the basis for everything I do in my work in this channel. 

Wholesaling can be incredibly lucrative; I’ve worked with brands that make the majority of their sales through this route. It can also help as a way to promote your brand and get your message out to new parts of the country so it’s worth the extra time and effort involved. 

In my work with both large high street retailers and with emerging brands I've seen clear patterns of what works and what doesn't. Here are my 5 top tips for fashion brands who want to get more sales at wholesale:

1. Be ridiculously unique and gain a cult following of ‘cheerleaders’

Don’t be scared of making your product and story really niche in the market and shouting about your unique qualities. The quote I use most when I talk to emerging brands is:

‘ Be everything to someone not something to everyone.’

Don't try to copy what someone else is doing, the more specific and unique your brand can be the better! The brands that I see grow successfully in all aspects of their business, but especially at wholesale, specialise in one area of the market.

In contrast, big high street retailers appeal to lots of different types of people and they do it well; you can't compete with what they've established (for now!). What you can do is carve out a section that's just yours, you can become experts and be the go-to brand for that product. 

Building a brand in this way often means that you'll gain a cult following that's very passionate about what you do. These super fans will shout about your brand whenever they can and get quite loyal to the brands they love! They won't do this for the high street brands they buy from but they'll do it for the brand they 'discovered' and speaks to them in a way that nothing else does! 

If you can create a genuine buzz around your brand then new wholesale customer will be seeking you out rather than the other way round! Large retailers would kill for a bit of this kind of passion for their brands so exploit it; especially on social media where an avid fan base can have a snowball effect on your reach. 

2. Tell your story in whatever you do

To be totally frank, this is the only thing that really matters as it’s what drives wholesale customers to buy from you! Make every word and image on your website, in your look book and on your social media count and reflect your story. Wholesale customers want to buy into something that they can see will excite and capture the imagination of their customers. 

Make your story pretty explicit and don't hide it; customers don't have time to coax it out of you! To help with this ensure you have a compelling and personal About Us page on your website; it's the first thing wholesale customers (and I!) go to after they've got a quick feel for your brand on your website.

Your About Us should do your brand justice so spend some time on it! I'll be writing a post about my tips on this soon as it's so key to a brands success. 

3. Don’t overestimate how much your products will sell themselves

It goes without saying that your products should be excellent and unique in their field but there's also a lot of work and time that goes on behind the scenes when you're selling to wholesale customers. 

As an example, there's a lot of groundwork that you need to lay in terms of networking. So much of this can now be done on social media but it still takes a lot of time, especially if you're doing it in a natural and thoughtful way (not in a spammy way!). Building an engaged and two-way relationship on social media could lead to sales and if nothing else can help make the emails you send less 'cold' so it's worth the time and extra effort.

4. Target your audience; don’t use a scatter gun approach

Another area that brands need to spend a lot of time on is targeting the right customers and making their communication with them considered and personal. This approach has a MUCH higher rate than a scatter gun approach to emailing. 

At the very least it's key to find out the first name of the person you need to contact; people are much more likely to read an email that's addressed to them than 'dear sir/madam'. 

If you're going to succeed then you need to spend a lot of time researching the right potential customers and targeting them specifically with information that you know will be important to them. By sending less emails you'll increase your chances of making actual sales!

5. Persist

The focus for wholesale customers differs slightly to your usual customers; for instance, they can't always spend their money when they want to. They're also businesses that are constantly balancing their ranges to ensure that they have a range of 'sure things' that pay the bills and newness that keeps their customers excited.

There could be all sorts of reasons why a wholesale customer might not be in a position to buy from you at that time you get in touch with them. For instance, they could have used up their budget for the season or already have a few new brands that they're trialling.

Asking for a little feedback can be useful to get an idea of there's anything you could be working on but chances are it's a timing problem.

Persistence is key (obviously don't be annoying!); keep the relationship open and don't give up on it. Keep engaging and having a meaningful relationship even if you're not selling to them yet, the timing will be right eventually if they really are the right store for you. 

Take a look at my blog and website for more insight into wholesale; I discuss these points in more detail in my Essential Guide to Wholesale. 

I also give practical advice for your wholesale problems like what the correct wholesale list prices are, when you should be selling, advice on pitching to buyers and much more.

In addition to my guides and I offer a spreadsheet of 300 potential customers details at nicoledavidson.co.uk. It's a great tool for targeting the wholesale customers that are right for your brand. 

Antibad: My Favourite Ethical Store

Antibad are by far my favourite curated, ethical store; they bring together styles that not only tick all the boxes from a sustainable point of view but their photography and collections are everything I want in my life right now. I often find myself on their Insta just getting inspired about what I’m going to wear that day (is that weird?!).

I’ve pulled out some of the items I’m obsessing over most below and I’m lucky enough to have added This linen jacket to my wardrobe recently. It’s from their collection from Bug Clothing (another brand that I love) and it’s the perfect addition to my ever-growing gang of worker jackets.

Nicole Davidson in Antibad worker jacket

It was handmade in London which makes me ridiculously happy and I honestly think I’ll be wearing it for the rest of my life. It’s the perfect oversized square shape and made from proper linen in a true dark navy. It's basically ticking all the boxes to be a wardrobe classic.

The first of my picks is The Micha bra. I need this in my life. Not only is it a really pretty style but it’s also made from recycled polyester in a factory certified by the Fair Wear Foundation in India. It's a 10 out of 10.

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This Caleum sandal could very easily be this summer’s everyday wear for me; you know that shoe that you just wear day in day out during summer? I’m always a sucker for a tan leather slider...

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The Phoenix coat is the kind of style you can wear forever; it’s camel, it’s ethical and it’s made from virgin wool and cashmere. What’s not to love.

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I’m going on holiday next month and I’m getting obsessed with this Ideal Swimsuit. I love this image too and the hat is just gorgeous.

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I’m also umming and ahhing over this White Horse Swimsuit too. As a bonus these images were taken at the Jubliee Pool in Penzance; one of my fave places here in Cornwall.

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Location photography is mostly by Lulu Ash and Maddison Araceli 

Christmas at Lorna Ruby

Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Nicole Davidson at Lorna Ruby pic by Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert
Photo by  Olivia Bossert

Clothing and lifestyle store Lorna Ruby in Exeter does Christmas the way I like it; minimal, a bit scandi and there isn't an inch of tinsel in sight. My tree at home literally has lights on it and that’s it (granted there are lots of them!).

Olivia Bossert and I spent this Wednesday with the lovely team there doing some last minute Christmas shopping and styling some of my favourite items from the store. They stock many of my favourite brands (Selected Femme, Honest Skincare and Leon and Harper) so it was the perfect place to tick off my Christmas list. 

It’s super cosy inside, the mix of homeware and gorgeous accessories, like cosy cashmere scarves, give it a warm and inviting feel. We were like kids in a sweet shop; their lifestyle selection is spot on and make perfect gifts. Think scandi ceramics, jugs, skincare and minimal jewellery that will be perfect for styling up Christmas outfits but can also be worn into next year. During our time there the team helped us with everything we needed whilst we spent time upstairs trying things on in their large changing rooms and relaxing on the comfy sofas in the chill out area.

Obviously, I also spent a little bit of time thinking about what I want for Christmas (!) and pulled together a lovely selection of versatile styles that won't feel out of place come January the 1st and could last through to next summer. I've been guilty of buying items that I only wear once at this time of year (usually sequin tops and Christmas jumpers!) so shopping like this feels less wasteful.

My absolute stand out piece from the store has to the be the soft pink coat from Selected Femme that's so pale it’s almost like a neutral/grey colour. This is an investment that will go with everything I own and is perfect for both winter and worn with lighter weights as it starts to get warmer in spring.

I also like the versatility of the crop wide leg jeans that I styled with this coat. I put them with quite a few outfits, including a super soft stripe cashmere jumper which I didn't want to take off. The trousers will be great for Christmas day and I might dress them up with the silver boots for new years eve. 

Talking of new years eve, it's hard to find something to wear when you're not usually into sparkle and glitz. The navy, wrap midi dress I found here is probably the most useful piece a minimal girl could own. I styled it with a black polo neck to wear now but it can be dressed up for NYE and would even work well for weddings next summer.

If you’re looking for last minute gifts for those in your life that love the minimal/scandi look as much as I do (or if you deserve a treat for yourself!) then I recommend popping in to see the lovely team at Lorna Ruby or by visiting their online store.

The last pre-Christmas orders from Lorna Ruby online are 21st of December.

Online: Lorna Ruby

Instagram:

This post is part of a collaboration with Lorna Ruby. All words and styling are my own. 

Fashion Insiders: Fashion Buyer Georgie Eustace

If you’ve ever wondered what a fashion buyer does every day then this post is for you! Georgie Eustace is a successful buyer at New Look on the jerseywear department. Having been obsessed with clothes for as long as she can remember she’s worked her way up at the brand over the past nine years.

As a fashion buyer Georgie has a ridiculously glamorous life which includes endless trips to places like New York and LA. She told me about what it’s like to see a customer wearing her clothes on the street, about being paid to shop in Tokyo and South Korea and where she gains inspiration for her ranges.

She also spoke about the pressures of constantly buying product that sells and what it’s like when you’re working in China over the weekend and all of your friends are in London at Field Day!

Life of a Fashion Buyer

When did you know you wanted to be a fashion buyer?

I didn’t realise I wanted to be a fashion buyer for quite a while.  To be honest, I didn’t know what I wanted to do! I’ve always been very logical and mathematically minded so I choose to study Economics at Uni. I very briefly considered studying a fashion related degree but I didn’t want to restrict my future career to only fashion and I don’t regret my decision at all (even though I obviously have ended up in fashion!).  

What skills do you feel are key to being a buyer?

There are so many skills involved in a being a buyer that it's hard to narrow it down to a few! Probably first and most important is passion and product eye. You can have all the strategic ideas in the world but if you don’t have the eye for what product you think will be the next bestseller then you won’t make it as a buyer. Listening and teamwork would be next up. You can’t do this job on your own and the team is so important. If you can’t listen to your team and get them on board (and make sure they’re happy!) you’ll be trying to do everything on your own, which is impossible without having a breakdown!

What’s the most glamorous thing about being a fashion buyer?!

The glamorous part is definitely the travel. I’ve done so amazing trips for New Look. I’ve been to New York, LA, Miami and Korea all just to shop for a few days for inspiration and ideas! And I’ve been lucky to do it with colleagues who are all like-minded and have become true friends.

People generally think it’s all glamorous. They think that you have loads of amazing product to choose from and that you can just pick the winners. If only it was that easy! With travel, there are a lot of parts that are very hard work. Working in China for days when you’re jetlagged is tough, and when you’re there working over the weekend and all your friends are at Field Day it can get to you.

What does a typical day look like?

My typical day is in the London office. I like to go the gym before work so I can relax once I’m there, knowing there’s no pressure that I need to leave on time. I will usually have checked my schedule the night before so I know what meetings are coming up. First thing I do is check the sales from the previous day. The best part of the job is seeing your clothes sell and I still get so excited when something new goes out and selling well. Every day I will be multitasking. It’s a constant balance between meeting suppliers and designers to develop new product for the months ahead, but also reacting to current sales and quickly buying more of any bestsellers. If I’m not out at supplier meetings then I’ll be in the office, racking up the product and deciding how much to buy and at what price.

How big is your team?

I’m lucky I have quite a big team. I have four assistants, which I honestly couldn’t live without. I also have three amazing designers. What I love about New Look are the people I work with. I have worked with so many people who have become lifelong friends, have gone on numerous holidays and even lived with!

What have you loved most about being a buyer and what have been your biggest challenges so far?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is the pressure of being a buyer. When I was an assistant, I never understood why my buyer was stressed. I thought it looked easy! But even though I’ve been doing this for years I still feel the pressure every day to deliver good product that everyone will like and will sell. It often keeps me up at night. But I guess that’s just a sign of how much I care, and I wouldn’t be able to do a good job if I didn’t.

How does it feel when you see your product on customers or celebrities?

I honestly love it whenever I see anyone wearing my products. From a girl on the street to fashion bloggers and magazines, I’m happy with them all! In a way it’s nicer when you see a normal girl in the street wearing something you bought though, it’s more real than another Instagram post and I like to think I’m making people happy.

How much do you travel with your job?

I travel a lot at the moment, which does get a bit much sometimes. I go to Turkey every 6 weeks and China twice a year. Sometimes you just want to sleep in your own bed! When I’m there it’s all about product development. In China, we’ll be developing for the season ahead and in Turkey, it will be product for the next month. I spend most of my time there with designers, brainstorming ideas using catwalk images and inspiration from our shopping in Korea to develop new and exciting ranges.

What big trends can we look forward over the next few months?

Trend-wise I definitely think there’s a shift towards colour and print. Recently I’ve been wearing head to toe red but I’m over that now and I’m onto yellow and green. I’m also obsessed with stripes, there are so many new colour variations I want!

How do you find inspiration for your department, what trend forecasting resources do you use?

Most of the inspiration I use for my department comes from our Korea and Tokyo shopping. They are definitely a season ahead of trends. Last year we bought a lot of things that seemed crazy and full-on at the time but now they’re bestsellers and all the high street are landing similar trends! You definitely have to have an open mind.

Has the loom of Brexit, the downturn in the economy and a general push to keep costs down affected your work?

It is tougher since Brexit, mainly because of the fall in the pound to the dollar and the uncertainty it’s caused. It’s meant re-sourcing some products and working even harder to get the product we want into the retail price we want to sell it at.

What ambitions do you have in your role? 

Right now I’m at a stage where I’m not sure what my ultimate goal is. For years I knew I wanted to progress up the ladder and be a buyer and now that I’ve finally accomplished that I’m not sure what’s next for me. It’s definitely an unsettling feeling.

How do you keep a balance in your life? 

It is hard to keep a balance. This is an all-consuming industry and you can’t succeed if your heart isn’t in it. Even if I’m not working long hours I find it hard to switch off. Support from friends and family is absolutely vital. It’s also really important to have friends in the industry, as they really understand what you’re going through.

Ultimately hanging out with great friends who make me laugh is my favourite way to unwind but I do absolutely love a good holiday. We work so hard that we deserve a break and I love travelling and exploring new places.

My shoot with Olivia Bossert

Last weekend I did my first 'proper' shoot with a photographer.  A shoot that didn't involve coercing a willing (or unwilling!) friend to take some pics of me. Despite constantly putting my pics up here and on Insta I'm actually quite shy about all of this stuff so I got really nervous about it beforehand. Like always, I overcompensated by prepping and organising myself to the nth degree the day before. I even found myself ironing my jeans (a big no-no in my book). 

It was weird for me at first but Olivia Bossert was so lovely that I felt much more at ease after a few minutes of chatting. As well as being super friendly she used all of her skill and expertise to coax some gorgeous pics out of me in a short space of time. It was fab working with someone, like Olivia, that 'gets it'. She knew all of the blogger tricks; like getting me to walk in long strides to give the illusion of longer legs (see below for the results!).

I can't wait to work with her again and thankfully she lives fairly close by. She's a local photographer that settled in Cornwall after studying fashion photography at Falmouth. She now works with many of the brands and bloggers in these parts, as well as big retailers like Joules and White Stuff so I feel very lucky to have started working with her. 

oliviabossert.com

@oliviabossert

Photo by  Olivia Bossert   Coat from  New Look

Photo by Olivia Bossert

Coat from New Look

Photo by  Olivia Bossert   @oliviabossert   Coat from  ASOS