Fashion Buying

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. 

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.

Fashion Insiders: Anna Berkeley

The next interview in my Fashion Insiders Series, with former fashion buyer Anna Berkeley, has come along at the perfect time for me as I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the changes in my own life since I started out on my own this year.

Anna’s worked in the fashion industry for over 20 years and in that time she’s been a buyer at the likes of Selfridges, Prada, Reiss, Margaret Howell and is now is now a successful style consultant and range planner. I found it fascinating hearing about how she got to this point in her career.

Hearing stories like Anna’s and my own experience of this year has helped me see that life isn’t always a straight path but more like a river that meanders to new places, bringing with it new opportunities. I’ve also been getting very philosophical in the last year or so, in case you hadn’t noticed! Lol!

Fashion Insiders: ex fashion buyer, Anna Berkeley

Hi Anna, thank you for taking the time to talk to me today!

You do a number of different roles in your life - including working as a stylist, fashion writer and buyer. When did you know you wanted to work in these roles?

I have to admit I didn’t truly work it out until my 3rd year at university. I took my favourite subject (history) as I really didn’t know what else to do aged 18! I then did a summer job at Topshop and thought, this is it! I want to work in this world. I had always loved fashion and shopping growing up but never dreamed I could make a living out of it.

Fashion Insiders: ex fashion buyer, Anna Berkeley

Please, can you tell me a bit about your career so far?

Once I had decided it was fashion I wanted to get into I researched all the different roles. I alighted on buying. It really excited me. It was very difficult to get into and I entered sideways as an allocator for Wallis. This sits in the merchandising function, not buying, but was a perfect place to start to learn how the retail world operates. I was basically responsible for sending out the stock, monitoring it and doing transfers. It’s a vital role and I relished the analysis side of things especially. I have to admit I wasn’t very good at it!

I then took a job as a Buyer’s Clerk at Faith Footwear (which was huge then!). Again this was a starter role but I learnt all the grassroots jobs and began to really grasp what made commercial sense. I began to do some buying and then got my dream role as an Assistant Buyer at Selfridge’s department store. I started in menswear and then moved to women’s. I was responsible for the denim room, the casual area and then moved into designer wear and millinery.

It was a brilliant time. I attended all the shows all over the world and had huge autonomy. I then worked briefly for Prada. It was an amazing experience seeing how the luxury market worked and the difference between working multi-brand versus single brand.

I then moved to Reiss to be Head of Buying. This again was a huge learning curve and totally different to all the roles I had had previously. I worked closely with the in house design team seeing sketches and toiles for the first time. I adored that process and the honour of seeing sketch to shopfloor all the way through. By this time I had worked for ten years in buying and was thinking about my next move.  

I took a break and trained as a stylist as I wanted to run my own business and help other women navigate the choppy waters of style! I then got pregnant with my first child and styling enabled me to work around him as well as a consulting role for the award-winning designer, Margaret Howell. I did all their womenswear buying for a few years and then moved to range planning and helping with concessions.

What skills do you feel are key to what you do?

For buying you need to be numerate, analytical and resilient; have strong stamina, be hard-working, good at negotiating and possess a natural eye for the right pieces. Not the pieces you like, but the pieces that the customer wants. Range planning requires many of the same skills but is more analytical. In styling, I believe you need to be a good listener, empathetic, energetic, enthusiastic and kind. You need to be really interested in people and create strong relationships with retailers and clients alike.

Fashion Insiders: ex fashion buyer, Anna Berkeley

What’s the most satisfying thing about what you do?

The wonderful, wonderful people I work with. Being invited into people’s homes and wardrobe’s is a magical thing. Being able to help someone transform themselves or dig them out of a style rut and make them feel better is so rewarding. Finding the right pieces that you know a client will love is very similar to what I enjoyed about buying. Seeking out the best items and using all the knowledge and experience I have gathered over the years feels really good. I never tire of it.

In terms of my consultancy work there really is nothing better than seeing all the outfits you have worked with over 6 months come to life on the catwalk, the campaigns and the company lookbooks. The designers are the real stars but I have a hand in making the range commercially successful and that’s fabulous to me.

What do you do every day? What does a typical day look like?

Every day is different. I could be scouting for a personal shopping session, clearing out a wardrobe, planning next season’s range, looking at toiles or doing a colour analysis.

What advice would you give someone wanting to do what you do?

Immerse yourself in the fashion world. Ask questions and start right at the bottom, with humility, and learn everything you can about the business from all angles.

Where do you go to keep up with current trends?

Stores, Instagram and Vogue.com

Has the importance of catwalk trends changed over the years? Are there other more important influences these days?

Street style.

Fashion Insiders: ex fashion buyer, Anna Berkeley

What ambitions do you have in your role?

To help as many women as possible to fulfil their potential and look and feel great in what they wear.

What kind of satisfaction do you get from your roles? For instance, how does it feel when you are featured in publications you admire or when you work with a client?

It’s a wonderful buzz and I feel very grateful.

Is there anything that has inspired or guided you in getting you to where you are today? For instance a book, tool, approach to life or a saying?

Just do it!

How do you keep a balance in your life?

I have two boys, Sam and Jesse, so being mum as well as running my own business and consulting is really tough sometimes. I love all my roles so I’m incredibly lucky. Yes, I do feel under pressure at busy times. I relax by taking long baths, reading, walking and getting outside as much as possible.

Fashion Insiders: ex fashion buyer, Anna Berkeley

What are this seasons most flattering trends?

Velvet and cord are very flattering next to the face!

What are your top trends for Christmas this year?

I’m still very taken with head to toe velvet, a suit preferably. Or the amazing pink sequin dress by Preen for LK Bennett.

Do you have any tips for Christmas dressing?

Make sure it’s comfortable. When trying on -sit down, stretch, move around, reach up and ensure your outfit doesn’t pull or dig in.

What’s the one thing we should be investing in now for SS18?

Souped-up trainers


Contact Anna via email at anna@annaberkeley.com

Anna's website: annaberkeley.com

Anna's Instagram: @annaberkeleystyling

Selected Femme: My Summer Favourites

Selected Femme is one of my favourite shops at the moment. I've spent so much money there recently that I felt I had to write a post about them. Their relaxed, Scandi style ticks all the boxes for me; they're reasonably priced and the quality of their clothes are better than most on the highstreet. 

Fashion Buyer Nicole Davidson

I love this orange/red cut away knitted top at the moment. I don't usually wear a lot of colour but I think this has now become my colour of the season. It felt amazing as soon as I put it on as the fit and quality of the fabric are spot on. I think it looks great with the bright blue of my favourite ASOS jeans

Fashion Buying Consultancy Nicole Davidson

I have a few of Selected's T-shirts and they're always made from a premium jersey. I like the simple white and grey/neutral stripes of this one, it's so Scandi. I've worn it loads since I bought it so it was £15 well spent. 

Fashion Buyer Nicole Davidson

This tan suede bucket bag is one my favourite pieces at the moment. The colour and shape make it look and feel more expensive than it was at £55. It's so useful as its shape makes it casual but it can easily be dressed up for the evening (not that it ever gets too dressy for me these days!).  

Fashion Buying Consultancy Nicole Davidson

There's a preview of their AW17 collection on their Insta which shows a lot more red and neutral pieces so I suspect I'll be continuing to obsess over this brand for some time! 

Fashion History: The Breton Stripe

Fashion History the breton stripe

I wear Breton stripes at least a few times a week, they're my go to and have been a staple in my wardobe for years.

The legacy that was started by Brittany sailors continues today. As a fashion buyer I know only too well how popular and profitable the Breton top continues to be, every clothing brand I've ever worked for has sold these items in large volumes. Whether they're short sleeved, vests, multi coloured or of the traditional long sleeved variety, they're the defining items of many brands.

In my opinion the best are from Petit Bateau, they're the right side of slouchy and have a wide, boat neck. Petit Bateau's are also heavier, the thinner high street versions just can't compete. 

Fashion History the breton stripe

The history of fashion is usually a little unexpected and The Breton is no exception. It began after an official decree (The 1858 Act of France) introduced The Breton top as the uniform of the French Navy in Brittany. Apparently the stripes made seamen easier to spot if they went overboard. I always find it so interesting that something functional can be the beginning of such a ubiquitous fashion item. 

Breton Sailors

Breton Sailors

Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot

With a reference to it's maritime heritage The Breton is often referred to as a Mariniere and traditionally includes 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleans victories at the time. 

Nautical style was later made fashionable by the upper classes in the 1870's, mainly in France and England. At this time it was pink, green and red. Later, Coco Chanel's 1917 nautical collection brought the classic Breton to the fashion fore, having been inspired by Breton fisherman while at the coast. 

Throughout the 20th century the Breton was synonymous with artists and stylish creative types; Pablo Picasso, Jean Paul Sartre, Brigitte Bardot and the Beatniks of the 50's and 60's springing to mind.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

More recently it continues to influence the aesthetic of many designers, Jean Paul Gaultier being the most obvious. Today it's synonymous with classic dressers like Alexa Chung. 

For me, it's longetivity is in it's simplicity, ease and effortless style. It doesn't try to look stylish, which means it invariably does. A classic breton looks right on everyone, regardless of who you are, your age, colour or gender. I can't think of anyone I know that doesn't have one in their wardrobe, from my boyfriend, to my mum or my friends little ones. Even Cub, my Springer Spaniel, has some stripey items that look great on him. 

Fashion History the breton stripe