Laying the Groundwork for a Successful Launch
This time last year I told you about my adventures as a buyer (or more accurately, the plus-one to the actual buyer) at a national trade show. In “Putting Relationships at the Heart of Your Sales Strategy”, I nailed a few exhibitors to the wall for failing to remember that we buy from people we like. Well, a few weeks ago it was my turn on the other side of that scenario. So as we approach the Spring ’13 shows, I hope you find my observations constructive for your business.
If you’ve never been to the National Stationery Show, let me tell you it’s fun to walk whether you have business to transact or not. But this time, I wasn’t wearing my usual press hat. I was there to support my mother, as she took the first step toward building a following for her greeting card line, Kingdom Greetings 4U.
Surveying the Landscape
In this case, their booth told me all I needed to know about their research and preparation. It was empty. I don’t mean not pretty or a fixer upper. I mean they turned up at the show with nothing more than their products — not a single embellishment, sign or poster. The lack of any booth décor was like a neon sign reading “Danger.” It wasn’t until the day of the show, when they entered the Javits Center that they realized their shortcomings. I can only imagine how they felt as they surveyed the beautiful booths that had been thoughtfully erected around them.
After enduring a bit of embarrassment, the denizens of that booth left the show as soon as the day was over and bolted straight to the store to stock up on some supplies to spruce the place up. Though the result wasn’t riveting, it at least gave the impression that the vendor made an effort. Even though I never got close enough to really inspect their merchandise, my general impression is it was also kind of lackluster — though not completely without charm, as it did generate some interest, and I think, a few orders — but again, compared to the level of design displayed all around them, they really didn’t stack up.
I recount this tale to hammer home a point: oftentimes business owners and would-be entrepreneurs launch without the necessary tools. Even for newbies like my mom and I, we did our best to show up prepped. While we didn’t have the most amazing booth, we were secure knowing that it was inviting and representative of our brand. Likewise, our product was unique, and our marketing collateral provided the necessary information. We were able to do all of this because we’d walked the show before, consulted books written by experts, attended workshops put on by veteran sales reps, quizzed our current retailers on what to expect and poured over the materials the show provided.
Assembling the Necessary ToolsFashion-Incubator.com blog (If you’re a design entrepreneur and you’ve never visited, I encourage you to do so.) where Kathleen Fasanella, the blog owner, let loose on her own frustrations — and they sounded strikingly similar to my own. Because her site is a resource for people hoping to launch their own labels, she gets drilled with the same questions all the time — which is ok. If you’re new, you don’t know. But there are certain queries she gets that demonstrate these would-be designers are trying to cut corners and skip the steps that could result in sound businesses. Ultimately, the reason why she does what she does is to save people from ending up in a pile of rubble.
I feel the same way. In fact, I think most consultants are filled with equal parts compassion and dread when we hear stories of promising ideas that have collapsed without the support of a well-researched business model. To help head off as many implosions as possible, I’ve joined with Christine McCarthy, owner of CMSM, LLC children’s wear management & consultancy, and Bruce Scheck, president of the Children’s Credit Co-op, Inc., provider of credit information to children’s wear, shoe and accessory companies, to develop an Intensive Orientation Seminar Series. Together, we use our 40 years of collective expertise to help designers develop a blueprint for success.
The seminar consists of three modules that give participants a 360-degree view of all aspects of launching and running a children’s apparel business. This includes an analysis of today’s consumers, classifications and retailers; the keys to branding and promotions; expert advice on sales, merchandising, rep relationships and sales projections; and the lowdown on order processing, determining and negotiating terms and interpreting credit information. Ultimately, the seminar gives designers the opportunity to hone their original ideas, make informed decisions and avoid costly time and monetary errors that would dismantle their companies.
Join me for a Twitter chat on July 17 at 9 pm EST to discuss the things you learned the hard way and the advice you’d give others starting out. Follow me at @caletha_style and join in using hashtag #kidsbiz. You can also join my new Facebook page.
About Caletha Crawford
Caletha Crawford is a children’s apparel consultant who has spent more than 10 years covering the industry, most recently as editor in chief of Earnshaw’s magazine. Caletha has a unique perspective on the concepts, designs and companies that resonate with retailers and consumers. Her services include marketing, branding and social media. In an effort to usher in the next generation of design talent, she also teaches at Parsons The New School for Design.
Visit www.calethacrawford.com or email