Tips for Helping Your Sell-Throughs Take Off

Getting a retailer to buy your line is great — and especially exciting if the collection is new to the market — but convincing them to reorder should be your ultimate goal. And reorders are always based on how well your goods sold the previous season. If items flew off the racks, buyers will naturally seek you out the next time around. If too much of your line landed in the sale bin, however, your name will likely plummet from their must-shop list.

Despite the importance of sell-throughs, it seems vendors sometimes forget the role they have in ensuring their lines take off at retail. Without you, your products are left to fly solo in the face of whatever headwinds come their way, threatening both sales and reorders. Though you can’t possibly hover over your collection in every store, offering a sales pitch to each consumer who comes through the door, you can help move your own merch.

Getting On Board

Though sell-through is the ultimate destination, effective sell-in strategies can help you get where you’re going. And it starts with your distribution. If you’re selling stores that don’t cater to your target customer, your sell-throughs will be permanently grounded. Though it’s exhilarating to say you’re in X number of stores, if they’re the wrong doors, those numbers will probably tumble soon enough.

And before you write your next line sheet, consider requiring minimums. I know there are pros and cons for this practice, but in terms of sell through, minimums could help by ensuring that your brand has a real presence at retail. With only a few cherry-picked items on display, the store is never going to establish a following for your brand and it will be that much harder for consumers to even stumble across your items. Plus, the upsell opportunities climb when the store carries the cardigan and tights that go with the top and skirt with which a customer just fell in love.

Delivering on time also elevates your chances of swift sales. There’s a phrase in the industry: “First in sells first,” which means if your product lands in stores at the beginning of that sales window, it often sells better. Logically, your goods have to be in the store to sell, and the longer your coats, swimwear or shoes are on the sales floor (within that selling season) the more opportunities they have to sell. Conversely, goods that arrive late have a shorter sales window.

Need more inspiration to get your goods in on time? Talk to brands that have had a good season and you’ll often hear the same thing: their sales received a boost thanks in large part to their competitors’ lateness. By being the only sweaters, pjs or boots on the sales floor, they made captured market share.

Staying on the Radar

I know most sales reps and brands check in with their retail partners occasionally, but typically these communications are meant to float the idea of reorders. But how often do you touch base with buyers regarding the product they currently have in store? Ideally the buyer and sales help will be buoyant brand ambassadors for your line, but it’s unrealistic to think your collection will remain top of mind on its own. With all of their responsibilities and the number of collections they carry, it’s possible they’ve even forgotten your collection exists, let alone what prompted them to buy it in the first place.

Sound farfetched? Recently, a client of mine called a retailer to inquire about how her product was selling only to be told that they don’t carry her line. Because my client was persistent, the sales person checked, and… yes, they do carry that line. It was on the sales floor but sandwiched between a number of similar products — undiscovered by shoppers and forgotten by the sales people.

It’s up to you to remind stores of how great your product is. One way is to send them things that will help them sell. For instance, a steady stream of flattering photos shop owners can use in their email newsletters and on their ecommerce sites are sure to give your line a tailwind. And what better way to boost your brand to higher heights than a sampling of recent press coverage? If Shiloh Jolie-Pitt or Suri Cruise has been snapped in your brand, your stores need to know about it.

Also, provide concrete tips on how to sell your collection. Highlight the product characteristics that differentiate your brand. Remind storeowners that the line is organic or made in the U.S., for example. And encourage them to share this information with their staff. As my example illustrates, the buyer might be well versed on every product in her shop, but the sales help who actually interact with customers may be less so.

You should also offer merchandising tips. For instance, if you know other retailers have had success cross merchandising your hair bows with their shoe selection, share that information. Suggest color story displays or layered looks for the mannequins. For key accounts, you might consider offering to decorate their front windows one month using your product. I know of a toy company that has taught — and learned — a lot by doing this.

Going Direct

With the sales staff briefed and excited about your line, consider extending your reach directly to the end consumer. You know your collection inside and out but take a moment to evaluate each piece as though you were seeing it for the first time. If you were shopping, what would you want to know? Consider adding this information to your hangtags. Inform mom that your silky looking dress is actually machine washable or that there’s a little sister look to match that cool statement tee. Hangtags are your opportunity to provide the type of information you would give if you were there yourself.

The next time you’re in a kids’ store, stop just inside the door and look around. Do any collections stand out or does everything blend in? Chances are, the lines you notice from the door enjoyed increased visibility thanks to their displays. Branded displays enable shoppers to easily notice that their favorite brand is carried in that store. Consider offering them with minimum purchases. Another reason to consider it: Displays also act as a visual cue for retailers. Once the display gets low, they’ll know to reorder.

Finally, make sure your brand has some buzz. Add pull marketing to your overall marketing strategy to create customer demand. Pull marketing used to be cost prohibitive (think ads in national magazines or television) but these days companies of all sizes and budgets can supplement their push efforts with online strategies designed to pique shoppers interests. Through PR and social media, you can increase the number of times a consumer sees your product or brand name. And with increased impressions, shoppers are more likely to buy, pushing your sales into the stratosphere.

Join me on Wednesday, January 11th at 9 p.m. EST for an industry chat on Twitter. Follow me @caletha_style or search for #kidsbiz.

About Caletha Crawford

Caletha Crawford is a children’s apparel consultant who has spent more than eight 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 public relations, marketing, branding and social networking. In an effort to usher in the next generation of design talent, she also teaches and produces special events at Parsons The New School for Design.

To answer a need in the industry, she recently teamed up with two other children’s wear veterans to develop an online orientation seminar designed to help immerse aspiring and novice entrepreneurs get up to speed on the design, sales, production, marketing, PR and back office aspects unique to the children’s wear market.

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