The first step in thinking differently is finding a sense of curiosity. You can’t think different if you’re not willing to learn, and you can’t learn if you lack the curiosity to do so. Brands and retailers should stop assuming they know what customers want. They don’t. But they can have the curiosity to engage with customers and ask them. Learn what they want.
The second step to thinking differently is gaining a broad set of experiences. Leonardo da Vinci was primarily interested in science and engineering. He was a reluctant artist at best. Yet it was the experience and knowledge he gained from dissecting more than 30 bodies that allowed him to paint Mona Lisa’s smile.
As a brand or retailer, you don’t necessarily have to seek outsiders with different experiences to add value to the whole. Encourage everyone in the company to pursue a life well lived. After all, a life well lived brings a bounty of rewards to everyone. No one has done well living under a rock. Equally as important to encouraging your teams to gain outside experiences, you absolutely must seek diversity of people and thought. Mix it up. There is no room for a lack of diversity by race, gender, age, and education. Likewise mix up your teams. Design should live no more in a bubble than finance.
The third step toward thinking differently is compassion. There’s an old saying that you can’t argue with stupid. Well I have come to learn that that’s a stupid thing to say. It’s not that other people are stupid. They may not have gained the comfort or capacity to appreciate steps one and two herein. Encourage them to do so. But let them do so on their terms. More likely than not though, their curiosity and experiences have provided them a different lens by which to think differently, from you. This, by the way, is where the magic happens. It’s called collaboration.
When all of us are curious, and when all of us seek different experiences, it’s leads us to the sharing of information and knowledge. You can’t grow if you don’t learn and share. Likewise your brand can’t grow if doesn’t stimulate curiosity and collaboration among many points of view from a diverse set of people who are hungry for learning and excited for experiences.
There’s a seismic difference between gross sales and net sales for a wholesale brand. It’s called discounts and allowances.
Gross sales are fake sales. They’re not real. They don’t go into your pocket. They don’t pay bills, and they’re irrelevant. Gross sales are just shipments to retail partners who aren’t going to pay you the full value of those shipments, ever. Yet many brands continue to get this dead wrong. It’s destroying a lot of businesses.
What doesn’t sell-thru, eventually comes back. Sales teams at the brand are constantly pushed to sell more stuff to more retail partners. It’s done in an effort to drive more goods into more retail stores to ultimately try to hit what are almost always unrealistic wholesale revenue targets. Buyers at the retail partners, on the other hand, don’t mind taking the goods. Why should they? If the goods don’t sell-thru or the margins don’t meet plan, the brand picks of the tab regardless–as they should. So who’s fooling who? Does anyone really think this is a good process? If a customer doesn’t buy the product, it doesn’t become a sale. If a tree falls in a forest, and we’re not there, we won’t hear it.
Net sales are real sales. They are the dollars that go into your pocket. They pay for the products you made, the talent you pay, the marketing you do, the technology you should have, and the experiences you must create. When net sales are aligned with what’s sold-thru, gross margins skyrocket. Gross margin is the money left after the goods you made are paid for. The more crap you make, the more $$ you pay. And the more $$ you pay for the goods you made to do the sales you didn’t do, the less you keep to use for those valued employees, that useful technology you could have, and those experiences you should create.
You don’t need $100 worth of goods to do $10 worth of sales. Nothing about that is reasonable. Wholesalers need to manage their channels RADICALLY better if they want to be successful. Incremental change to this effort is useless. Lower gross sales does not mean less net sales. That’s a complete and total fallacy for 99% of the wholesale brands in the fashion industry today. Quite the contrary–lower gross sales translates into higher net sales with stronger gross margins.
Focusing on net sales with high gross margins is the HABIT of high-impact brands. Driving gross sales is at odds with that effort.
Sometimes it’s good to step back and consider who’s fooling who. Brands that look to drive sales do themselves no good in the long run. It’s like saying I want to be rich. We all know that many who are rich are poor on happy.
A better way to think about building a brand is to build a base of fans who love your work. Dollars are merely a symptom of fans liking your products, message, conversation, and attentiveness.
Build fans and covet them greatly.
Managers enable fear. In some cases it’s intentional, but more often than not it’s completely unintentional. Enabling fear is often a condition that happens when people and teams are focused on extrinsic values like targets, bonuses, and promotions. Focusing on things that are often out of our control creates bad habits and frustrating work conditions. Worse of all, fear is what keeps people from growing and learning. It’s fear that prevents us from sticking our necks out and doing big things. Its fear that keeps us from walking down untrodden paths to find new destinations or opportunities. I’m a lot more comfortable walking the streets of NYC then the deep trails of Colorado. But fear doesn’t stop me from loading my backpack and hitting the those trails–usually.
Leaders instill fun. They do intentionally and consciously the opposite of what managers do unintentionally and unconsciously. Leaders create environments for growth and experimentation by focusing on intrinsic values like purpose, mastery, and autonomy. Daniel Pink discusses this in his book called Drive, which I encourage you to read. Fun allows people do and try things that may or may not be normal. It’s what helps people get out of their boxes and try new things. It’s what makes people look at the unknown and try it. And it’s what bonds us into community and a culture rather than enemy and foe. Fun is a good thing. Have some.
Fun doesn’t mean you’re always laughing though–let’s be clear about that. I have fun doing CrossFit, but believe me there’s not much laughing going on when you’re pushing through a WOD (workout of the day). I bet many of the people working with Elon Musk at Tesla and SpaceX would consider what they’re doing fun despite the fact that Mr Musk is extremely difficult and highly demanding. In fact if you go on Quora.com and ask “what’s it like working with Elon Musk,” you’ll find roughly that answer. People working with Elon feel a sense of purpose. They are doing things to change the world for the better. They certainly have mastery because Elon is known for seeking out the best and brightest across trades, craft, and skills. I’d also bet they feel a strong sense of autonomy. If Elon were driven by targets, he would have given up after the third failed rocket attempt at SpaceX.
What is autonomy? Autonomy means you’re self-governed and self-determined. It doesn’t mean you have flex-time–that’s not autonomous. It also doesn’t mean you don’t have to show up–in fact it’s the quite the contrary. Autonomy means that when you show up you’re there, you’re into it, and you’re all in. It means you “show up” a lot. Autonomy means you’re driven by results and you’re excited to make shit happen. People who have autonomy don’t fill seats or waste time for the sake of being at work and getting paid. The truth is you can get a lot more done showing up for 4 hours a day 4 times a week then by wasting time 12 hours a day 5 days a week.
Have fun. Be fun. And more importantly–be a leader, not a manager.
Engineers build things to solve problems. They filter through effects to find causes so problems can be solved and lives can be happier. More importantly engineers speak up when they see something that’s deeply broken. We should all be engineers.
If an engineer’s mindset were applied to the fashion industry, there wouldn’t be markdowns. Markdowns are waste. If we looked at the core causes that create markdowns, the root cause would be too much product for too few customers. We don’t need enough fuel to get to Saturn, if we’re only going to Mars. An engineer’s mindset would look to eliminate waste, not create it.
Markdowns are a solvable problem. Let’s fix it.
So many companies talk about how they are becoming more and more data driven. While I think that’s a good thing, I also think it could also be a very dangerous thing.
Being driven by something is much different than being intelligent about something. A person or company that is data intelligent is very different than a person or company that is data driven. Being driven means you are propelled by something. It’s not enough to say we use data to propel us forward. Using the right data with the wrong conclusion can be as detrimental as using the wrong data, or no data, at anytime.
Being intelligent, on the other hand, means you have a high mental capacity for something. It’s a process brought about by good judgement and sound thought. Driven is compulsion whereas intelligence is skill. Let’s work to make sure the fashion industry becomes data intelligent.
Understand who your customer is and what they want from you. If you’re a brand and sell your products to other retailers, you need to know what their customers bought of your products. It’s completely irrelevant what you sold to the retailer. Likewise forward bookings, or orders from your retail partners, are useless. Just because you sold it to them, doesn’t mean you’ll sell it to me. If you want to build a brand that customers love, look only at what they’ve bought from you. If they didn’t buy it, they didn’t want it. That could be a function of the right product at the wrong time, or the wrong product at anytime. Your job is to figure out what your customers wanted and then make sure they can get more LIKE it at the right time in the future.