Make people want your products this holiday season

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The holiday selling season is right around the corner. What happens between now and December 25th can either make or break a brand because this period often represents more than 20% of the entire year’s selling.

Want to know how to be successful as a brand or retail of fashion products? Do this…

MAKE PEOPLE WANT YOU PRODUCTS. It’s your choice, it’s in your control, and you do that by setting your stores and channels up to TURN INVENTORY FAST. The faster you turn, the more consumers WANT your products. Forget about sales and margins–see how fast you can make your doors and channels turn.

Getting the right goods in the right locations at the right time is a brand’s ultimate endgame. Executives and leaders focusing their efforts on marketing and promotions, and not spending 2x that time using data to figure out how much of which products need to be set up and ready to go in every door across your distribution network, are going to suffer greatly. It’s what we mean by the shit hitting the fan.

It’s like this: working out in the gym and eating healthy food is awesome, but it means little if you eat too many calories. It’s also important to fuel your body with the right calories at the right time. You have to have your calories under control if you want to be healthy and active. Likewise, you have to have inventory under control and deliver it in the right amounts to the right locations at the right time.

Doing this means knowing exactly how much and which products are being distributed to what doors through your own retail stores, as well as your wholesale partners. Just because you sold a bunch of goods to a wholesale partner, doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing with it. If product doesn’t stick, it comes back and kicks you in the head. A successful brand makes sure the right amount of the right goods are going to every door and location in its entire network. Do the work.

Getting involved in marketing campaigns and product conversations are fun. Traveling around the country to see how products are displayed is important. I get it. Everybody enjoys doing that. But getting your inventory right is what’s going to make you successful or not. Fast sell-thru’s ensure high gross margins, which mean you are fit, lean, healthy, athletic and highly competitive.

 

 

The 1 trait high-impact people and brands do that others don’t

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There’s a lot of conversation about the things successful people or businesses do that other may not do as well. Just spend some time perusing the business leadership section or self-help books on amazon.com and you’ll find plenty of books about the subject as well. The classic traits are being innovate, authentic, creative, a leader, curious, driven, and so on. Those are all important, but I find one trait rolls all of them into one.

This is a trait I clearly remember being driven into us as a small team helping to build the Tommy Hilfiger brand in the 1990’s from $70 million to $1.5 billion. It’s something I certainly think Steve Jobs did. And if you look at Google, Facebook, and other Earth-shaking brands out there today you’ll see they do this as well. But sadly it’s a missing character from many businesses today. It clearly sets the leaders apart from the followers.

I’ve found that many brands are innovative and create products or campaigns that are interesting. I’ve met many strong leaders and I’ve certainly met a lot of driven people, but the clearest sign to me as to whether or not a person or business will be successful is one simple trait–RESPONSIVENESS. People and businesses that are responsive do really well. Those that don’t, struggle at best and fail more frequently than not.

In the simplest of terms, being responsive means you’re on top of things. You and your teams call people back immediately. Emails and texts are returned instantly. You follow-up vigorously. You seek out ideas, new talent, and opportunities. You make shit happen. Responding is numero uno!

That doesn’t mean you respond to everything from everybody. It would be maddening to filter through all the junk emails and phone solicitations. It was Steve Jobs that said “deciding what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.” But you can’t make that decision if you don’t respond to what’s out there. How would you know what’s possible?

Being responsive means that if an intriguing idea comes your way, you jump on it. If your boss, colleague, friend, or other trusted source tells you to call someone or do something, you do it. Not later. Not tomorrow. Not sometime next week when you catch your breath. Don’t put it on your to-do list. Do it right freaking now. That’s what movers and shakers do. Being responsive is a guarantee you’ll be successful.

More to the point: if you roll up all the classic traits of a successful person or business like being innovative, curious, driven, and creative, none of that can be achieved if you’re not enthusiastically responsive.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being responsive to people, ideas, and change.

 

Consultants vs. Advisors

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There seems to be a negative connotation with consultants in the fashion industry.  Many fashion brands seems to think that they’ve got everything figured out just fine.  Truth is that’s probably a good sign that they don’t.

Thinking you have everything figured out is sort of like talking about an economic bubble. As a rule of thumb, if no one is talking about a bubble, then there’s likely a bubble.  On the other hand, if a lot of people are talking about a bubble, then there probably isn’t.  Like many things in life if you’re aware of something, then you’re likely being proactive and thereby preventing that thing from doing you more harm than necessary.

One of the largest challenges any business has is becoming inward-thinking and internally biased.  Teams get stuck thinking about what they “need to do” as opposed to “what can be done”.  This is why an outside view is often beneficial at times–to gain fresh perspective from an objective party that hasn’t been sucked into the inward-thinking that happens at even the best of companies.  There’s a lot of politics involved in what and how employees are motivated to think and to act.  An outside perspective is a good way to make sure you see all the options available to helping your business and teams succeed.

A strong consultant or advisor is someone or some group that has expertise a company may not have access to or needs to rethink.  Consultants typically come into companies to fix problems that are already broken.  An advisor, on the other hand, is typically an ongoing advocate to help prevent bad things from happening in the first place.  One is reactive. The other is proactive.  It is often the case that a proven consultant becomes a trusted advisor.

Innovative businesses and people always seek broad perspective.  If we only relied upon the insight and knowledge of our direct circle of friends and colleagues,  we’d miss the opportunity to learn and grow from new ideas and perspectives.  Worse yet, because we would never have gained that knowledge, we’d not be able to teach and give that knowledge to others.

 

No cogs allowed

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As more and more companies struggle to find a path towards improved business and engagement with customers, one of the main things they have to consider is getting rid of a cogged system. You know what a cogged system is. It’s when someone does “this” and by nature protects “that”. It’s what almost all people were taught to be a part of. Get a good education, do good work, keep your job. Leaders embrace it. Employees protect it. The problem is it completely stunts the ability to find newness, innovation, synergy, and honestly a motivated team.

An un-cogged system, on the other hand, encourages people to try new ideas, find new talent, make a bunch of mistakes, learn before the competition, and drive people to think and create instead of process and do. It shouldn’t be possible that the only way to make something happen for a brand or business is to get approval from the CEO. Cogs by nature exist to prevent disruption or newness. They are the system of an assembly line. That’s why a clock or time piece remains accurate or other machinery crunches out predictable output. You need new ideas. People want to be artists. Why have cooks when you can assemble chefs?

If you want to innovate and become the future, get rid of your cogged system.

Zig when you think you should zag

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Photo: autoweek.com

I remember years ago when I bought my first real sports car. This was a car that could literally give you neck pain from its acceleration. It was a rocket on wheels, and honestly a lot more car than I knew how to control. Going zero to sixty was a thrill, but the most fun was it’s handling on turns. Unfortunately this was before a lot of electronics made car handling much more manageable for the average driver and the enthusiast like me alike. If you didn’t know how to drive this car, it would get out from under you easily–like an untamed horse.

Here’s what I quickly learned–what you think you should do is sometimes the opposite of what you ought to do. The natural tendency of most drivers going fast into a turn is to apply the brakes just before and into the turn. Don’t do that! I learned that the hard way by finding myself spinning around in circles. I thought it was the car, but it turns out it was me. Braking into a sharp curve from a high rate of speed changes the dynamics of the car. By doing what is normal, braking, you essentially shift the weight of the car forward on the front wheels, take weight off the rear wheels, and voila the back of the car becomes the front of the car–sometime several times in succession! And while this can be a lot of fun, it’s also scary as hell.

What I quickly learned is that you actually do the opposite. When going into a sharp turn, set your speed into the turn so you can ACCELERATE through the turn; brake before, accelerate through. Who the hell would think to do that? Perhaps a physicists or engineer, but certainly not me. Yet by accelerating through the turn, you improve the dynamics of the car by applying downforce on the car’s center of gravity, which lets you zip through the turn with great force and control. You zig when you think you ought to zag.

My description of physics in the above example is elementary at best. I also don’t recommend most people going out and trying this aggressively. There’s a fine line between accelerating too much and too little. If done correctly however, you are faster and safer–unless of course you want to crawl through the turn; in which case there’s no sense having a spiffy little sports car. It takes time and practice to become comfortable zigging when you think you ought to be zagging.

The point is that you need to apply this to many real-life circumstances. When you’re in a hurry, slow down. When you’re angry, breath. It works! Zigging instead of zagging is likewise critical for brands and businesses. If sales are bad, don’t take markdowns. If competition is aggressive, think smaller. When everyone is zigging, zag. And if everyone is zagging, zig!

Brands equal the experience they give

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Brands have a habit of focusing too much on product and not enough on experience. I see this happening a lot with fashion. Fashion brands used to create collections of products and then advertise and market around a lifestyle. That doesn’t work anymore. Consumers want experiences. They want something unique and special that adds value to their life.

Restaurants have learned this. Go to Dig Inn or Sweetgreens and you are part of an experience. A great experience lets you become part of a community. It allows you to interact, make your own choices, be a part of the process, and feel good telling friends and colleagues about your what you’ve done. If it weren’t an experience with good product, people wouldn’t stand in line for half their lunch break to get some quality food.

Brands need to come to the realization that truthfully no one cares about their products. Consumers care about the experience. How do you make it interesting for your consumers to connect with you? How do you make them feel engaged with what you are doing, thinking, creating, and producing? Are they part of the process? Would they stand in line for your products because they are excited to tell friends and colleagues about what they’ve gained from you?

Brands that are focused on product and not creating an experience for their consumers are racing to the bottom with price. Let’s be crystal clear–discounts and promotions are not an experience, and consumers aren’t transactions. Brands have to move beyond creating a lifestyle to creating an experience. Your brand is only as good as the experience you give your fans.

Adding Fuel to the Fire

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Many brands and retailers are adding fuel to the fire that is decimating much of the industry. Suffice it to say many business leaders are literally in a state of panic. Mall traffic is down double-digits, comp-store sales are weak, promotions are rampant, coupons are common, and fashion has no clear directional trend. The forest is on fire.

Oxygen fuels fire. Blow some air on a good hot fire and see what happens. Fires love oxygen and they need fuel like dead trees, grass, and brush to grow. To control a forest fire you clear surrounding areas of fuel, dowse the fire with water, keep it under control, and wait for rain.

INVENTORY IS OXYGEN. As much as you need oxygen to breath, you need inventory to generate sales. But like oxygen ignites flames that destroy a landscape, so does inventory to ignite markdowns, obliterate margins, and devastate a brand.

When the forest is on fire, you have to contain the burn by managing fuel and oxygen.

Do more with a less inventory and your forest will thrive. Drive your planning teams to constrict the flow of oxygen and charge your buying teams to identify only the best sources of fuel.

 

Photo: National Geographic

 

It’s Not Science, It’s Fashion. 3 Things to Improve Biz

Wierd-AlThere’s three things I think brands and retailers need to start getting better at if they want to improve business right now. We know you have to create great product and you have to have an awesome marketing campaign, but you also have to manage the amount of product you produce and create a sense of demand.

I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to people say that this product didn’t sell well or that item was a bomb. Team after team, brand after brand, and retailer after retailer continue to over develop, over assort, and under perform. It’s not because of uncooperative weather or bad product or new trends or whatever excuse is made at the time; it’s because too much product was made and bad bets were placed against the wrong styles within that inventory. Too much, too often, not focused…

Here’s an important fact: no brand or retailer has ever gone out of business because they had too little inventory–it’s the opposite.

Here are three things to get serious about if you want to be a player and have a product, brand, or business that consumers want with passion.

 

#1 GET REAL ABOUT YOUR SALES ESTIMATES. First things first, sales are the amount of products consumers buy of the things you make. It doesn’t matter if it’s consumed online or in store. It also doesn’t matter if you’re a wholesaler or retailer. You have to know how much goods you sell to consumers. If you don’t, figure it out fast.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s recall Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion, which is a body in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. If you need further insight on this matter, I’d recommend reading the amazing book by Neal Stephensen called Seveneves. In it you can read all about orbital paths and the forces necessary to disrupt those paths and cause meteors or other bodies to behave like a good pet and do as you say. It’s a book recommended by Bill Gates for crying out loud so you know it’s awesome–and geeky.

Anyhow back to reality, like the first law of motion, the same is effectively true with sales. Something big had to happen to go from selling nothing to selling something. You had to create or disrupt another force. Trends fade due to other trends gaining momentum. Think of trends like friction–it just is and you have to account for it.

Now don’t be fooled, sales are highly predictable especially when you have an existing business with data. They are like orbital paths. I’ve worked with teams and we have consistently projected sales 18 to 24 months into the future that have actuated at plus or minus 2% (that’s freaking amazing) barring any major events like 9/11. In all the years of estimating forward sales, we have found that unless something significant and meaningful happens, those sales continue along a very predictable path much like a body in motion against the normal forces of gravity and friction–economics and trends.

Another point here is that the larger the body, or sales volume in our case, the more of an outside force or action is needed to change its course. For physics buffs, this is Newton’s second law of inertia–big stuff needs a greater force to move it than does little stuff. You should be able to quantify any meaningful effort to change the path of your business—new shops, stores, distribution, market reach, etc. More inventory and more iterations of the same products does little to affect change. It’s just more mass. In order for change to happen, the disruption has to be material and it has to be an investment in time, money, and resources.

As the saying goes, “hope is not a strategy”. You cannot “will” your way into gaining more sales anymore than you can use your mind to move a stone.

Get real about your estimates and know that hope is not a strategy.

 

#2 CUT INVENTORY IN HALF. Yes you heard me and no I’m not kidding. The global apparel industry produces more than 150 billion garments every year and there’s only around 2 billion people with the means to consume those goods! The ratio of what you produce to what you actually sell at margin probably isn’t much better. Take a look and see how many units you make in a year compared to how many units CONSUMERS purchase at viable margin in a year. I promise it will be staggering.

If you took the time and figured out how much you honestly expect to be able to sell in a year or period, why would you buy 2 or 3 times the inventory you need to generate those sales? It’s a waste of money and resources plus it stunts demand. When we buy too much inventory, we flood the marketplace with goods and destroy any sense of demand. Don’t be afraid to let your consumers WANT your products.

As a rule of thumb, what you plan to sell plus how much you can responsibly take in markdowns, equals the amount of receipts you need to deliver. It’s just math. Don’t make it complicated. If you expect to do sales of $100 and want a markdown rate of 30%, buy $130 worth of product. Why would you buy $500 worth of stuff to sell $100 worth of products?

Hear’s a cheat sheet: if the product you produce has a lot of sizes, e.g., footwear and apparel, you should buy no more than 1.4x sales. If your products don’t have sizes, e.g., handbags and jewelry, receipts should be no more than 1.2x sales.

This shouldn’t be looked at as tough medicine. It should be viewed as religion. It should be CORE to your business acumen. You can do sales with a lot less goods. And guess what? Doing that only creates demand, it generates a lot more gross margin, let’s more people keep their jobs, and it’s the right thing to do for our environment.

Stop being afraid and do more with less.

 

#3 PLACE MEANINGFUL BETS. A lot of brands and retailers hedge their buys. Instead of taking big bets, they buy a little bit of everything–and a little bit of everything results in a whole lot of nothing.

After you’ve completed step 2 above and buy a lot less goods in general, now you have to buy more of the right stuff and less of the wrong stuff. If you have data and if you’re engaging your customers, this is easy. Don’t make it more complicated than it is.

Here’s the point, you have to figure out what is going to drive sales and buy a lot of those products. You also have to figure out what is going to excite your audience and splash those products around. Don’t buy all your SKU’s equal. Don’t even let them get close. Pareto’s principle states that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes, which in our case means 20% of your SKU’s will likely generate 80% of your sales. Don’t fight it. It works. The beauty of this also is that it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t have breadth of an assortment. Go at it. Have a broad assortment of goods. Just make sure that a small portion of those SKU’s account for most of your inventory. What consumers see and what you have in the stockroom should be two completely different things–an optical illusion. That’s what inventory management is all about.

If you’re not buying your top SKU’s exponentially deeper than your bottom SKU’s, you’re destroying your business and it’s your fault. It’s not the weather. It’s not the economy’s. It’s not the design team’s fault. And it’s not trends. It’s you, and I mean that if you’re a planner who figures out how much to buy for when, an allocator that distributes the product, a merchandiser that figures out what to buy, a marketer that looks at what to promote, or a leader that looks to build a healthy business that people want to be a part of. If you were a portfolio manager at an investment company, which essentially we all are in some manner or another, your success would depend on how well you place your bets and beat the market or your competition.

 

HERE’S THE GUARANTEE. If you are realistic and honest about how much consumers are likely to buy of your products, buy just enough inventory to generate those sales, and place big bets inside that inventory, I guarantee you will drive significantly more sales, capture more gross margin than you know what to do with, and your consumers will want your products more than ever before.

Final food for thought: if we produced 10% fewer garments each year, that would equal 15 BILLION fewer garments going to landfill. That’s 15 billion less in materials production, which results in waste, pollution and toxins. Furthermore, none of that would be lost sales. All of it would be an increase of profit in terms of margin, our environment, demand from consumers, and strength of our industry.