As a designer, you will have to deal with buyers at various points in your career. So it is important that you know who they are and their important role in the successful sale of your designs.
Once you understand how buyers operate and what they look for in a product or supplier, you can tailor your marketing strategy to attract them to your products. We will discuss all these points over the course of this article. First let’s try to understand the role of the buyer in a company.
Who are buyers and what do they do?
Jo Hooper, head buyer of womenswear for John Lewis, sums up her job when she says, “Buying is about problem solving.” Fashion buyers make important selection decisions for fashion lines after considering a number of factors. Depending on the size of a company, a buyer may be in charge of a broad range of products or a very focused area.
Irrespective of the range they are responsible for, all buyers basically have the same role – they procure materials for the product range after analysing data from company sources, customer feedback and market trends. For this, they work closely with suppliers, internal departments in their company, and their customer base.
Buyers liaise with the design team on the costing process for creating a garment and then estimate the maximum amount the company can afford to spend on a product. They also interact with the company’s merchandise department to define the buying budget. This helps them identify materials that not only meet the expectations of the in-house design teams, but also match the quality levels set by the company.
Successful buyers are skilled at identifying what will appeal to customers. Britain’s leading fashion buyer Jo Davies of Black White denim boutique mentions that she studies her customers just as much as she trusts her instincts. It is a constant challenge to surprise buyers with the unexpected, for best results. Therefore, buyers have to be aware of the current and forthcoming trends in their product areas. They plan their buying strategy based on customer feedback and inputs from floor staff. With all the information they collate, they identify design sources and suitable materials that give them the best deal for their budget. Buyers must make sure that the store profits from their purchasing decisions. An experienced buyer can easily identify profitable but realistic deals when they interact with a designer. They also have the negotiation skills to maximise profit after accounting for what they spend on a product.
When you consider how detail-oriented their jobs are and the expertise buyers possess, it can be intimidating to approach a buyer to sell your designs. However, a successful sale is possible when you prepare yourself for this meeting. Let’s look at how you can do this properly.
Tips for meeting with a buyer
When you are a new designer, it is better to start with small orders. Once you have a fair idea of how to fulfil orders, you can move on to bigger retailers.
The first step is to identify stores where your design will be a good fit. Don’t go for everyone! Really take the time to get specific. Narrow down your choices to the ones that will most likely benefit from your designs. One of the first things a buyer looks for is how your product will help their range. Consider this when shortlisting potential buyers.
Once you have listed your options, contact the buyers. Buyers usually entertain designers who are professional in their approach. Secure a discussion opportunity by visiting the store in person and requesting an appointment with their buying team. Take along your business card, design portfolio and any information that will strengthen your case.
Once you land an appointment, find out all you can about the company. This article tells you how serious you should be about a potential meeting. Think of it as an interview. Search the company blog page, website and other sources for all the information you can obtain. The more you know about the company, the better you can impress the buyer and convince him/her that you are serious and that your brand fits their ethos and their clients’ desires. Additionally, do a thorough study of your product. You should know every piece in your collection inside out and be able to give expert answers to all their likely questions.
Don’t take all your designs along for your first meeting. Only carry your best samples that are sure to impress. These should be actual representations of the final product that you will be able to deliver. Be prepared to discuss price, sizing details, quality of material, deadlines, and any possible aspect that will help them analyse whether your product fits their needs. Prepare wholesale prices as well as suggested retail prices – check out our handy guide to wholesale pricing here, with relevant details and calculations on how you arrived at each figure.
Buyers also attend trade shows to meet vendors. Consider participating in some of them to improve your chances of locating potential buyers for your designs. Although you may do your best, it is possible that you may not make the sale with the first buyer you meet. It could be that your product isn’t right for the buyer’s line. Or they may be sounding you out for your first few collections. Don’t let this disappoint you. Instead, treat this as a learning experience to prepare better for what to expect and identify the changes to make for your next meeting.