How to Have the Right Product in the Right Location at the Right Time
SEMINAR: How to Have the Right Product in the Right Location at the Right Time
By Lauren Parker, Contributing Editor
Lisa Metcalfe, Founder and CEO of New York-based fashion industry consulting company Ten
Yards, gave the Accessories Council an info-packed presentation on Reinventing Your
Business. A fashion and retail veteran with over 30 years of experience, Metcalfe has
worked across every fashion business, from companies with pre-revenue to $1B+ annually,
with 2 to 20,000+ employees, and across men’s and women’s lines in ready-to-wear,
handbags, shoes, accessories and swim. She’s managed product development, sourcing,
production, logistics and operations for Calvin Klein, London Fog, Victoria’s Secret, Theory
and Juicy Couture. She was founding partner and COO of Pam & Gela, the innovative brand
from Juicy Couture founders Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Taylor.
Below is a synopsis of her top tips (plus lots of tough love):
HAVE CLARITY ON YOUR VISION
It sounds simplistic, but you need to know what you want your business to be. Not everyone
wants a billion dollar brand and that’s ok. Maybe you just want to be a million dollar brand, or
half a million. But you need to clarify so you can structure your business accordingly. Know your
brand! What is the 60-second synopsis? I’ve mentored incubator designers, and they all had a
vision but not all had a brand. PR is always great, but PR without a business strategy will
inevitably lead to failure.
KNOW YOUR END GOAL
What are your intentions with your business? Do you want to build it to sell? Grow organically?
Grow and always own your own company? Different business models require different decision
making. It isn’t about right or wrong, but rather setting yourself up for your intended success.
Again, know your business!
ADMIT THAT STARTING A BRAND IS HARD
Somehow, this needs to be repeated. I mentor students and many think that starting a fashion
line is easy. Of course, some have the funds from family to start, which is always a plus, but
they don’t realize how quickly money burns through. They’ll blow through that $100,000 check in
three months putting a collection together. Then what?
LEARN ALL THE DIFFERENT JOBS IN YOUR COMPANY
This is key. I’m not saying you need to be the best at each role, but you need to know how each
job needs to get done. I’ve made mistakes hiring the wrong people because I didn’t fully
understand what those roles required. I only let that happen once. I learned from my mistakes.
KNOW YOUR AGREEMENTS
Know what you are getting into. And how to get out of it. A lot of people don’t read—or don’t
understand—the fine print of a contract, but it’s a crucial part of the business. I know I sound like
a divorce lawyer here, but when you’re entering a new business relationship, think about your
strategy to exit that relationship. You can’t be afraid to have those discussions.
LEARN HOW TO COST
So many of the people I mentor think their margins are great, but people don’t always fully
understand how to set a wholesale price to cover themselves. They need to know A to Z the
costs included in producing an item, and it’s not just materials and labor. It should include
freight, duty, packaging, etc. The wholesale price needs to reflect the “true cost.” Source to that
real margin, even if it is lower, at least you know that this is the real margin and you can work at
sourcing differently if need be. The goal is no surprises.
KNOW WHAT YOU CAN DELIVER
Everyone wants to be in a Nordstrom or Neimans, but you have to ask yourself if you’re ready to
ship them correctly. Do it wrong and it will cost you financially. Are you really prepared to ship to
their expectations, both in volume and specification? They run big organizations that require that
the manufacturer do all of the steps correctly, if you don’t, they will deduct off the invoice.
Understand the requirements and then make the decision is you have the proper
person/function in house. If not, don’t be afraid to outsource to a qualified third-party warehouse.
It’s fine to go after the big retailers, but know what you’re getting into and know how to succeed.
TRACK AND EVALUATE YOUR DIGITAL SPEND
Everyone is investing in digital marketing, but you have to know your goals. Is your digital
marketing spend actually turning into sales and profits? Do you know how to track it? If you
don’t track its effectiveness, you could be throwing money out the window. On the flip side,
maybe you just want exposure—“likes” and shares. You have to know your goals, so if you do
hire a digital marketing firm or employee, you can figure out how to measure the success of that
KNOW THE BUZZWORDS THAT RESONATE WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS
If you’re selling direct to consumer, evaluate key words that work for you. What buzzwords will
your customers be searching for? If you don’t know, your digital marketing will be less effective.
Companies like Tory Burch or Ralph Lauren are so solid with their messaging. Even the
employees speak the same brand language.
DON’T JUMP INTO EVERY NEW TECH IDEA
Lots of people are developing and selling cool tech platforms for the fashion industry, but your
company doesn’t need to be the guinea pig for every new concept or idea. You need to know
what your customer will understand, need and embrace. I had a client selling high-end luxury
fashion and they were just about to buy an expensive program that enabled women to virtually
try on outfits on the avatar. I said, ‘Your customer is never going to do this! It isn’t on brand!’ It
was a good save.
WHAT IS YOUR GROWTH STRATEGY?
Again, know your company. What is your strategy? Is it Direct to Consumer? Are you
established in Big Box and want more boutiques? Or the other way around? When you’re
growing in wholesale, it’s important to know your retail partners. Yes, you want to get your foot
in the door badly but know that you can push back! Don’t be afraid to negotiate the terms.
DON’T GET TRAPPED IN THE INVENTORY GAME
Beware the game of swaps and returns. You need to buy inventory with a plan in mind in case
you need to get rid of it. What is your plan to move it? Are you launching a website to sell direct
to consumer? Will you be doing trunk shows? Can you rework the design for an upcoming
season? Can you melt it down? Can you send to a jobber? You need to be prepared.
ANALYZE SALES STRATEGICALLY
Look at your business and what’s selling objectively. Just because sales are up doesn’t mean
they’re the right sales. Flat sales are ok if they’re cleaner and more profitable. Everyone in this
room has already sold a lot of merchandise through the first half of 2019, so that’s set. Never
stop evaluating and reviewing expenses and how to improve. It will make your sales that much
BE PROACTIVE ABOUT THE NEW TARIFFS
With new tariffs on certain accessories imported from China, brands that manufacture in that
country are going to see their margins shrink. While the quick and easy answer is to move out of
China, this may be the end goal but you must do it in a prepared manner. We all know it is not
easy to bring on a new factory to meet our product expectations. Have open dialogue with your
factories. See if they can share some of the tariff cost. You will be surprised how many times the
answer is yes. A lot of the bigger factories already have their own “offshore” manufacturing.
Push hard and see if you can relocate your manufacturing there. There will be a large learning
curve with a new factory in a new company, so do a test order if you can afford it. Don’t take for
granted that a new factory will understand you, your product and your expectations. Take the
time to work through communication and educating the factory on your process and what works
for your product.