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Close-Up preview: Q&A with Fourmarketing directors Ben Banks and Gino Da Prata

Ahead of this weekend’s Close-Up with Fourmarketing directors Ben Banks and Gino Da Prata, Drapers’ deputy editor Ana Santi gives a preview of the distributors’ thoughts on the industry.

When distributor Mirabelle Edgedale fell into administration in June, Fourmarketing acquired its womenswear brands. Why did you decide to make that move?

Ben Banks: “Some of the brands we’ve acquired have European, Russian and Middle Eastern distribution so strategically for us, it’s very exciting. It will help us be even more diversified, particularly in womenswear. It will take our customer base to over 300 womenswear customers throughout the whole of Europe, Russia and the Middle East, from about 130. Over the last 12 months, we’ve been focusing much more intensively on our womenswear business.

How is womenswear performing?

Gino Da Prata: M Missoni is our biggest business in womenswear. We’ve been with that brand for over four years. It’s well represented in Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols, but it’s also well represented in higher end independents. The speciality for the product – you can tell it’s an M Missoni piece – [makes it successful]. The name is aspirational, it’s internationally recognised.

Ben Banks: But also, ocassionwear is still very very important in womenswear in the UK. People will cut back on their core items – they might substitute a more premium denim brand for a Uniqlo jean because they want a black jean and they want it now. But for weddings, Ascot, all these types of family-based occasions, a collection like M Missoni scores very well – it’s distinctive, it’s elegant, with a great heritage. It’s associated with a very aspirational mainline. You can get an outfit for under £1,000, which for a big occasion, there’s enough people out there willing to pay that.

Operating in the premium sector, do you find that some of the brands you represent still have reservations about selling their products online?

Ben Banks: The problem is that online is very cluttered, there’s been a lot of online in-season discounting, and discounting is a very blunt tool to drive trade. And these brands spend a lot of money on everything they do, from the environment, campaign, materials… if in-season that brand is then 40% off, ultimately it undermines the value of that brand. If Mercedes cars were discounted 30% regularly, people would stop buying them or the long term price of them would come down. We work very hard to actively manage it, not just in a contractual sense, but in a relationship sense too. We encourage people that this is not the direction to go into. If you’re on Sale after six weeks, what are you telling your customers? You’re telling your customers that your product is not that desirable.

So how can we avoid this? And how can indies and brands better support each other?

Ben Banks: We’d rather bend with the wind when a company has the wrong stock, the wrong assortment and do as much as we can to help them. The buyer can’t always blame the seller; they still selected that product. You sold it in good faith and I bought it in good faith but it’s not working. So it’s not just the seller’s fault; it’s a shared responsibility. Our business was built upon independents going back 15, 20 years. And it’s still a big part of our business.

Gino Da Prata: I think the independent sector is changing. I think it’s about how the brands support these independents. It’s about recognising your territory and your consumer and working with your supplier. We can’t let the high street govern how we control our sector.

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