Handbag and accessories brand Zatchels’ head of sales explains why he is eyeing up the Far Eastern market.
I’m up at 6am on Monday, talking to our Chinese contacts on WeChat. I’ll schedule a catch-up with all the agents and trade managers to find out what’s been going on the previous week and what’s lined up for the brand in the week to come. China is a gateway into the Asian market. Our Chinese distributor has contacts in Singapore and we’re also in talks to expand into South Korea. I then follow these conversations up with other international partners.
In the past year I have spent a lot of time setting up agents internationally. We’ve cemented distribution in Germany and Italy, as well as getting a distribution deal in China, which we were really pleased about.
Zatchels appeals to a broad spectrum. We have different satchel ranges for men, women and kids, as well as soft leather bags. We’re actually moving away from selling as many satchels and including more softer-style bucket bags and backpacks in our collections, alongside shoppers and the micro collections, which are classic styles shrunk down for nights out.
We collaborated last year with the Tate gallery on a satchel incorporating John Singer Sargent’s painting Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose and worked with Oxford University on a satchel collection. Over the past few years, we’ve released 20 to 30 different bag styles, all manufactured in our own factory in Leciester. We’re at a competitive price point: not super-luxury, but not the lower end of the market either. For example, our autumn 15 collection ranges from £45 to £195.
America is my favourite market as at heart I’m a bit of an old-school retailer and I really admire the way they manage sales over there. Nothing is too much trouble for the customer and they build long-lasting relationships, be that in retail or wholesale.
I’ve been in retail since I was 16 and working with my uncle, Bernie Bolt. He had the licence for six concessions selling French label Ton Sur Ton, including one in Lillywhites in Piccadilly, where I used to work on the weekend. It taught me from an early age the importance of visual merchandising and having full knowledge of your stock. I also learned how essential it is to look approachable and not bored, be it in a shop or in a trade show booth. The amount of times I’ve seen sales people sitting down looking at their phones at trade shows is unbelievable.
People think sales is easy, but that’s far from the truth. Building a customer list and sustaining connections is far from easy. I can spend a lot of time out of hours cultivating these relationships and, with the way technology keeps you in touch, out-of-office hours don’t exist anymore.
I’d advise my 18-year-old self to go straight into wholesale. It’s the business side of sales I enjoy the most because it’s all about building long-term relationships and there’s a longer path for career progression. I’ve always believed you should treat your wholesale customer like your best customer in-store.
When I first started at Zatchels in 2014, the sales department was external. After I arrived, we brought the team in-house so we could have greater responsibility for that side of the business. Internationally, we’re working with UK Trade & Investment on their e-marketing programme, Fashion Without Borders, which is designed to help UK businesses sell on different marketplaces worldwide. For example, UKTI partners with a French etailer such as Spartoo, which as part of the relationship offers to translate all our product information into the relevant language for the 17 countries it trades in worldwide.
My favourite part of sales is visiting stores worldwide because I love interacting with people working in-store and training the sales guys. Seeing the product you’ve worked hard on go into stores and being well received by customers is amazing. I also enjoy visiting trade shows like Capsule in Berlin, where we exhibited last year, as I love getting the product in front of people to gauge their reaction.
People I admire in the industry include Randy Federgreen, founder of Creative 18, an agency that advises people on how to break into the US wholesale business. I also admire Robert Carruth, general manager of wholesale for the Americas at Paul Smith, who I worked with at independent store group Bamford & Sons. They both taught me a lot about working with brands and gave me good connections that I still have to this day.
I’d advise anyone in sales to never compromise too much and under-deliver. It might seem obvious, but I know people who have done it and it’s never ended in them having a good reputation. Also, try and remember people’s names. That’s always a good piece of advice. And never lose your client list. It happened to me once and now I keep copies all over the place.
If I had another career I might have become a carpenter. My father, Roger Rankine, was a carpenter and worked at the House of Lords as a parliamentary technical officer making many beautiful things and organising the maintenance of the House. He ended up working there for 25 years. Perhaps I would have gone down that path. I can barely hold a screwdriver, though!
1993-1995 – Advanced GNVQ Business of Fashion Management, London College of Fashion
January 2014 – Head of sales, Zatchels
October 2011 – December 2013 - International wholesale manager, Liberty
July 2010-October 2011 – UK retail and wholesale manager, Crombie
July 2009-June 2010 – Store manager, Bamford & Sons, independent stores in Wimbledon, Notting Hill and Sloane Avenue
November 2007-July 2009 – Wholesale manager, Bamford & Sons (Europe/Middle East/Russia and Far East)
August 2004-November 2007 – Assistant manager, Bamford & Sons, Sloane Square
November 2002-August 2004 – Menswear manager, Polo Ralph Lauren, Fulham Road
March 2001-November 2002 – Senior sales assistant, Joseph, Sloane Avenue
March 1998-March 2001 – Store manager, Lambretta Clothing Co, Carnaby Street
September 1996-March 1998 – Management trainee, Burton Group (Arcadia)