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Drapers Debate: Should indies be looking to buy in new brands?

A Drapers survey – to be published in this week’s magazine – suggests indies are sticking to existing brands for future seasons rather than sourcing from new names. Should they always embrace new brands?


YES - Ruth Faulkner, news reporter

The central ethos of an independent retailer is to set itself apart from its rivals on the high street and so by their very nature, indies should be championing new brands.

When times are tough, it is understandable that buyers are more reluctant to commit their precious budget on an unknown brand, but to maintain indies’ role as the nose of the fashion industry, seeking out new talent and breaking new brands, it is crucial they don’t lose their nerve.

Admittedly not everyone is likely to find the next Alexander McQueen but if new brands can’t break through in independent retailers then where can they do it?

Flipping the issue on its head, when times are tough consumers are also cautious with their cash. What better way to persuade them to part with their pennies than to introduce a new, directional brand on the cusp of making it big - surely everyone wants to wear the next big thing before anyone else?

The high street is drab enough as it is sometimes. Indies shouldn’t fall into this trap of playing it safe, and should be working season-on-season to ensure their stores are as fresh and exciting for their customers as possible.


NO - Victoria Gallagher, news reporter

It’s all very well to advocate experimentation, but in a climate where businesses are dropping like flies it makes sense to stick with what works.

Indies need brands they can rely on and labels they know will keep customers coming back for more – they should not be gambling the house on what may or may not be the next big thing. Now is not the time to go experimenting.

Consumers’ purse-strings are tight, and until we see a change, buyers must be ruthless. Better established brands carry a name that shoppers know and trust – and will come back to time and again.

There is also more reliability with brands indies have worked with for a long time – you know when and how they will pay you, meaning there is less uncertainty when stocking the brand.

That’s not to say the shops need to be filled with boring product –after all, doesn’t history tell us that heels get higher and hem lines get shorter during a downturn? And 2012 is no different. Instead of looking for something totally untried, indies should be offering customers exciting options from well-loved names, supplying freshness with the comfort of brand security.

Readers' comments (9)

  • emma givvons

    In this current climate, brands new or old should be bending over backwards to secure orders, not insisting on a minimum spend of either cost or pieces. It's very off putting when we Indies have budget restraints but would like to test the water with a different brand.
    Not knowing how it will perform for us, we would be foolish to drop a brand to pick up an unknown. If we could just try a couple of styles and they were a success, we would then be back for more. I think it's very precious and short sighted practice that should change.
    This visit to Pure was a success for us and we placed orders with two new (to us) that have no minimum and can't wait to see the reaction we get from our ladies.

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  • Hear Hear Emma - the logic of minimum orders is based upon a false premise in that a retailer always buys what can be sold and, in the case of a new brand for a retailer, to do so, the size of the order needs to be such that it is enough for the brand to have an image in the store but no so much as to be a financial disaster if it proves not to be sucessful - so, a minimum order stipulation is a decision by a retailer and not the agent/supplier - that why we here at Parkers do not have minuimum order rules and why retailers buy our collections and go from strength to strength each season.

    Glynn Alwyn-Jones.
    020 7434 1994

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  • I think the two previous coments just go to show how complex the debate is.

    I am a huge advocate of newness but then I work in the industry and it's very easy to become overfamiliar with brands that don't change the formula (whether it works for them or not). Consumers are also difficult to assess - it will be more of a case of doing what is right for your store rather than follow a trend towards new brands or consolidating with what you currently stock.

    If your customers are generally more directional and risk-taking, new brands keep them on their toes while if you operate in a slightly slower-paced area of the market, sticking with what they know may well be a safer bet.

    Furthermore, and not one to court controversy, I would say in general women are more accomodating of and amenable to new brands and directions than men, which puts a further slant on unisex and single sex indies.

    Minimums is a huge issue but indies need to assess whether new brands are really the right way to go before worrying about whether they can get them in.

    Personally I'd always gravitate towards new and exciting names taking risks rather than the same-old same-olds doing another pair of boring chinos or T-shirts with an assortment of meaningless graphics.

    But if that's what's selling...

    Ian Wright
    Fashion Director, Drapers

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  • In a way, both answers are right. You need to stick with the brands that work for you, but even in a tough climate, you need to move your business on. It's too easy to just stick with what you know, because before you know where you are, your customers don't want to know.

    The problem is the brands and the people who run them. Some of them are so image obsessed and have delusions of grandeur, they don't want the business. Unreasonable and unworkable minimums are helping nobody. Brands are being stunted in their growth potential by the absolute fools that are running them, many who have no retail experience whatsoever and are blinkered by idealism, surrounded by back slapping middle management who are too afraid of asking questions for the fear they will be replaced.

    Brands should be working with their partners, instead of dictating to them. Letting the relationship grow and develop, but for many brands, that's a thing of the past making everything a one way street.

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  • As an indie you need to establish a brand and build your customer base but you need to bring in fresh brands to keep your competitive edge and continue to offer the point of difference between yourself, the high street and your competitors. We placed a small in season order with a new brand gained an immediate positive response & had 100% sell-through. We will be doing the same for winter with the brand too. Our SS13 order is placed and considerably larger than if it would be if we hadn't seen the response to our test purchases. Indies and brands need to work together to build our businesses together - neither will succeed without the other.

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  • www.Anthony&

    As a brand owner I believe small indies should be buying in new brands to offer something different and exclusive compared to the larger retailers.

    Im not saying that they should risk a large portion of their budget on new brands, as that would be too risky - but perhaps look to spend 5-10% of their budget on new brands.

    They could look to take a small range of several new brands at not too large cost to test the water - I offer top ups to retailers when they sell out of sizes or styles, this is something new brands should offer to increase flexability to new customers.

    Also new brands should think about offering sale or return to new customer in the first season if possible, of course this is dependant on the individual brand and whether they can afford to opperate in this way. The long term benefits for the brand could be good based on future orders if the brand sells well.

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  • We have had success introducing new accessory brands, especially scarves, however our customers are far too loyal to suiting/partywear brands to stray, we have tried introducing new designers but they just end up marked down at the end of the season.

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  • WOW!!!! What a lot of diverse opinions!!! However, the most common word in all the comments above is "new" - what is "new"? - does it have to apply to a "new" brand or can an existing brand have a "new" look? Can a tried and tested brand offer a "new" look" that, for the consumer, will be "new", even though the brand is not "new"? I'm sure that all the above-mentioned contributors would agree that fashion is always evolving so, it is not right to say that the sucessful brands have to be "new" or they will not continue to be sucessful? At the end of the day, the consumer is King (or Queen!!) and whether a retailer's offer is "new" or not will be decided by that retailer's customers!!

    Glynn Alwyn-Jones
    020 7434 1994

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  • The independent retailer must always be looking for newness to compliment their main core brands and as fashions run on cycles so should a brand mix of a store.

    When things are tough the consumer is looking for excitment and reasons to buy, so newness can often provide this. Over the years my best retailers have proved to be the ones that constantly look for ways to improve and evolve their offer.

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