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Industry’s pace of change brings flexibility to the fore

Talking to brands and buyers at Pure London this week, I was really interested to hear from them how they feel their way of doing business has been affected by the recent fiscal crisis and unpredictable weather.

The general feeling was that the last few years have seen a lot of changes on both sides of the buying fence and they are permanent changes, not something that will revert back once the tough times pass.

One indie buyer, who has bought for her three stores for over 40 years, started with the rather bold statement that she has never managed the perfect buy yet! What she has got better at, she says, is the speed at which she now realises her mistakes and acts to correct the damage. She says her strategy is to read the sales figures on every brand and item and if it’s not flying off the rails, she promotes and then discounts immediately to free up cash flow to top up on the most successful lines. As she puts it, you can’t let emotion or regret creep in. You’re a businessperson first and foremost and cutting your losses is critical. She added to that by outlining the kind of evolution one of her stores has gone through as the area around it changed. The demographic is now wealthier but older than when she started out, so her brand mix and pricing structure have moved on with it.

Other buyers were predominantly on the hunt for new brands this season, to add that point of difference to their business, and one newly launched brand’s owner told me he had actually had a couple of confrontations on his stand between buyers for stores near each other who both wanted it.

The weather has also significantly affected the product itself. Where buyers over the last two or three seasons have become very shrewd at buying items that have the potential to be dressed up or down for the weather, so now brands have adapted the ranges to focus on these items. Buyers now spread their buying budget to allow for a mixture of forward order and in-season top-ups and base their buy on key pieces that will transcend the seasons.

Many brands have also extended their buying into short order, and among the specialist short-order brands that have emerged in recent years many are also doing forward order for the first time now, allowing their customers complete flexibility.

It is this flexibility that is the key to success for all three parties contributing to the transaction – the brand, the buyer and the consumer. Consumers have to be able to see an item working regardless of the unreliable British weather. Brands need to flex around the almost constant buying patterns demanded by today’s buyers, and the buyers need to flex their buying and stock control constantly to shift the product most effectively. 

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