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Life in the fast lane

In the current climate, what retailer doesn’t want to hold back buying budget to top up stock in-season as and when it’s needed?

The trend for short-order buying and cash and carry has got stronger through the recession, yet the bread-and-butter super-wholesale brands are still grappling with how to flip their business models to serve this growing phenomenon.

While no indie would give up their money-making forward-order core collections, more and more of them are opening their minds to buying quick-react trends, such as this season’s utility and underwear-as-outerwear looks, from wholesalers.

These wholesalers have worked hard to shake off their old fly-by-night image, opening state-of-the-art showrooms and using the lessons they have learnt from reacting for the high street to produce well-priced, trend-led pieces that can drop straight into independent stores and deliver great add-on sales.

Manchester has hundreds of these cash and carry players. Head to the main stock house areas in Cheetham Hill Road, Great Ducie Street and the Northern Quarter in the city centre to find exactly what you need. Menswear still lags behind womenswear in terms of availability but these businesses are moving more into the men’s arena now, so it’s worth scoping out the city to see just what’s on offer.

Here is a selection of some of the top players on the Northwest stock scene.

Whispering Smith
Address 61 Great Ducie Street, Manchester M3
Contact 0161 831 3700
www.whisperingsmith.com
Specialisms Womenswear, menswear, outerwear
Prices T-shirts £3 to £6, shirts £5 to £8, jackets £5 to £15

Previously known as Rajan Imports, a supply giant set up speculatively in the 1960s to supply market traders, the business was rebranded as Whispering Smith to reflect its evolving strategy - it has offices in New York and Madrid as well as Manchester.

The company recently launched a brand called Brave Soul to serve smaller customers looking for stock, though the bulk of its business remains supplying high street retailers such as Zara, Burton, Republic and Walmart.

Director Sanjay Kumar’s policy is to get the design team involved in the selling and customer service process, ensuring the ranges keep pace with trends. “Our 30 designers are incentivised to make commercial ranges,” he says.

As one of the largest wholesale firms in the UK, thousands of items are delivered daily. “Indies try our stock and then we develop contract orders from it. At our end of the market [value fashion] people are still spending money.”

● Red (Manchester United) or blue (Manchester City)? Red.

Influence
Address 140 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester M8
Contact 0161 835 2064
Specialisms Women’s knitwear and separates. Launched menswear three years ago
Prices Jersey casual tops from £3, heavily embellished tops £21

Influence is a family-owned young fashion supplier founded 30 years ago. Some 70% of its business is supplying high street and value retailers including Peacocks, Primark and Jane Norman, but it also operates a cash-and-carry-type service supplying independent retailers.

Director Ashu Kumar says indies are a vital part of the business and that the structure of the operation is such that the independent stockist base gets the first bite of the cherry on new styles. “We bring in stock, independents buy it and then repeat on what works. That gives us feeds for our larger customers.”
He adds that Influence delivers more than 50 new styles within a week to 10 days. “A lot of customers used to buy forward order but they’ve reduced that percentage drastically,” he says. “The good thing about an indie is that we might do five new blouses. A multiple only has the ability to take two or three whereas indies can take all five and work out which really is the best-seller.”

● Red or blue? Red.

Boardman Bros
Address 50 Redbank,
Manchester M4
Contact 0161 832 2381
www.boardmanbros.co.uk
Specialisms Headwear, scarves and accessories
Prices From £1 for magic gloves up to £100 for specialist hats

Boardman Bros has annual sales of £13m, shifting more than 217,000 units, and 17% of its turnover comes from indies such as Beales and department store chain Fenwick. Sales to indies were up £500,000 in the last year. There are about 80 pieces in the supplier’s August collection.

Managing director Phillip Wright says: “We give indies the same volume of choice and quality as the high street because we use the same factories. Indies can run a version of a product but they control the margin, which gives them a huge advantage.”

● Red or blue? Blue (long-suffering).

Daniel Christian
Address Mehl House,
175-181 Great Ducie Street, Strangeways, Manchester M3
Contact 0161 832 4845
www.danielchristian.co.uk
Specialisms Menswear including formalwear, casualwear and denim
Prices Shirts £11 to 16, jeans £13 to £17, suits £35 to £55

Daniel Christian founder Mike Singh used to be a retailer. “I hated the way you had to work six to nine months in advance,” he says.
His frustrations prompted him to launch men’s short-order brand Daniel Christian. “We’re about customer service,” he says. “We take the risk close to the season so our customers can buy in season. Business is so tough, indies are actually reserving budget for us.”

Singh brings in a new suit style every eight to 12 weeks, having reduced the number of options from about 20 to six to focus on newness and speed to market. “It’s no good showing shoppers the same shirts and jeans every week.”

Daniel Christian also sells “loose packs”, which means indies can buy one of a size should they so desire. Other brands and stock houses sometimes demand that size packs are bought.

For denim, look to Singh’s capsule collection 13 Thirteen, which wholesales for between £20 and £24.

● Red or blue? Red.

Jacobson Group
Address Bacup Road, Cloughfold, Rawtenstall, Lancashire
Contact 01706 212512
Specialisms Footwear
Prices £6.99 to £12.99

Jacobson Group was born out of a market stall-cum-retail business some 30 years ago, when owner Harvey Jacobson decided to import cheap flip-flops from the Far East.

Today, aside from supplying footwear to the likes of Frank Wright and Ravel on a forward-order basis, Jacobson Group sells a selection of labels including young fashion footwear brand Odeon, comfort footwear brand Truform and classic leather footwear brand Manfield to indies from stock.
Sales director Tony Evans says: “There are still opportunities for those prepared to take a risk and a lot of the footwear specialists are doing OK now, especially those that have gone online.”

● Red or blue? Neither - Tottenham.

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