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How I got here: agent Chris Foster-Orr on building brand success

FOS Fashion Marketing’s managing director on finding the perfect brand and creating a showroom with serious style

Chris Foster-Orr

Chris Foster-Orr

Managing diretor of FOS Fashion Marketing

As I live in Warwickshire, an hour and a half away from our showroom on Regent Street in London, I have to scrape myself out of bed at an ungodly hour and get on the train. At least this gives me time to check emails and read the paper – from back to front of course, as I’m big sports fan.

Our weeks vary depending on the time of year. In season, it’s very intense and there are rarely any lulls, as our different brands – Mac, Repeat, Milano Italy, Apanage, Airfield, Javier Simorra and Tramontana – have different drops at different times. Preparation for the next main season happens virtually immediately after the current main season. We work in a very methodical way and analyse everything, especially the figures, and prepare our new marketing campaigns for each brand.

In-house, we have a dedicated brand manager for each of them, which means we are responsible for all aspects of the brand here in the UK. Our philosophy is that we act as a halfway house between a brand’s own sales company and a regular agency. In season, 12 people work in the showroom, and we have six in the out-of-season periods, varying from full time to two days a week. It is essential to employ great staff: they can have such a positive effect on my business.

Repeat Cashmere

Repeat Cashmere

Client contact, feedback and relating to the retailer’s store environment and market is very important. We always try to visit our independent stockists across the UK, which include Anne Furbank in St Neots, Young Ideas in Ashbourne, Bentalls and the Fenwick Group. In all honesty we can’t get out as much as we would like, as so much of the action takes place in our 2,500sq ft showroom on Regent Street. I love the buzz of a selling season with the mix of writing orders, good banter with my fantastic staff, and some great clients.

My schedule can be quite hectic, with overseas trips including brand meetings, sales meetings and attending exhibitions. I travel abroad to cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

We are always looking for new brands, but they tend to approach me. I’m constantly getting emails and we always have two or three brands in the background. However, it is rare to be targeted by that perfect new brand we are all looking for. Word of mouth has perhaps been my best avenue over the years, and I’ve built up a vast network of contacts.

I think you can tell a brand is going to be a success by gut feeling, mostly backed up by proven success in other markets. I just knew when we introduced Milano Italy for spring 15 that it was going to be a success, and then we opened 40 accounts in the first season. There is a lot of satisfaction when a brand grows to a very high level, and luckily I have experienced that with brands such as Apanage, which we grew to more than 200 accounts between 2002 and 2007.

Sadly for both the retailer and agent, trade shows are not held in the same esteem as in years gone by. It really does sadden me, but it’s a different, more digital era we live in. Young buyers are often quite influenced by social media. Many of my brands, such as Mac, show at Panorama Berlin and it is a really top show in my opinion, but very few UK retailers attend. I like it because there is a great effort put in by the brands with some superb stands.

Plan B

I would be in interior design for sure. I love everything about it and it gives me great satisfaction to do a house up from top to bottom. I love calm, soothing décor.

CV

Education

1976-1977 BA in clothing management and design, Teesside Polytechnic

Career

1998-present Managing director, FOS Fashion Marketing

1996-1998 Sales and retail director, Sand UK

1987-1996 Owner and managing director of Cottons Clothing Co, Stratford-upon-Avon and Worcester

1984-1987 Retail and merchandising manager, InWear

1982-1984 Store manager, Olympus Sports Ltd, London

1979-1982 Store manager Lord John, menswear retailer, London

1977-1979 Trainee buyer, Selfridges

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