Paris shows Who’s Next and Prêt à Porter kicked off the new womenswear season last week. Drapers joined The Dressing Room’s Deryane Tadd for a buying lesson
If you ask Deryane Tadd how much of her store’s turnover is generated by accessories, don’t expect a vague reply like “about 20%”. Expect a precise figure to the nearest decimal place. And expect it instantly. Off the top of her head, the owner of contemporary womenswear indie The Dressing Room in St Albans knows every last detail about the brands she stocks.
Picking up on this over dinner with Tadd and store manager Charlotte Wheeler the evening before hitting the trade show floor of Parisian fairs Who’s Next and Prêt à Porter, Drapers should not have been surprised when Tadd laid out a detailed spreadsheet of her autumn 11 buying plans on the table.
“At the end of the previous season, we work out our budget for the next season,” explains Tadd, referring to the spreadsheet that splits the store’s sales into ready-to-wear, denim, short order, accessories and footwear. For each brand she records details such as turnover, comparisons on the previous year and sell-through. “Looking at the figures, we ask ourselves: are we going to be cautious or optimistic? We’ve been growing at 20% to 25% over the last few years, but may not be able to sustain that next year, so we’re budgeting for a 5% increase.”
Tadd adds that she buys about 80% of her forward-order collections “up front”, with the rest of the forward-order budget kept for repeat orders. “Over the last few seasons, we’ve been trying to grow our [ready-to-wear] collections. Short order is important, but we want to build volume on forward order,” she explains, before turning her attention to one particular underperforming brand. “Because this brand only got a 57% sell-through, we’ll probably replace it, and we’re likely to have gaps in knitwear and trousers [because of the brands we are planning to drop]. Everyone’s talking about trousers but we can’t find a great trouser brand. Also, if you get the right knitwear brand, you can do really good volumes on it.”
Last season, Tadd replaced eight brands, so her plans for autumn 11 are less dramatic; she is looking to pick up about two new labels only. “We’re looking for brands with real volume and a mark-up of about 3. A mark-up of 2.5 will cut your margins, especially with the VAT increases.”
Taking all this into account, Tadd works out exactly what she can spend on existing and new brands for the season. Armed with the science, she and Wheeler lead Drapers to the trade show floor; it’s here that the emotional factors fuse with the maths - and it becomes clear why Tadd is a buying supremo.
With every product they inspect, Tadd and Wheeler always consider its shape. In fact, it’s probably the word they use most during the buying trip, showing an innate understanding of the customer: no matter how pretty a dress is, if the shape is wrong it won’t sell.
Texture, too, is key with the duo often selecting soft-to-the-skin fabrics such as silk and jersey. Touching a boiled wool cardigan, Tadd mimics her customer’s response. “‘Oooooh no!’” she says, adding: “It wouldn’t feel nice on her skin. We look for a more luxurious feel.”
Individual pieces, the right brand adjacencies and price are the driving forces behind Tadd’s buying; trends play a secondary role. “It’s about instinct,” she says. “In season, we think about trends, but [for forward order] we look at pieces, and trends develop through the ranges we like - we see a colour or a print develop, for example. Your first few buys [of a season] influence your direction, so we try to get our main brands booked in for appointments first. And you need to think about how the shopfloor will look, so we try to have three or four highlight colours.”
At their first appointment with a new brand they are looking to introduce for autumn 11, Tadd and Wheeler line up 12 pieces and begin to edit. “We’ll get these shapes from another brand we stock,” says Tadd, removing two pieces. “And this one is too expensive,” says Wheeler. After the agent notes down the selected styles and Wheeler takes photos, we move on.
At the next stand, Tadd deliberates over whether it could offer a better alternative to a new brand she will be stocking for spring 11. “It’s a fuller collection with a better mark-up,” she says. Tadd likes to give a brand more than one season to accurately monitor its success, so Wheeler and Tadd head over to the new for spring 11 brand’s stand to check out its autumn 11 collection. Initially, they are concerned it is not as strong as spring 11’s, but as they rifle through the rails, they pick out a handful of standout pieces, particularly dresses and tops. Tadd enquires about a minimum order and is told there isn’t one. “That’s a real selling point so it will still work [for autumn 11],” she says, allowing her to test out the potential alternative brand too.
As well as making a list of brands to visit, Tadd is always scanning the shows for something new - and comes across a candle brand. The Dressing Room already sells candles as an add-on, but the aroma from this stand proves irresistible. The company ticks all the boxes - it’s small, the product is always in stock, so deliveries range from seven to 10 days - and the agent charms the duo with his knowledge and customer service. “I really liked the brand,” says Tadd. “The relationship with the agent is so important. We dropped that brand [she points to a stand we pass] even though the product was great because they were so rude.”
Tadd and Wheeler’s forward order buying goes well but they are disappointed by the footwear in accessories section Première Classe within Who’s Next. Still, she is optimistic about finding something at Pure London later this month or that her existing suppliers may show her new collections.
With Tadd’s keen eye for product, razor-sharp numeracy and understanding of her customer, it’s a safe bet The Dressing Room will deliver a strong offer for autumn 11.
The Dressing Room
Address 6-8 High Street, St Albans
Brands include Current/Elliott Designers Remix, Great Plains, Maison Scotch, Paul & Joe Sister
Target customer 25-plus