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Buying brave proves more lucrative than playing safe

Garment Quarter owner John Reid charts the ups and downs of his autumn 11 buy at the Bristol indie.

The third season buy is the one where it is supposed to get easier. The first and second are guesswork for a new store - it doesn’t matter how much you know your product and your market, you still won’t get it completely right.

We had around three months of trade - incorporating Christmas - to learn about our customer and what works well for us. It’s not a huge amount of time but it certainly gave us a good starting point. This knowledge and the growing awareness of our store led to many a debate and discussion regarding individual products, categories, brands and our overall direction as a company.

Sell-through only tells you so much. What we observed during the first two seasons were principles, such as where we needed depth and where we didn’t. Do we really need three colours in that style? Could we sell more of that in smaller or larger sizes? This is where we hope to make great advances for autumn 11. All of this is, of course, part of a business’s overall merchandise function, but while on a small scale we can do this very precisely, we are already looking at how to integrate this into our EPoS system to our own requirements.

The last two seasons also taught us something about our customer. When we opened we were still targeting the Saturday afternoon T-shirt market as much as the ladies-who-lunch midweek market. As it turns out, we sell T-shirts well but we are not a volume store. We are a destination store, where people now expect to be excited by seeing things that are generally not available in many places outside of London.

“People now expect to be excited by seeing things that are generally not available outside of London”

A conversation I had in Paris during Men’s Fashion Week concluded this was the direction we needed to focus on, after having been to view one of the most sought-after labels of the moment. With our customers’ discerning tastes and the economic situation appearing to worsen, we need a strong point of difference. We also want to be as far away as possible from collections that are likely to be dragged into mid-season discounting - which, I’ve noticed, has already started quite strongly this season.

One thing that always surprises me when viewing collections is just how safe and uninspiring many buys are. Some of the product that never finds its way into stores is a tragedy - but don’t worry, you’ll find it at Garment Quarter. Yes, there is a need for volume in some areas but customers also want something different, especially at the higher end of the market.

So, in our store next season you will find an evolved offer from what we originally thought of as “lots of amazing things”. Our budget has increased as we trade for a full season, as well as targeting like-for-like increases and online growth - we are confident we will achieve them. For me, that means an extension of buying brave and delving further into what I call “heart-attack retail”.

We’ve had a fantastic reaction to most of the brands we stock and the way we have bought them. But, as we look to improve and bring in new labels, we have had to make tough choices in dropping some of the brands that helped us launch the store. Things may not have worked out quite how we would have liked but I will always be thankful to them for their initial support.

However, we must evolve - this season we have introduced Marc by Marc Jacobs - and we have two new massive labels arriving for autumn 11. In addition, we are looking at broadening our emerging designer offer. I can’t wait to unveil it all.

John Reid is managing director of new premium indie Garment Quarter in Bristol. He is charting his store’s progress for Drapers throughout 2011.

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