Making your brand and your product known in an over crowded market is challenging, and with buyers tough to reach and web traffic to your website hard to build, maybe you should be thinking differently with your approach.
Direct sales and mass customization are two channels that have been heavily utilized by fashion startups over the past few years with much success. Brands, with a traditional product, now have the point of difference they need to stand out and be noticed. It’s time to take these sales channels seriously.
Remember Avon and Tupperware? Two household names, which made it into everyone’s homes through their direct sales method? After years of this model being relegated to pots, knives, and lipstick, direct sales is once again a credible sales channel for apparel and accessories.
By taking the product directly to the customer either as a group event or one on one, the customer has the undivided attention of the seller, giving a more personal experience in their workplace or home.
Direct Sales Pros:
- Direct relationship with the customer so you can get instant feedback on your product, positive and negative.
- Flexibility of hours and schedule, ideal if you have a family or are studying.
- Sociable working environment.
- Works for any product — apparel, accessories and home.
Direct Sales Cons:
- Leads/appointment acquisition can be tough and the rejection rate can be high.
- When scaling the business, the cost and time involved in building up the selling kits and team can be high.
- Initial limitation on coverage for sales.
- Stock level management to ensure you have consistent product availability.
Men’s shirting line Trumaker&Co and women’s jewelry labels, Chloe and Isabel and Stella & Dot are three brands who have made a success from this sales channel either through ‘outfitters’, ‘merchandisers’ or ‘stylists’.
Product samples or sales cards are shown to the customer, orders are placed and the goods are shipped. With Trumaker&Co, the shirts are made to order through mass customization but with the jewelry, finished goods are pre made and held in stock to be called off.
So as an emerging brand with a limited budget, you are able to utilize this method with relative ease. Providing you have product (materials or finished items) and leads (friend and family or referral), you can dictate when you sell, what you sell, and how you ship. By start locally and keeping it small, use incentives of discounts or commission to friends to promote your brand.
Starting finances can be minimal providing you have your product in hand, but they can and will escalate when scaling your sales team. With stock in hand, there is no reason why it can’t be sold directly, wholesale, as well as D2C.
Maybe take a small part of your collection purely for direct sales and merchandise them as looks or as a theme. Customers who can touch and feel the product are more likely to buy it. See it as a complimentary sales channel albeit a more direct one.
Mass customization has been around for a few years (more commonly used in software) and uses mass production processes with the flexibility of individual customization, which in terms of apparel, takes an established block and with the customer’s measurements, finds the nearest grade and adjusts to the accordingly. Its not pure bespoke, neither is it mass-produced. The product is then made individually and sent to the customer.
You’ll have seen that NikeID have been offering a customizable shoe for several seasons and while the possibilities are open for the larger brands, it’s really the smaller more nimble brands that can accelerate it due to flexibility and customer expectation. For Nike it’s a great marketing tool but it’s lacks viability on a larger scale. For fashion startups it’s their minimal viable product.
Mass Customization Pros:
- It’s is a great business model to test your product before you invest fully.
- It can be grown at your own pace and kept sustainable.
- Can be used for multi-product groups: apparel, accessories and home wares.
- Can be managed with ecommerce as well as direct sales.
Mass Customization Cons:
- While it’s a great way to test your market scaling up can be hard and you may have to have multiple sources, which means duplicate able quality.
- You need a customer base that is prepared to wait for the product, with realistic expectations.
- Management of raw material inventory instead of finished goods.
The trick to making mass customization work for a new brand, is to keep it simple and gradually expand rather than over promise and under deliver. Be exact with your process timelines and supply chain, provide options that add value aesthetically to the product and don’t be scared to use it at as an additional channel next to your existing. Perhaps you have scarves, bags or shirts already in your line that you can add details to? Embroideries, monograms, appliques or contrast stitching; People will pay more if their product is unique to them.
Think laterally when making changes to your sales channels. Having a personal connection or being part of a brand community adds value to your brand while adding a unique element to a product or building to fit elevates your message higher than its neighbor. It’s time to make your brand multi-faceted.
Guest post: Susie Breuer, founder of Co-lab54.
With over 25 years of fashion industry experience, Susie now specializes in strategic production development and production solutions for designers and startup fashion brands. Her book, Blue is The New Black, documents the process of fashion collection creation from start to finish, and is available internationally in all formats. She currently lives in San Francisco where she teaches, writes and consults.