Consumer Psychology 101: How Many To Order of Each Size?
You're a new retailer who has just opened your store. You've found a location with plenty of foot traffic; you've acquired a vintage armoire to stock your merchandise or gone the modern route with cement floors and a few carefully lighted clothing racks; and you're intimate enough with the neighborhood to understand its tastes and the size of your customers' wallets. You've walked the trade shows and discovered domestic and European collections that you must stock in the store. Well done. Now it's time to place orders. When you're sitting across from the sales rep or the manufacturer and they ask: "How many of each size?" How do you answer?
Before you place an order, you need to understand a little about the consumer mindset right now. Shoppers are more savvy than they've ever been. They've read Child, scoured the pages of Time Out New York Kids, picked up a copy of Boutique Magazine or Vogue Bambini and, of course, they've become familiar with The Online Guide to Children's Fashions retail website. And they've done enough shopping in places like Old Navy and Target to expect more from a small retailer. When they see what they like, and they're assured that what they purchase isn't going to be spotted on 10 different kids in the playgroup, then they're ready to step up to a higher price point.
WHEN TWO IS TOO MANY
So, how do merchants fill their stores with everything a consumer wants? Whether they purchase four collections for a tiny boutique, or upwards of 50, the philosophy is "Buy a lot but don't go deep." In other words, offer a variety of looks from several collections, but only buy one or two pieces in each size from that collection. (With only a couple of exceptions, the sellers purchased "one across.")
For first time buyers, "one across" means that retailers write orders for one piece in each size for all the sizes offered by the manufacturer in a particular style, or, all the sizes that retailer wants to stock. And, surprisingly, whether they're buying for their layette, toddler or tween departments, one piece is preferred; if they really want a manufacturer's goods, they'll buy that vendor's pre-packs of two, or if there's a minimum - say six pieces of one style offered in four sizes - they'll double up on sizes to meet those minimums.
The buyers ordering deviates slightly when it comes to basics such as high quality cotton T-shirts and one-pieces in solid colors. But, even then, most of the numbers quoted were two or three garments. Joan Baccardi, who owns the Silly Goose in Del Ray Beach, Florida, with her daughter Beth DeAngelo, said she'll purchase as many as five Petite Bateau T-shirts, but she assured me, it's a no-risk order. "I've been in business 10 years, and that T-shirt always sells out," she said.
Two sales reps with better showrooms - Wendy Samuels of Wendy's Closet in Los Angeles, and Wendi Cooper of Curly Girls in New York City - agreed that retailers are buying more lines, but not stocking any one collection too heavily. Samuels said her West Coast customers prefer one's across and that begins at newborn and goes up to size eight or ten. "It's really a dollar concern," she said. "Buyers don't have big budgets, so they purchase conservatively. They'll write larger orders [that would be twos across] if they know the line and it sells well for them." She mentioned that buyers are ordering closer to the season than they once did to get a better feeling for the trends in the market, and, of course, to hold onto their open-to-buy dollars longer.
Wendi Cooper said her New York region customers buy twos across in NB-4T, and ones across in larger sizes from 4 to 14. "Smaller sizes are an easier sell because they're purchased by mothers and gift buyers. Older kids buy the tween sizes [8-16] themselves, so there has to be a lot of variety on the racks. Kids want to look like each other, but they don't want the same piece as their friend," said Cooper.
ONCE, TWICE, KEEP ORDERING
Because consumers stop into stores frequently, retailers must keep a steady flow of new items coming in throughout the year. They do two things to achieve this: First, they stagger their orders. If they buy several groups from a single manufacturer, a retailer will have the orders delivered to the store over a period of weeks, as opposed to one shipment early on. They also follow the lead of their clientele by shopping manufacturers'/sales reps' showrooms often. "It's really an item driven market, so designers have learned to add pieces to their collections throughout the season. Buyers will come in and purchase new pieces from designers they like, that way their stores stay fresh, and the customer always has new merchandise," said Samuels.
ONE MORE TIME
What happens when a customer walks in and says, "I want this dress in size two," and you don't have it? Vendors say they're usually able to find a similar piece from another manufacturer that suits the customer. If that doesn't work, reordering usually doesn't pose a problem. Most domestic collections can be reordered and mailed within a day; the longest any retailer said they've waited was two weeks. Due to different manufacturing schedules, fill-ins from European collections can take longer; some won't accept re-orders at all.
YOU HAVE TO LOOK GOOD TO SELL GOOD
I couldn't mention ordering without discussing merchandising. Established retailers say that what you carry and when it's in stock is important; but all can be lost if you don't merchandise your wares properly. The buzzwords for good shop karma are: clean and spare. Racks stuffed with garments, or tables heaped with sweaters, connotes low-end retailing. Even if a store's aesthetic is vintage armoires and antique clothing racks, those armoires shouldn't be packed with merchandise. Joan Baccardi, the Florida retailer, said, "A better boutique shouldn't look like a chain store. Clean and simple is what works for us." Kelly Justice, the owner of Wee Beasties, a high end boutique and bootery in Hoboken, New Jersey, agrees. "Our store is small [850 square feet of sales space] so we try to keep the look uncluttered," she said. "Customers will walk out if they feel overwhelmed by too much merchandise." -Tina Barry
ADVICE FROM WENDI COOPER:
-Do your homework! Really study the market and see what's out there.
-Don't get too comfortable with your vendors, even if they sell well. Always have new merchandise in the store; your customers will demand it.
-Buy conservatively from each collection.