As consumer habits change, so does the fashion industry. With the changing times, the traditional sales model is not as effective as it once was. Salespeople in the fashion industry must find ways to evolve and generate sales growth or risk losing business.

I recently spoke with two senior fashion salespeople with over 25 years of combined experience.  This article shares some of their knowledge of how fashion salespeople can succeed, no matter how the market changes.

1) What is one thing you struggle with as a salesperson in fashion?

Ted:

As Head of Sales for a menswear company, Ted trains, hires, and manages sales staff.

One thing Ted keyed on was the struggle for consistency.  His company utilizes metrics across the board to measure sales staff, and have many consistent and clear goals such as calls, appointments, and engagements per day.

However, there are often scheduling issues where staff set up sales appointments but their administrative and lead generation duties interfere.  This is where prioritizing performance metrics is critical to helping sales staff decide where to focus and commit their energy.  Metrics must be important to them. The most challenging part of this is making sure the motivation is there to ensure mundane (but necessary) tasks get done during the month.

John:

In addition to sales, John has a background in managing design teams, product development, and merchandising. 99% of his experience is in wholesaling to department stores.  Wholesaling has increasing challenges with no sign of letting up.

With department stores, there is the question of how to plan ship budgets when customers are going away (i.e. Bonton closing). Department store sales buy 6-9 months out, so there’s not much flexibility to react if a customer doesn’t take the shipments you budgeted. Some areas have a small lead time, such as jewelry, so you can chase down business in season, but it doesn’t offset a ship budget.

2) What has and has not worked to solve these problems?

Ted:

One thing that has helped fashion salespeople succeed is incentive programs. Monthly incentives help staff stay on track and hungry. Each person has different drivers for what motivates them in their work. Validation and recognition are often a more valued commodity than actual money.

John:

In wholesale, achieve a ship budget, and then do an offset. Companies are increasingly looking to the specialty world (e.g. mom and pop stores, bridal, etc.). However, people associate certain brands with department stores, so changing their mindset doesn’t happen during the season.

It’s important to focus on direct to consumer and specialty stores. The traditional wholesale model (unless you’re Michael Kors or Ralph Lauren), is shrinking and no longer possible unless you develop specialty business.

In order to solve this problem, brands have to find other channels of distribution.

As for department stores, if the brand is not a private label, supplier, or an international brand, that middle is going to disappear and may eventually become private label.

3) What advice would you give others who also deal with this issue?

Ted:

Having a deeper relationship with your staff helps. It’s important to keep it professional, but make time to go beyond the surface level chat and see what each person’s goals and ambitions are for their future. Then, figure out how to help with progressing toward their goals.

There also seems to be an invisible barrier between managers and sales staff.  This barrier doesn’t have to exist. Everyone is working for the same company.  A sales manager’s role is to help the sales staff understand the vision from the leader(s). Once they understand the progression from vision to execution, and how their efforts make a difference, you get good buy in. Continue to provide these insights along the way to keep your sales staff motivated.

John:

The consumer no longer cares about apparel accessories like they used to. Disposable income is now being spent on travel experience or food, which sucks it up. 10 years ago, TJ Maxx was a completely different shopping experience with a stigma attached to it. Now, people enjoy shopping there and get everything they want for a good price, similar to Amazon.

People want apparel and accessories that go with an experience (e.g. camping equipment, collegiate wear, etc.). People will spend more money on these than the everyday sweater, so specialty is seeing a lot of growth.

Also, it is important to think of other channels to sell products. For example, with jewelry, B2B and casinos are possibilities.

The consumer has changed since the last recession.  Now millennials have more disposable income and are more self-sufficient.  Baby boomers have also changed their spending habits.  Keep on top of these changes and it will go a long way toward your success.

Finding how to adjust to the times, such as direct to consumer, e-commerce, home parties, selling specialists, etc., is critical for fashion salespeople to succeed. Look at everything and see what makes sense for the business.

Another idea is to try retooling and modernizing the products. If something is typically known as “old lady wear” try reshaping it as something their daughter would wear as well.

4) What sales tools have you had success with? (software, data, training programs, etc.)

Ted:

HubSpot is a good CRM. It is also common to pay analytics and digital advertising people that focus in on those areas and devote time to them.

John:

For the most part in his experience, sales tools haven’t been explored too deeply.

However, NuORDER and similar software are helping fashion salespeople and buyers succeed. The platform includes online order taking and an online showroom.  NuORDER can essentially become a virtual account executive.  These are capabilities companies should be aggressively investing in. 

Face-to-face trade shows engage the buyer, but once they’re comfortable with their account executive and the product, the buyer may not need to come to the show. 

As you can see, our changing times don’t mean the fashion industry is suffering, but rather evolving for our future. For fashion salespeople to succeed, it is a matter of finding new motivations, methodologies, and digital technology that can provide new inspiration and market reach.

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