Lingerie and swimwear business guru Claire Franks, founder of Intimate Apparel Consultancy, offers her regular insight into lingerie retail, fitting and design.
Since Intimate apparel consultancy started in 2009, I have been regularly asked by retailers, both abroad and in the UK, to review and cast a fresh eye over their businesses.
Some have been trading successfully for many years and simply fear their business may be getting stale. Others may want to expand their business, but are unsure about what is the best path to take.
Some retailers have experienced the worst season ever and have simply lost confidence in their business, while others are relatively new to the lingerie industry and fear that their business is not performing in the way they had imagined it would.
Whatever their concerns, a consultant can enter a store with an unemotional relationship or history with the business, allowing them to perform a comprehensive assessment and work with the client in finding a way forward.
This assessment includes a detailed discussion of problems, issues, systems and processes and performance, followed by a review of new ideas and the creation of a programme for implementing change.
So ask yourself this: what would a consultant say or change about your business? How would they improve your business and help you realise your potential?
Self-analysis is not easy, but hopefully this column will go some way to guiding you to self-help and examine your business.
List your pros and cons
Firstly, you need to list the problems and successes of your business. Be honest, as a consultant would ask you a lot of detailed and probing questions to get down to the real issues. Cut everything back to basics and see the bare bones, what is right and wrong? What are the immediate priorities and urgent issues? If you struggle with this then seek some advice and help from a friend, partner or member of staff.
Review your business from a consumer angle and go online. Review your website, product pricing and images and build a picture of what this business is about. Then, ask yourself who should shop at your store and why.
After that, stand outside your store and take in the area. Chat to people on the street and ask them if they shop in your store. If they don’t shop there, ask them why not.
Check out the outside of the shop thoroughly, don’t just glance over it and accept what is there, but look in detail at the overall cleanliness, appearance and general state of repair. Does it stand out? Does it project the right message? Does the signage reflect what the shop has to offer and do the windows tell you what the consumer should expect to see inside?
Once the external review is competed, step inside your store. Act like you are a consumer visiting the shop for the first time and ask yourself this: does the shop window reflect what’s on the shop floor? Is it warm, welcoming and inviting? Is it well merchandised? What type of products do you see and are you greeted in a friendly, helpful way?
A pet hate of mine is dirty and cluttered cash points and fittings rooms. Inspect these carefully, as these are the areas that a customer always spends the most time in.
The fitting rooms should be spotlessly clean, warm, comfortable and tidy. They should offer a stool or a chair if possible, at least two clothes hooks and a sparkling mirror.
Finally, review your product offering, brands, merchandising and decor. Do all these meet customers’ expectations?
Business processes and stock
It’s now time to review and examine the businesses processes, stock levels, stock room, ordering system and stock control software.
Review your promotional calendar. Look at the events and promotions recorded and analyse what was successful and why, and what was not so successful and why.
Think about where you can gain new product knowledge ideas for your business. Are you well informed? Ask yourself how you review your successes and plan your seasonal buying. How much time do you spend heads down in the business and, likewise, do you get out and comp shop with other retailers? Do you understand the bigger industry picture and what new product categories are out there?
Ask your staff these questions because, believe it or not, most of the issues and solutions are identified in the business by your employees. They might not recognise how these issues could affect the business, but they do have good business insight.
Plan of action
By now you should be building a picture of the business and starting to create a list of recommendations and observations. Now is the time to pull all these details together and create an action plan and target deadlines to ensure you implement your new ideas. A review date should then be put in the diary – a day to review the changes and consider their effects.
What other retail advice would you like to hear from Claire Franks?