OPINION: Why we need to cheat

Kiss Me Deadly founder Catherine Clavering reveals seven reasons why your boutique brands are two timing you with their own online store – and explains why you should still love them.

For those of you who have had their ear to the ground, the raising of this issue may not come as a huge surprise. In fact, it is extremely likely that – no matter what your position – you have heard at least several retailers asserting that brands do them a disservice by ‘competing’ with their own brand retail sites. The sense of betrayal is palpable – we’ve clearly run off to play with our new passion. But, there are plenty of good reasons why we shouldn’t be exclusive.

We don’t want to be dependent on you
Everyone wants financial security and independence in their relationships, right?
The sad reality is that boutique brands, even affordably priced, have a somewhat limited pool of available retailers at the best of times. It’s difficult to feel confident when you plan a production schedule (often six to twelve months in advance, with deposits required), in the hope that your retailers are definitely going to buy in, or even still exist, when that collection is produced. Even when things seem financially stable, when you primarily retail through small outlets, simple life changes can put a major dint in things.
I had a retailer who accounted for around a third of my annual sales. Then, they decided having babies and selling swimwear was a better option.
My official notice about this came after every single item on their website was on sale. With my own retail outlet, I know that, whatever happens, I have somewhere to sell things that will probably cover costs.

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We can take more risks
You just can’t meet our needs on certain things… And, if you let us get this somewhere else, the benefits will come back to you.
In this difficult economy, retailers are reducing their risks – taking more conservative products and reducing the amount. This is eminently sensible for them, but it hampers a small brand’s ability to develop product lines, which makes expanding difficult. Sometimes even staying constant can be a challenge, given that in our case it’s novelty that drives overall sales, even if the novel item isn’t the best seller.
I always take seemingly insane risks with my styles – the original Vargas dress was my worst seller in terms of advance wholesale and is now my best seller overall. With increasing costs and MOQs, we’ve stopped taking so many risks on our larger runs. But, we’ve used the retail to test out hosiery, accessories and steel boned corsets in the past year, and swimwear, this month. There is no way that this could have been done so quickly using wholesale alone. For innovation without risk, let us play away.

We’re moving at different speeds
With the best will in the world, you can’t let us know as much or as quickly what your customers think of products; you’ve a million other things to do. We just developed our swimwear, using Facebook like a real time focus group. And, when we release the collection, we’ll have instant feedback on the fit, sizing, fabrics and style, which is great since we can tweak the 2013 pieces now for the summer trade shows.
For those of us making with a relatively short turnaround, we can perfect products incredibly quickly without having to demand you collate your customer service emails.

We can share what we learn
Yeah, let us just show you this new thing we tried… you know, you’ll like it.
It’s not just perfecting new lines that benefits from retail – we also know better what sells, to whom, why, under what circumstances and what helps. We have no reason not to share this with you – we want everyone to sell more (I think QR codes are a waste of money in the UK, by the way).

It’s a wide world
Nobody thinks shops in London compete with shops in Edinburgh, or that different sorts of shops compete, but for some reason we think the internet is simpler than that.
There are, at a conservative estimate, half a billion people using the internet. They behave online in much the same way that they do in real life – personal recommendations, range, aesthetics, customer service, returns policies and all sorts of others factors. Additionally, small brands are somewhat selective about which webstores they sell to, making sure they don’t have too many of the same type.
For the record, since KMD started doing retail, our overall sales have gone up – and that includes wholesale. We also compare figures with our main UK online retailer and it’s apparent from differences in sales that their demographic is not our demographic.

We’re spending time apart to help us grow
Doing one thing does not automatically take away from another.
Spending time on retail doesn’t always mean less on wholesale – investing in retail during a quiet patch on the wholesale front meant that we now have a new full time staff member who handles wholesale issues that I, quite frankly, had a tendency to forget.

We share the same long term goal
We all have the same aims; build the brand, don’t devalue it. Transactional brand websites seem to do better with press and fans. Yes, there will always be one or two noisy people who tell you that they’ve found the item cheaper in a one off sale at our place than they can currently buy it at yours… But, the noisy minority shouldn’t outweigh the silent majority. If they are telling you, it usually means they have some reason to buy from you – almost always you have the size they want and we only have 36Bs left.
In summary, if you look at the boutique brands with the destination names, they tend to be the ones with their own retail. We think retail builds brands in all the ways above and, subsequently, helps retailers grow too.






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