Sunday, April 27, 2008

How to Find the Best Sales People Today

Great sales representatives are the lifeline for most children's apparel manufacturers and finding a talented and connected rep is pretty hard when your just starting in business.

I'd like to share how I found sales people for Corky when we were a new manufacturer in 1994. Back then there wasn't an Internet to do research, instant communication via email or jpegs that could be easily viewed by anybody. Being somewhat ANALytical, however, I set-up a data collection method and followed up with cold calls.

I collected a bunch of trade magazines like Earnshaws and Childrens Business and extracted all the sales reps listed in the manufacturers ads. Half the ads listed the sales persons name and phone number for a given territory while others only gave a phone number. I compiled this data by territory on a single sheet of paper to find out which sales person in a specific territory had the most companies advertising on their behalf. When an ad listed only a phone number, I simply matched the phone number with another ad that listed the phone number and a name.

This quickly yielded the biggest buying markets in the US as New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles. So now what? I called the rep with the most ads in each territory under the premise that the best rep had the most advertisements. If I was negged, I'd call the number two sales rep and so on. In the end we had five new sales reps in our second year in addition to our first rep from Boston. That year we started with a Philly rep instead of a Los Angeles rep, but that's a twist of fate that I'll save for another post.

After we'd been in business a couple of years, I found the best way to find a new rep was to have an existing rep or a good customer make an introduction for me. I never once called a manufacturer reference when provided, instead I called our best customers in a specific territory and asked how they liked working with the sales person under consideration. You'll be amazed at the tactful honesty of your customers!

When Corky started 15 years ago this is how we found our reps. Over the years we outlasted some rep's business tenure, made some changes or were sent packing from a showroom (only once.) However, 15 years old and three of the original seven sales reps are still with us!

In closing let me say thank you to our hard working, creative and loyal sales people and that I'm sorry, the omission of your names from this post wasn't accidental but intentional selfishness. I want to keep the best for myself!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not to Much, Not to Little, Just the Right Amount of Apparel Inventory Please

Corky was a new line 15 years ago and we've learned a lot about forecasting demand for production. This post will be somewhat analytical, yes its the engineer in me, but it will be of great use to a new apparel manufacturer.

As a manufacturer you must realize in your first few seasons a retailer can't make a large category commitment to you because there is too much risk of non-delivery. I think the best measure of success during the first few seasons is the number of new accounts opened. Specialty retailers tend to be loyal and if you deliver and the product sells they should come back for the next season. If you open 50 accounts your first year consider yourself fortunate. Also, your first year order size will probably be between $500 and $1000. These two facts should help with projections in your first year of business.

The data you collect in this first year and all subsequent years of business is super critical to the accuracy of projections in future years. Overall retailers buy at certain times of the year and on aggregate we've found that the percentage of orders written each week into a buying cycle is very comparable to previous years.

So how does this work? Here's the problem, the fall buying season starts at the end of January and you need to start ordering fabrics and notions by the end of February in order to deliver product before the back to school season starts (July). But, the buying season doesn't close until the end of April. The data you collected in previous years is your life line to the answer to this problem.

Each season you should tally the dollar amount of orders written during each weekly period and organize this data in a spreadsheet. After all orders (the end of April) are written express each weekly dollar amount as a percent of the total orders written. Then next year you'll know what percent of orders you have written every week into the new buying cycle. For instance the data may say, on 2/28, 35% of the orders were written and you can use this to forecast what the total seasons sales are likely to be and also the amount of fabric and notions to order for the season.

A trick we've learned over the years is to remove large customer orders from projections when ordering raw materials. Why? Large customers with multiple stores or a catalog tend to order a select few styles and colors very deep. If you include these orders in your raw material projections you will end up with a ton of extra stock in these fabrics and styles. I've been there and you don't want to be there; suppliers want to be paid and tons of extra stock is cash not in your checking account.

Over the years we've learned to trust the data. You'll need to build a confidence level with your data, but once you have it use it! You'll be rewarded well. You will have extra fabric to capitalize on hot trends and likewise you will have little fabric for items that aren't ordered frequently.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Early Easter Leading to Strong April Sales

Yes, Easter was early and it hurt apparel sales in March because consumers weren't ready to buy summer merchandise.

In the 250 year span from 1875 to 2124 Easter was never before March 23rd and Easter occurs only twice on March 23rd, first in 1913 and then again this year 2008. Next year we return to a retail friendly Easter date of April 12.

In my post Early Easter May Lead to Retail Markdowns I guessed retailers would have a slow second half of March, followed by a strong April leading into the spring school vacation weeks. Based solely on the telephone and fax re-order volume at Corky it looks like spring apparel sales have perked up nicely!

If your a specialty retailer find comfort in that your soft March sales were due to an early Easter that impacted everyone. If you ran a spring promotional event in March and had limited success I'd suggest you try it again. Consumers, including me, are shopping now for their spring and summer clothing and we are ready to respond to creative promotional events!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why Corky Requires a Track Record for On-Line Only Retailers

Q: Just curious, why the 3-year on-line retail site policy? What a bummer! I am just starting my on-line business and would love to carry your products.

A: Hi CherryCherryTree Tots:

I didn't mean to offend you. I'll try to explain why this is a Corky policy and hopefully you'll understand even if you don't like the policy. Believe me in a few years you will love the policy.

When we started Corky, back in 1994 on-line shopping was not an available distribution channel so we built up a loyal specialty retailer base through a network of salespeople throughout the United States. Some of our customer relationships go back 15 years and through the years we've developed a partnership with many of our customers. Our customer retention rate is one of the highest in the industry and I attribute this two things 1) we provide a unique high quality product and 2) we respect the need for specialty retailers to offer a product to their customers that is not a commodity.

The Internet is an amazing distribution channel now. The interaction with consumers and retailers is exploding on-line and shows no chance of slowing down. We all, manufacturers like Corky and our retail buyers need to understand three things:

1) on-line selling/buying is here to stay and we all need to adapt to survive

2) there is a learning curve associated with selling online and its very tricky to master

3) there are overhead costs with selling on-line and this must be priced into the product

If a retailer owns a store front, to a large degree they understand overhead costs and the need to price these costs into products they sell. When these retailers venture on-line for the most part they are goal oriented and seek the help of experts to make their ventures a success. Paid search, keyword bidding, search engine optimization, link building, email marketing, pay per click advertising, pay per impression advertising, organic search, data feeds to shopping comparison sites, banner ads, contextual ads, keyword rich descriptions, meta tags, RSS feeds and so on are extremely critical to the success of an on-line specialty retailer.

It takes at least two years to master these techniques and set the stage for a profitable on-line venture. All to often Internet specialty retailer start-ups flame out because they don't take the time to master the skills needed for on-line success. When the implosion occurs and they're holding inventory of Corky coats it becomes a fire sale and affects every one of the retail relationships that we've cultivated for so long. The reach of the Internet is so huge that one Internet store liquidating twenty coats can cause irreparable damage to a brand like Corky & Company.

So why would we sell to a brand new store that's not on-line. Simply because if inventory needs to be liquidated it affects a very tiny geographic area and does little damage to a well known national brand. I interact with many of our customers at shows in New York and I have the opportunity to meet many people just starting out in specialty retailing. If they are going to be an on-line only venture, I try to provide some direction and insight into the tasks critical for success. My nature is to help people succeed and I love to see success stories. I accept the fact that I may be alienating some potentially great online customers, but I hope my advise and time is worth more than the opportunity to sell a few Corky coats.

I wish you all the best with your new venture and I hope you will come back and consider buying Corky coats in a couple years.

Ask Corky a question.

Corky & Company: All Hat no Coat

Q: I would like to be a sales rep for you in the South Shore Duxbury, Hingham, Norwell area. Are there any job possibilities for me? I'd love the challenge!
Asked by mary sullivan

A: Hi Mary:

I really like your spunk and sense of adventure.

Our relationships with our US sales reps go back fifteen years when Kim and I started Corky. We have a wonderful high energy person, Dinah, who represents Corky throughout New England and she continues to do a great job building the Corky brand in her territory.

Dinah was Corky's first sales rep. On a Memorial Day weekend back in 1994, Kim and I took a bag of hats to Cape Cod to see if we could start a business. While we sold out the hats and took orders for more one store-owner suggested we should get a New England sales rep because we couldn't do the selling, making and shipping and keep our sanity. Our reply simply was, "what's a sales rep?" The store-owner politely explained and recommended we contact Dinah.

Kim diligently contacted Dinah and set-up an appointment. Kim, with our infant daughter, met Dinah to show her the hats and Dinah said something to the effect of "Honey, the hats are cute, but I can't make enough commission to justify selling your hats. But, if you add a couple of coats I'd really be able to sell your line." Kim left and as Dinah watch Kim wheeling the stroller away with our daughter she made a mental note that she'd never see that person again.

Kim came home and asked what I thought. I said what do you have to loose, make a couple coats for kids. The next week Kim called Dinah and said the coat samples were ready. Dinah was shocked, but true to her word she sold and sold our coats and that's how Corky & Company began.

Dinah's daughter Laurel has now joined her in business and both represent Corky & Company in New England. Dinah will always have a special place in my heart even though she can be my biggest critic or more accurately her customers biggest advocate!

Ask Corky a question.

All the Corky Vests We've Tried

Q: Why don't you make fleece vests with embellishments like you do with your coats??? They would be great for both boys and girls! If you made a few proto types, size 7, I would be your feedback person!
Asked by mary sullivan

A: Hi Mary:

We've tried vests, ponchos and shrugs many times over the past fifteen years and each time we weren't able to collect enough orders to commit to production. It seems like store-owners and buyers prefer to buy these items as part of a sportswear outfit.

Your question however, has given me a great idea for a new post.

I'll start writing a post about how our girls outerwear collections are conceived and all the changes that are made before the product is shipped to retailers. It's a 10 month process involving an immense amount of collaboration between design, marketing, sales, production and store-owners/buyers.

Thanks for the question.

Ask Corky a question.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

How to Become A New Corky Retail Customer

Q: I am interested in become a retailer for your clothing and coats. How do I get information?

A: At Corky, we love to develop new retail partnerships.  We have seven sales people in the US located in Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Philadelphia and Atlanta and each sales person does trade shows within their respective territories.  We also have sales people in Canada, United Kingdom and The Republic of Ireland. 

Our policy for new retail customers are pretty basic.

1) You need a physical store to carry Corky or you need to have at least three years running an on-line retail site.

2) You cannot operate your business out of your home or primarily do home parties. 

3) You cannot be a consumer, you must be a part of the retail trade.

You can call customer service at 508-676-3207.  When the phone is answered hit 2 for customer service and they will help put you in contact with the right sales person.  Customer service telephone hours are 10 am to 5 pm east coast time.  Or you can email the info to me at Al at CorkyandCompany dot com and I will forward it to the right sales person.  Your sales person will send you the catalogs for the upcoming seasons.

There is also a link on the blog for our New York & Dallas showrooms.  I'm encouraging all our sales people to put up a website!  Thanks for the question.



Ask Corky a question.

Have a Question For Corky - Try Out Askablogr

Q: Hi Corky, welcome to Askablogr! I'd love it if you'd take a second to introduce yourself and let your readers and the Askablogr community know what kinds of topics you'd like to receive questions on.
Asked by Chris DeVore

A: Hi Chis:

My blog is targeted to consumers who like Corky & Company coats, swimwear and sportswear as well as to specialty apparel retailers and other designers and manunfacturers in the apparel industry. I'm open to questions about pretty much anything related to Corky, specialty retailing and apparel manufacturing. Thanks for the question.

Alan at Corky

Ask Corky a question.