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Made in Britain

September 14, 2020

Selling to Fashion Buyers During Lockdown: Advice for Fashion Startups

By: Peter Gregory

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It’s London Fashion Week … but not as we know it! 

The Coronavirus situation has changed how the UK fashion industry finds new designers. Normally, London Fashion Week is one of many trade shows in a buyer’s calendar, but this year almost every industry event has been cancelled. 

If you’re a startup in the fashion industry, it can seem harder than ever to get new products in front of those all-important decision-makers. So what can you do about it? If you’re a designer just starting out, what steps can you take to win the attention of distributors and retailers? How can you get a deal done during lockdown?

This week, we’ll walk you through the latest advice from government and industry, and share our practical 6-step strategy to growing your list of stockists this winter!

Face-to-face business meetings are no longer allowed

If you work in the UK clothing and apparel industries at the moment, you can’t have a face-to-face business meeting. Many people are working from home in accordance with the latest lockdown rules and are unlikely to agree to so much as a zoom call unless they’re absolutely certain you’re worth meeting.

That’s a hard thing to prove if you’re a brand-new fashion brand with no track record … but it’s not impossible.

6 Ways To Win Over A Fashion Buyer During Lockdown

So how do you get a meeting with a fashion buyer in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic? Our advice is to make it as easy as possible for your buyer. Make them feel safe and respect their time. 

Here are our six steps to booking that all-important buyer meeting and winning a new distribution contract during lockdown:

Step 1: Check When They’re Available

If you approach a buyer and they tell you they can’t look at your designs right now, don’t be disheartened. These are unprecedented times, and they’re probably just as frustrated as you are about the situation. Chances are the buyer is swamped trying to cover for colleagues who are on furlough, or they’re on furlough themselves. 

If the buyer you want to speak to is furloughed, they might not be allowed to meet you until the furlough scheme ends. Book a call back for three months from now, and take it from there.

Step 2: Make It Urgent!

We’ve heard reports of buyers postponing all meetings , virtual or otherwise, until after lockdown, even when they’re not on furlough. Some people have had to mix childcare with work during lockdown and simply don’t have the time right now. While this is understandable, the problem is that none of us really know when “after lockdown” will be. 

You need to give your potential customer a clear reason why they should book a meeting with you today. You don’t have to be a silver-tongued sales expert to do this — you just need to show the buyer why they shouldn’t stall for another couple of months. 

If you’re running a special promotion on orders placed before the end of the financial quarter, or if you have sales meetings lined up with other distributors, for instance, you should mention this to the buyer. That way, they’ll know it’s worth talking to you as soon as possible in case they miss out.

Step 3: Don’t Feel You Have To Do A Video Call

When lockdown started in March 2020, the world turned to Zoom, Skype and other video calling tools overnight. But we’re now discovering that video conferencing isn’t always the best format for a sales meeting. 

There’s growing evidence that video conferencing is, in fact, more exhausting than traditional face-to-face meetings. A recent BBC article revealed that video chats require more focus than face-to-face chats (we have to work harder to process the facial expressions, body language and other non-verbal cues that we would take for granted when meeting face-to-face). 

Another problem with video calling is that, if you’re on a slow connection, you can come across badly. The same article found that “delays on phone or conferencing systems of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.” ‘Less Friendly’ is not the impression you want to leave in any sales meeting!

If you can’t guarantee a HD picture and a speedy connection at both ends, then a phone call is your best option. If your buyer is working from home, they may prefer a phone call anyway. 

Step 4: See if you can meet Face-To-Face

Face-to-face business meetings are not allowed at the moment, but this will change as the tier systems change in the coming months. When the time comes to book a face-to-face meeting, remember to make it really easy for the buyer to talk to you.  

Offer to go to them if you can, suggest some times that could work (so that all they have to do is pick one), and take responsibility for setting a date and sending the email invitation. The less work your prospective buyer has to do, the better your chances of getting a meeting.

Remember that face-to-face meetings don’t have to happen indoors. If there is a park or promenade close to where the buyer works, meet them there for a socially-distant outdoor meeting. You’ll still be able to talk naturally about your designs, and your buyer might be glad to get out and about.

Step 5: Send Out Samples (this is still allowed!)

Ours is a tactile, physical business. Buyers need to get a feel for the clothes you’re selling before they can take you seriously. They can’t do that over zoom or email. If a buyer can lay their hands on the fabric of your product and inspect the quality of your work up-close, then it’s much much easier for them to justify a meeting. 

It is still legal to send out garment samples by post. UK Government guidance states that the coronavirus can stay on surfaces for up to 48 hours (see footnote 2). If you send goods out by second-class post, and if you note the date and time of packing on your envelope, your buyer will feel safe to open the package after the 48 hour time window has passed.

When sending out samples, always ask the buyer what sizes they want (not what size they are – they might not try your clothes out on themselves). Confirm where they want the goods to be sent (it might be a home address if their office is still closed), then get the garments into the post that day.

By the way, free samples are something we offer ourselves. By sending out a small pack of woven labels, our customers can see the quality and workmanship of our labels with their own eyes – they don’t need to take our word for it. We would be delighted to send you a free sample pack. Just fill in this form and we’ll get something in the post to you right away.  

Step 6: make your buyer feel safe

Your buyer might feel a little unsure about meeting in person during lockdown, so do your best to make them feel safe. Bring hand sanitiser and a mask to the meeting. Stay two metres apart. Don’t shake the buyer’s hand, and — if possible — check your temperature on the spot in front of them. 

You might feel a little awkward, but it’s worth doing the health and safety checks if it reassures your buyer. Get coronavirus protocol out of the way first, then you’ll both be free to relax and focus on what really matters: the beautiful clothes you’re asking them to sell! 

That’s all for this week. Just remember: the virus may have made it harder for us all to attend trade shows, but it hasn’t slowed the UK’s appetite for new clothes

Our fashion industry needs a steady stream of new and innovative products. That’s as true today as it was ten years ago, so don’t let coronavirus slow you down! Your buyers are out there waiting for you. You just have to get in front of them.

Thanks for reading!


Footnote 1:

Big events like the Southampton Boat Show have been cancelled at the last minute, and social gatherings of more than 6 people are now illegal, but London Fashion Week is still going ahead. The organisers have changed the format slightly and will be using new digital platforms to keep attendees and exhibitors safe. This is a really good sign for the fashion industry. It shows that buyers are still looking for new products, and that there’s a continuing appetite to invest in up-and-coming designers. You can learn more about LFW2020 at https://londonfashionweek.co.uk/

Footnote 2:

“Under most circumstances, the amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surfaces is likely to have decreased significantly by 24 hours, and even more so by 48 hours.” 

Click here to read the Government’s full advice on Covid-19.

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