11th November 2020
UK government still hasn’t produced a lorry drivers’ guide
My new Saturday job’s opened my eyes to a huge set of changes in fashion retailing that seem to have passed the apparel industry by.
Sharper-eyed readers sometimes ask why I always talk about the “clothing industry” and never about “the fashion industry.”
There are two reasons:
The Charlbury Deli?
Is why I’ve been relatively quiet lately. Early in the 1990s, people in our Cotswold microtown set up a small community-owned food shop. A couple of years back, I joined a team trying to make the shop right for 21st century Charlbury and in April this year we decided to move to a slightly larger, better-positioned, building, about 50 yards away.
We opened the new store in July, Overnight, sales trebled. Though a town of just 3,000, we welcomed our 10,000th customer in the eighth week of trading.
Officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Charlbury aggressively discourages new building, so our population’s fallen over the past few decades. But our demographics have been transformed. Once where retired diplomats came to die, the town now offers young couples space they could never afford in London to bring up a family.
So while planning our move, we asked Charlburians what they wanted. Top of their priorities was good coffee and locally-produced food and drink.
We’ve spent the past year looking for just that.
Meeting my fellow-citizens’ brief has taught me more about retailing than anything else I’ve done since first standing behind a food till over fifty years ago.
I could bore you all with what I’ve learned over the next few months, I probably will. Right now, though, I’ll focus on just one:
Now the similarity of the CollaGin bottle (and its price) to perfume is no accident. The CollaGin inventors, Liz Beswick and Camilla Brown, aren’t claiming that adding collagen to gin will give you younger-looking skin. Just that adding it to our range will add a lot to foodstore profits. At £34.95 from us and our local competitors (or £40.99 from Amazon, or £59 from Dublin airport duty-free), it’s not just the Cotswolds CollaGin’s taking by storm.
The secret is Liz’s and Camilla’s professional experience and instinct for promoting fashion.
CollaGin understands targeting
Promoting fashion is all about fast response to shoppers’ interests and preoccupations – and developing new interests isn’t limited to just one demographic.
Artisan coffee’s just for hipsters? That 10,000th customer’s just celebrated his 86th birthday. Avoiding lactose or gluten? Concern about them is as common among our 75 year olds as among our teenagers. In 2027, there’ll be different worries of the month – but they’ll worry a similarly diverse range of people.
The CollaGin story resonates most among women, on both sides of the Deli’s counter. But it appeals to all ages and social backgrounds – and the product’s such a natural Xmas gift, we need to get the story across to men as well.
Contrast that with clothing retailers, which often don’t seem to want customers over 35 at all. For example
Other fashion retailers – like cosmetics counters, phone stores or coffee houses – don’t share those prejudices.
Now discriminating that way is commercial suicide for clothing retailers these days: millennials simply haven’t got the same purchasing power as their elders.
Most clothing retailers know this – but the trade reporters and stock analysts they talk to don’t, so the retailers have to take a public line they really don’t believe.
CollaGin understands the value suppliers offer retailers
Coming back to food retailing has also reminded me what’s been missing in the clothes trade for the past 20 years.
Watch buyers at work. Food and drink retailers like Tesco, Walmart or Aldi are just as obsessed with demanding better prices or delivery schedules as M&S or H&M. But they also talk about the product – which in the clothing industry is almost never the supplier’s responsibility. Clothing suppliers typically just manufacture: someone completely different works out what customers are going to buy.
Liz & Camilla outsource CollaGin manufacture just as M&S outsource apparel manufacture. But having invented the brand, they’re so passionate about it they call it “her”. Who’s ever seen passion in a Li & Fung presentation?
There’s a word in management jargon for what the clothing industry’s made buyer-supplier relations: transactional. Arid squabbles over price and debit notes.
Liz & Camilla, surrounded by their target audience for CollaGin, are forever getting ideas for follow-ons and promotional wheezes – which they fizz with when they pop in to us. Our other local suppliers are just as generous with their ideas.
And it’s not just suppliers
Watching other fashion industries operate in every aspect of their business – from profit expectations to staff training – has convinced me that clothing retailers have got it uniquely wrongalmost everywhere.
So I’m now going to start sharing my conclusions with you all.
First, though, I need to fortify myself for the task with a few glasses of CollaGin.