This is a true story…
When I was just starting my line years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was incredibly naïve, even clueless in some areas. (To be fair, even after I’d been in business 14 years, my line was sold in stores across the country, I had reps in 5 cities, I was STILL clueless in some areas – there’s a LOT to learn) Anyway, in the beginning there were times I felt lost, overwhelmed and worried that I was doing things “wrong” with my business and with my line.
I opened my store, Jane Hamill, and launched my line, cleverly called Jane Hamill when I was 25 years old. After being in business for 2 months, a dress buyer from a major department store (Dayton Hudson/Marshall Field’s, now Macy’s) walked into my shop and asked if I would fly to Minneapolis to show them my line. Say what? Um, uh, OK. Talk about unprepared. The flight cost me almost $600 (which I really didn’t have at the time) but I charged it and crossed my fingers.
When the head buyer asked me what delivery I was showing, 7/30, 8/30? I just stared her. So she said, “Well Jane, if we order these pieces, when would you ship them to us?” Oh, I get it. She was kind about it and they placed an order for stores in 4 cities!
My inexperience and green-ness as a new entrepreneur prompted me to give you a checklist of everything you need to have ready BEFORE you approach a store to sell your line.
…like some people I know.
I wish I had this when I was starting out, I really do.
Checklist – Before you can sell your line – Print this out and USE IT
□ Appropriate business licenses
□ A website that’s clear and understandable to YOUR customer
□ A real idea of who your customer is and who you want it to be
□ Research on the boutiques where you want to sell
□ Your finished sample line with style numbers etc.
□ A line sheet
□ A simple lookbook or lifestyle piece
□ Testimonials from customers or those who have tried your product
□ Social media presence – even if it’s just a start
□ A way to communicate with your customers in YOUR OWN VOICE, not marketing-speak.
□ Why a customer should buy from you instead of a competitor
□ The mindset of a businessperson, not just a creative person
□ The ability to manage your time effectively
□ Prices and costs of your product – will you be able to make a profit?
□ Terms, deliveries, order forms, etc.
One of the biggest mistakes I see with my private clients is the urge to pitch retailers before they’re ready. And I get it – I really do! I made the same mistake and it cost me money.
What Happened Next is this…
That “kind” dress buyer I mentioned above? She called me a few weeks after the order was placed. Here’s the conversation:
Fancy buyer from huge chain of stores:
“Hi Jane, I was just looking over our order with you and we’re really excited to get your line in our stores!”
New designer with barely a clue about the industry, aka Jane Hamill:
“Oh, great! Me too.”
“Most of our vendors give us terms of 8/15 EOM and we’d like to do that with you too, OK?”
Confused but eager to please Jane:
“Ummm, sure, if that’s what you usually do. I’m sure that’s fine.”
“Terrific. Have a great day”
So I quickly called a classmate from F.I.T. who’d been working in the industry for 5 years and asked him what I just agreed to. He told me I just gave an 8% discount. I was shocked. And embarrassed. And pissed. My ignorance had just cost me $1500 and I was kicking myself. But I learned a valuable lesson that day. I was swimming with sharks and if I didn’t want to get eaten alive, I had better get an education on how things work STAT.
What You Should Do Now…
Step 1) Print out the checklist above and carve out some time today, go through it and decide what you’re going to work on first. Check off what you have already completed and number the rest in order of priority.
Step 2) Make a plan for when you will fit in the tasks above that still need to get done. Then block the time out to do it – meaning put it in your calendar and make an appointment with yourself to work on a specific issue. Then stick to it, period.
Step 3) Consider how YOU could benefit from “an education in how things work in this biz” and how you’re going to get it. One way is to work for another designer and learn the ropes. Another – quicker way – is to learn from me through an afordable online do-it-yourself course on how to go from creative IDEA in your head to actual SALES of a product – step-by-step. If that sounds interesting to you, go here and watch the presentation. It gives you the 7 Steps you need to launch an apparel or accessories business.
As always, thanks for reading!
P.S. Cool Quote: “I can accept failure — everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” -Michael Jordan
Great story, I literally LOL’d reading this!!!…reminds me of when I called a manufacturer for the first time and he asked me if I was working with Knit or Woven fabric, and I pretended I couldn’t hear him….so embarrassing!!! You should post this link on FB…very helpful as always! Thanks Jane 😉 -My-Kim Collection-
wow, great story and very informative!!