How to Handle Your First Appointment with a Retail Buyer

I’ll never forget my first meeting with a buyer. I’d only been in business for 3 months with my womenswear line when I landed an appointment with the head dress buyer of a major department store. I expected to be nervous and excited, and I was. What I didn’t expect was to NOT understand some of the questions she was asking. It pains me to think about how little I knew. I was a walking example of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Over the years, I owned a boutique as well as selling my wholesale line, so I’ve been on both sides of the sales process. I’ve seen some great pitches and some terrible pitches.

Here’s a simple list of the 5 things you need to know before your first appointment:

1. A good line sheet.

By this I mean a clear line sheet that the buyer can understand without explanation. You want your line sheet to have all the necessary information a buyer needs to make their decision. You don’t want to think, “They’ll call me if she has a question,” because odds are a buyer won’t bother to ask a question, and order from someone else.

A good line sheet typically includes:
• High quality photos of your line
• Payment terms, minimum order, deliveries, lead time
• Clear instructions about how to place an order
• Sizing info, prices, colors available

2. Research the store, their customer, and the buyer before you walk in.

Check out the store’s website and Facebook Page. Facebook usually has the most current info about what lines they carry, their pricepoints, and their customer. Also, keep in mind that your  appointment is really all about THEM, and not YOU. Ask the buyer questions, take a look around their store, and make sure it’s a fit before you even try to sell.

Expect their questions. You may hear…

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• What’s your delivery? What date you will ship, i.e. 8/15 – 8/30x.
• What’s your minimum order? You don’t need to have one – no hard and fast rules here.
• How many pieces per color/per style do I need to order? For instance, 4 pieces of this dress, pick your sizes, in red.
• Will you do consignment? Loaded question. I suggest it only for your “First Tier” stores, on a
limited-basis, and only after they tell you they won’t place and order.
• Can I get this in special colors just for my store? Totally up to you, your production situation, and if you want to do that for them.
• What if I have a problem with my order? Ideally, you can tell them you’ll handle it and take care of them.

3. What to Bring.

A lot of designers ask me how they should carry their line. There are lots of different options, and there’s really no perfect answer to this. If you have a small clothing line, you could carry it in a few heavy garment bags (or muslin bags). There are larger travel sample cases available, and a good place to look for those is Travel Auto bag. If your appointment is in the buyer’s store, I suggest you enter the store first without your line, say hello, and ask them if they want you to bring in a rolling rack, or set up in a special area. You may have to be flexible because many times they gave me about 12” of rack for my entire collection, and I had to get creative.

If you sell jewelry, I suggest you make your pieces somewhat accessible. When I had my boutique, I found it very frustrating to see a piece but not be able to hold it to feel the weight and quality.

Here are the specifics of what to bring:

• Your line, tagged with wholesale prices and style numbers
• Your line sheet
• Your lookbook or photo packet (if you have one)
• Your order form
• A safe place to collect credit card information (if you have immediates)

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4. How to show your line.

Most emerging designers feel compelled to explain each item to the buyer. Honestly, the buyer wants to look at the line, and decide for themselves. If you have details to offer about best sellers, popular colors, fit info, and delivery dates, that’s great. However, don’t feel compelled to fill every silent moment.

I recommend you show your collection in the same order that you list your pieces on your line sheet. For example, line up all of your dresses on the rack, according to what order they are  in on your line sheet – by delivery, etc. This way, the buyer can follow along and make notes as you show your pieces. Please practice showing the line and memorizing delivery dates and prices, BEFORE your first appointment. I’m not kidding when I say show the line to your assistant, your Mom, your friends, everyone. Get comfortable with it! You can even set up a video camera and practice that way – it really helps.

Also, follow the lead of the buyer. If you get the notion they like to shop a collection in a certain way, go with it! They’ve done this hundreds of times, and can even guide you a bit on how they like to look at lines.

5. Taking the order.

It can be intimidating and scary to show your own creative work. It was for me, and I’m sure it will be for most designers out there. But, that’s no reason not to ASK FOR the order at the end of a sales meeting. I once worked with a shirt designer who did her first trade show and took no orders at the show at all. When I asked her why, she said she thought they just wanted to look and order later, so she didn’t want to bother them. This was even after they told her they wanted to place an order! Her response was, “I’ll email you after the show”.

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Here’s what to do instead:

As the buyer goes through your line, pull out the items she/he likes, and keep them separate, or make a quick note of what they are. Then go back, and show the buyer everything they liked, organize it, and ask them if they want to write it up. Even if they tell you they don’t want to place an order today, you want to be sure to write it up as if it’s an order, and call it “Notes.” Give them the original copy, so it’s all organized and easy for the buyer to send you, if and when they’re ready.

What happened on my first appointment…

My very first appointment was with a major department store buyer. I hadn’t practiced at all, and I was stumbling through things. The buyer asked me, “Jane, what’s your delivery on these?” I looked at her blankly. So she said, “Jane, if I were to place an order with you, when would you ship it to me?” Genius that I was, I responded, “Um, when do you need it?” For some reason she took a chance on me despite my green-ness. She placed an order for 4 stores, and my wholesale line was launched! I was thrilled. Believe me when I tell you that if I can do it, so can you!

Good luck!

If you liked this article, take a look at these:

› 4 Critical Questions to Ask Before Designing Your Line<
› 3 Quick Tips to Selling Your Collection Like an Expert
› 8 Tips to Prepare for a Buyer Meeting