After months of late nights, sketching, ideating, overseeing production and learning more new lingo than you thought possible, your apparel line’s ready, and it’s exactly as you’d envisioned. Getting it on shelves, though, isn’t exactly straightforward, particularly when you’re new to the hustle. For some, the answer could come in the form of a showroom. However, before you jump on board, there are a few key questions to ask them – and yourself. Here’s a baker’s dozen to get you on the right track.
1. How many salespeople do they have, and what does the team look like?
Showrooms represent several brands, so it’s good to know who will be selling your line specifically. It could be the whole team, or you could have a dedicated account manager or salesperson working directly on your brand. This also helps you understand exactly who you’ll be working with as your relationship grows.
2. What other brands are in their stable, and how long have they been there?
It’s important to determine if the other brands carried by the showroom cast yours in a favorable light. While a little competition is inevitable, ultimately, there should be a healthy mix of brands that play well together, rather than fostering the kind of competitive relationship that sees one do well and another struggle. Things to consider here include the price point and the target demographic. It’s also a good time to identify the pool of buyers that typically visit this showroom.
3. Do they offer PR and marketing services?
Some showrooms have the benefit of in-house public relations staff. S7 in New York, for example, is the showroom of PR agency Seventh House, and gives all represented designers the opportunity of paying an additional press fee for high-profile press placements, with the intention of building the brand and fostering sales.
4. Can you afford to be there for at least six months?
Typically, you’ll only start to see results after 3 – 6 months, so it’s vital that you’ve considered this time frame and can comfortably afford the monthly fees in order to secure that return on investment. Apart from the standard fees, you’ll likely be charged a sales percentage as well, so these numbers need to be worth your while. Moreover, several showrooms will expect a commitment of at least a year (often up to three years), and season-by-season generally isn’t a reality – or a good investment for either party.
5. Where are they based?
The location is also key, as you’ll want to be somewhere accessible to buyers and have the opportunity to forge close relationships in the industry. In New York, the best neighborhoods to have a showroom in (that encourage foot traffic, among other things) are the Garment District, Soho and Bryant Park. Central, convenient and chic.
6. How do they identify my brand?
This is a great question to ask the showroom and the sales representatives. You need to be assured that they understand your brand, and can effectively communicate it to buyers and clients to ensure your line ends up on suitable shelves and in the right publications that are aimed at your all-important target demographic.
7. Do they host events?
Do they throw parties or trunkshows for industry insiders? Believe it or not, a little fun and games can be beneficial to your line, especially in the early stages when exposure is the name of the game. You never know who’ll turn up for the free canapes.
8. What trade shows do they take part in?
Trade shows are another great way to gain exposure, and showrooms will typically have regular shows where they exhibit. It’s great to negotiate with your salesperson or agent to work out which shows are best for your collection, and if this service attracts additional fees (travel, accommodation, etc.).
9. What buyers/retailers do they work with?
Who are their main contacts, and which retailers do they work for? Again, this information is key to establishing if they’re the right fit for your brand. Your sales agent should have existing working relationships with the stores and buyers you already envision carrying your line.
10. What geographical area do they cover? Do they have satellite offices in other cities and countries?
Is their reach limited to the city they’re based in, or do they have the means and connections to sell your collection elsewhere? Having relationships that reach further than your hometown can mean cornering a new or unexpected market, and it’s worthwhile to build a following in multiple cities.
11. Establish a communication pattern.
You’ll also need to work out how often you should speak to your agent at the showroom. Do you prefer weekly contact, or a fortnightly meeting? You should decide this early in your partnership, setting parameters for the relationship to continue over the following months.
12. How will they communicate buyer feedback?
Another element to consider is how you’ll receive and implement feedback from buyers to strengthen your brand. Will you receive feedback during meetings, over email or phone? Regardless of the method, it’s important that your agent is comfortable giving you this information so you’re able to be more tapped into what customers and retail buyers want.
13. Do they have a system of measuring progress to enable brand growth?
How do they measure progress or success? Every showroom will be different, though you should take care to note if they have a workable system in place. It’s not just in your best interests to do well, but theirs too – their commissions and growth will ultimately be higher if your brand succeeds. It’s a great time to build relationships and strive towards a common goal.
Ready to approach a showroom? Here’s a selection in New York:
- • Williamson PR & Showroom
- • The Globe
- • Showroom Seven
- • M5 Showroom
- • Steven Alan Showroom
- • KCD Worldwide
- • Maguire Steele
- • People’s Revolution
- • Karla Otto