Designer Retailer Dilemma
by Ellen Fruchtman, President
We just returned from JCK. In fact, as I am writing this article, I am still getting over the trauma of wearing a mask for 8 hours, the masked police tooling the aisles, the sheer hypocrisy of it all (with shoulder-to-shoulder cocktail parties and events sans masks). The overall exhaustion, occasional frustration, and exhilaration from time to time that comes from attending.
We met with several second-tier and start-up designers during this trip who wanted to discuss their digital marketing efforts. Of course. Is there any other marketing anyone is talking about? Sidebar… you should be. One continuous conversation played over and over again was the notion of selling directly to consumers online. It was troubling to hear this drum being beaten by designers who have a solid retailer relationship and designers who also want to build their business with retailers. Because the truth is, these two marketing efforts, one as creating a trustworthy business-to-business retailer relationship and the other conversely making products available to consumers online, are like mixing oil and water. Try as you might, it’s never going to mix. And, the only thing that might develop is the bitter taste in your mouth after you take a sip.
Dear designer, for the most part, you are not a known name. To be a known name takes an enormous amount of money. Start understanding what smart retailers are spending in their own area to market their brand. Nine times out of ten, you are providing a budget that is less than one retailer is spending in their own market and you are expecting some level of national exposure! Not going to happen.
You can’t have it both ways. No retailer wants to take on a brand that is in competition with them. They don’t love brands like David Yurman who sell direct. They put up with it. Newsflash: you also aren’t David Yurman. The fastest way to succeed is to support your existing retailers with a marketing program with marketing assets they can use and promotions to drive traffic! And, if you are really smart, with dollars placed in their markets either cooperatively or directly, to drive traffic to their doors! Your goal should be to move products across the counter. It is time to understand the competition (local and national) and the level of spending dollars. The likes of Blue Nile, James Allen, and Brilliant Earth are spending dollars each month that are unimaginable. You simply cannot compete in this arena! More importantly, nor should you. If any marketing company tells you that you can be successful by taking this route, turn around and run!
Dear retailers, do your due diligence when you are considering taking on a new designer. Talk to them about the level of support they provide. This includes marketing and product training. Make sure they aren’t selling direct.
When I got into this business, what I loved most was the level of trust. That most businesses were built on relationships. And, I’m starting to see a trend that is quite different. As an industry, we need to get back to what made it great. What made it fun. Support one another. Kumbaya? Maybe. But, we will become a better industry because of it.