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Buying a new brand

What to consider when investing in a new label for your boutique with Abi Neill.

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We need to keep the wheels turning on our businesses so that ‘when’ (not ‘if’, but ‘when’ says the optimist in me) we return to normal life as we know it; we have the best dresses on our rails.

It’s hard to find a fail proof strategy at a time when everything is so uncertain but mine is (as far as possible) to plan, promote and buy! It is certainly a time to buy with care and invest wisely but one of my business goals is to continue to procure gorgeous collections for my bridal boutique and for our future brides.

Stagnation is not an option. You need to evolve, find ways to engage and sing about the beautiful new dresses that you have coming to your store - social media is obviously the key.

Buying a new brand (under any circumstances, not least the current one) requires thought and care. There are so many incredible labels out there right now. And although business is bumpy, I’ve never felt so excited about the new designs that our bridal manufacturers and designers are putting out. At a time when things are insecure, I’ve invested in two new brands this year including Rachel Rose and Evie Young. I wasn’t looking to take anyone on. I wasn’t looking to spend money that I need to guard, BUT when incredible dress opportunities present themselves – you’ve got to grab them! What is it they say? ‘You snooze, you lose’.

What do you need to consider before buying into a new label?

We are all programmed differently (as boutique owners) so some will avoid the over analysis however here are a few areas to contemplate before you invest.

If you are new to the world of buying dresses it may be helpful to know that your new brand will supply you with repeat wedding dress orders from the samples that you have invested in and hung on your rails. In exchange for a ‘minimum’ purchase of a certain number of dresses per year you will (usually) be granted a radius exclusivity zone which prevents that label from supplying a competitive shop within the agreed area. Most designers suggest a minimum mark up and some will enforce an RRP. Here are a few questions and areas you can consider when discussing a potential collection for your store.

  • What are the seasonal minimums, lead times, delivery costs and rush cut options?
  • How frequently does the brand discontinue?
  • Is there a recommended margin and do they publish RRP’s?
  • What’s their design flexibility (if any) including fabric options/modifications and the costs associated?
  • Are the designs well-constructed and do they allow for ease of alteration?
  • Do the company support designer days or provide sample loans and at what cost?
  • Ask about their existing network of retailers (including geographic locality and exclusivity).
  • Do they have their own UK based store?
  • Do they support online sales that could compete with your offering?
  • How desirable is the brand and what’s their social media and marketing strategy?
  • What is their social media footprint? Are they a lead generating label with bridal pulling power?
  • Is the brand a good fit for your brides and are you (your sales team) passionate about the styles?

Brand mix

Brand mix is important, in simple terms you need a desirable ones. For the dresses to have earnt a place on my rails they need to sit well together, each bring something individually to my store and most obviously, they need to sell. Some labels are what I call ‘power labels’. These are often the big brands who drive brides through our doors. They make the phone ring and can keep you up answering price requests on Instagram till the early hours. We all need a power label, who is yours?

Then you have your ‘passion brands’ that you are deeply connected too. These may not be the biggest lead generators or the most obvious designers, but they are the ones that you really love to work with. They bring additional ‘pretty’ to your website. These dress companies are steady and whilst they aren’t necessarily the market leaders you’re behind them as are many others.

Next up is your private collection or the little known brands where the profit margin (or mark-up) is often higher. Their marketing is minimal and possibly not the strongest. Brides won’t have come searching for these dresses in your store but their dresses do often fit the bill and you love the margin when they sell. There’s often less pressure on minimums and more generosity on radius.

A good bridal boutique’s brand mix will bring variety and a cross section of compelling styles for your brides that surf your website and socials. We try to buy a ‘look’ from each designer, of course there’s cross over but we try and avoid where possible.

Spend + Stock = Success

Lastly, (and this isn’t rocket science) bear in mind that what you spend and the level of stock that you carry has a significant impact on the success of your boutique and bottom line. Sometimes it’s good to try and negotiate larger exclusivity with brands and always let the lowest performer with the least return go so that you’re not label hogging. Sadly, I’ve dropped labels from companies that I’ve LOVED working with but with whom we just didn’t see a healthy return. We strive to sell at least three times what we buy from a brand to justify its place in-store and this needs to be from several of their designs, not just one.

It is an incredibly testing year for many and savvy business owners will want to tighten up on sample spend. It’s crucial to partner with the right brands in order to keep things fresh but whatever you do DON’T over buy or label collect, especially right now - it’s the road to ruin!

A few of my top picks for those looking to add a new brand to their boutique

  • For a unique, modern couture brand full of sass, statement gowns and masses of on trend social media try Rachel Rose Bridal
  • For new, not seen before ‘boho inspired fitted lace’ and their signature fitted crepes and beautiful ballgowns that remain strong sellers, check out Mark Lesley
  • For a stunningly individual and contemporary collection that pushes boundaries with strong socials try Evie Young
  • For timeless elegance and reliable classic wow couture - Suzanne Neville
  • For a brilliant mainstream label whose designs offer unbeatable fit and quality backed up by retailer education reach out to Essense Designs
  • For gorgeous commercial boho, on point social media assets and impressive retailer development and support try Lillian West
  • For a cool eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical brand who focus on thoughtful design and high-end craftsmanship check out Rolling in Roses
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