Routes to Market
How to reach overseas markets
Agents & Distributors
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Sales (wholesale and through other channels), are the biggest single challenge facing new fashion and textile businesses. One of the first things companies tend to do when they start to export, or show at a tradeshow, is to try to identify agents or distributors to help them with their sales into new markets.
Agents and distributors, especially those based full-time in the market, or cross-border hybrid agencies (of the kind we see a lot in the UK and at Paris Fashion Week) are a good way to reach smaller independent retailers and international department stores. These agencies have the contacts that smaller businesses do not and can effectively initiate new relationships.
Working with agents and distributors is an established way of conducting business in the fashion and textile sector in Europe and further afield, but the market is changing and so is the way these agencies operate and charge for their services. In some markets, agents in particular are under a lot of pressure as the business in their country moves online (the UK and Germany are good examples) whereas in others (Japan, Scandinavia and, to a certain extent, Italy) commission agents remain a key route to market.
The better agents and distributors can afford to be especially selective and have a distinct preference for working with well-established or commercially strong collections which are already well known and promoted.
See our download section for more details.
We also organise a regular seminar on Working with Agents and Distributors. See our events section to view the latest seminar programme.
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Working with buyers is one of the more frustrating parts of launching a fashion or textile business. Buyers are driven by the need to get collections into their store that then sell-through quickly at full retail mark-up with minimal risk and exposure to their store.
Whilst many buyers pride themselves on the thoroughness of their research, most major stores, especially those in the UK, are under huge pressure not to add new brands to the mix unless there is a very good commercial reason for doing so. They are also forced to drive “hard bargains” in their dealings with suppliers, old and new, ensuring “compliance” with any terms and conditions the store may have. For these reasons, most buyers follow their sales reports and can always tell whether a product sold through last season at full mark-up. Some of them are interested in identifying and encouraging new and exciting products to appeal to consumers whereas others may only want to buy from well-established or familiar brands. All buyers have a responsibility to maximise profit and minimise the store’s exposure to risk.
The person in any business “selling” to buyers, therefore, needs to be an efficient and clear communicator, a good listener, an excellent negotiator and understand basic legal concepts such as the Sale of Goods Act. The sales team has to understand exactly what the buyer is looking for; how, where and when the goods should be delivered and how they will be paid for. The sales team is a key link between the retailer and the brand, feeding information in both directions and protecting the interests of the brand. Whilst most sales people attempt to be on friendly terms with the buyer (this is always preferable) there are inevitably times in the process when the sales team and the buyer will have opposing interests and objectives.
We have created a checklist for our members as guidance on the most effective ways of securing and nurturing a relationship with a buyer.
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Ecommerce and omnichannel retailing impact directly on the way new businesses enter the market and build their brands.
The online sales channels can be categorised as follows:
- Own ecommerce platform
- Social media
- Multi-brand retailer
- Online boutique platform
Making a decision between these is a crucial one for a brand entering the market and there are a number of matters to consider in order to make the most of any of those opportunities, among them pricing strategy, payment gateways and various tax laws across the globe. We have prepared a comprehensive checklist for our members, available in the download section.
Ecommerce requires an omnichannel strategy to be in place. On its own, the site cannot do the work. To be successful the brand will need to be supported by traditional wholesale activities, tradeshows, Press and PR, Social Media. UKFT works with young and established member brands assisting them with their online activities.
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Tradeshows have adapted over the years from being the main order-writing meeting place to a platform where international buyers, online retailer, agents, distributors, buying houses, bloggers and press can research and meet new companies. Most tradeshows in the fashion and textile sector are “juried”, “vetted” or “screened” meaning that the organisers accept only those companies whose products meet their criteria or the tastes and budgets of their buyers. Whilst not as powerful as they used to be, the key international tradeshows are still an essential meeting place for new brands to connect with companies and businesses that can help them reach consumers.
Buyers like to visit more prominent tradeshows as there they can see the latest trends, identify new products and brands and, importantly, be free to engage with the companies which interest them and walk away from those that do not.
Tradeshows are no longer just about wholesale – online buyers, bloggers and press use them extensively as it gives them immediate access to the brands they want to interact with. As such, tradeshows now form an important part in most new brands’ omnichannel strategy for at least part of their journey as they offer a unique opportunity to meet essential contacts. Brands can also use the fairs to research new markets and identify new contacts.
UKFT works with most of the key international shows and showrooms and is able to offer impartial advice on which shows are most suitable for UK fashion and textile companies. In some areas, including Paris Fashion Week, we also give advice and provide necessary introductions as well as support on working with hybrid showrooms. Download section includes our reports from recent shows and Fashion Week exhibitions from around the world.