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Don't Undervalue Your Instinct on a Market Trip as a Fashion Buyer

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One famous merchant (Walter Hoving) has said: "You know you've got a great new item when seeing it makes your spine tingle."

If you see a style or item that makes this happen, star the item, underscore it, write yourself memos about it, but don't let it get away.

Package your enthusiasm about it by writing down whatever it is that gets you excited. The very same points will probably stimulate the advertising and selling staff, too.

In your enthusiasm for the one or two terrific items or styles, however, don't forget that all the rest have something going for them, too.

Jot it down. Fashion, value, durability, convenience, or whatever it was that made you want to by - that is what will make the customer want to buy, too.

New or Old, Large or Small Resources

Part of every market trip should be devoted to getting acquainted with resources new to your department.

Your resident buyer may suggest some; other buyers may mention some; you may have seen some names in publications; salesmen may have called on you.

However well suited you are with your established resources, you need to know what other resources are available. Even if looking at another line merely reassures you about the tightness of your existing resources, your time will be well invested.

Do not overlook small resources. You need them quite as much as you need large ones, but for different reasons.

Small firms can move swiftly to produce whatever is wanted; they can give you the occasional unique item that makes a department stand out.

On the other hand, their facilities and capital may be limited; they may be able to supply only a token portion of your needs; they may not be able to supply reorders in sufficient quantity to permit full exploitation.

Large firms can give you balanced lines, fashion and merchandising direction, promotional help, services geared to a large store's needs. Most of the time, they can give you delivery when you want it.

On the other hand, their vast fabric needs compel them to make commitments far in advance. This tends to push them toward classics and away from experimental styles. Also, their operation allows them to cut only in large runs. They are more likely than smaller firms to reject suggested modifications of their styles for individual stores.

To strike a balance between large and small resources, one large producer recommends that three-quarters of the opening commitment each season be placed with major resources. The remaining one-fourth should be for small vendors whose "different" styles will liven up the department and stimulate sales of goods, whatever their origin.

Each department should have its own ratio. A boutique operation may deal only with small resources; a budget department may deal almost entirely with huge manufacturers.

Decide on your position along the scale and allocate an appropriate portion of your buying to small resources.

How Not to Buy

In dealing with their established resources, buyers are tempted to make the error of following last year's sales and promotion patterns too literally.

This year's figures should not duplicate last year's. Last year's are a guide, but there are bound to be shifts in fashion emphasis, in economic factors, and even in the acceptance of various producers' lines. You will rarely find yourself needing exactly as much merchandise from a resource as you did last year at the same time. Yet some buyers order just that way. If they placed $5,000 as an opening order the year before, they come prepared to spend $5,000, even before they have seen the line or surveyed the market. Sales representatives like it that way, encourage it: it gives them a starting point to "work up" an even larger commitment.

Similarly, last year's successful promotions should not necessarily be duplicated this year, though it has been observed that if a season ended with an item going "great guns", the likelihood is that it will start off the new season "hot" again.

Normally, a new season begins with new ideas, or variations on the basic idea. Timing may be improved. An idea built last year on one resource's styles may be broadened this year to include goods from several resources.

Part of your market trip's purpose is to seek fresh ideas for promotions and fashion events. At the very least, you should bring back a few new twists on familiar promotions.

Checking Back

After you have seen lines and taken notes, sort out your impressions of the market trip as a whole.

You will know which fashions are firmly established, which are doubtful, which are past their prime.

You will have an overall view of how your market is responding to the fashion influences your store considers important.

You will know which lines and which numbers give you the best combination of fashion, values, and promotion - and which ones have already been "knocked off".

You will be able now to review your tentative selections against the market background you have just acquired.

Check also with your resident buying office, other buyers from your own store, the buying office's fashion coordinator, also your own. Make sure you are working in the same fashion direction as the rest of your store and that you have not allowed the excitement of the market to pull you away from the course that was set for you back at the store.
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