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Advance Planning for Your Foreign Buying Plan

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Your buying plan for a foreign trip is necessarily more tentative than the one you would draw up for a trip to a U.S. market center, but that fact does not in any way diminish the importance of careful advance planning.

Among the points to cover are:

Resources. Where you are going and what you expect to accomplish - the couture houses whose collections you expect to see; the resources already known to your store in the area you will visit; the general categories of merchandise for which you may be seeking new sources.

Units to be Purchased. You cannot always be sure that you will find as much merchandise as you want to buy when you visit a foreign market. You may not be able, as in New York, to take an elevator to another floor and complete your buying at another resource if the first one you visited was disappointing.

What you can do, however, is set down the maximum number you can afford to buy in each classification and retail price line for which you are shopping. Whether or not you can buy up to the limit you have set, you will not go beyond that limit without strong, sound reasons.

Cost Prices. You cannot estimate these as simply as when you deal in U.S. markets, where producers orient their own pricing practices to retail price points.

What you can do is familiarize yourself with the probable costs of transportation and customs that each unit or dozen must carry, estimate the initial mark on you need, and work back to a maximum cost price that you can afford for each retail price line.

Then, if you are considering a style for which the foreign shipper's price is, say, $4.35, when you have figured $4.00 as your maximum, you will know that either the style will have to go into a higher retail price line or you will have to sacrifice some initial mark on. Or pass up the style.

Open to Buy. You may be making commitments for goods to be received in months for which you do not yet have a budget, much less an Open-to-Buy.

Work out tentative estimates of your department's future needs. However sketchy these estimates are, they will give you an indication of how much of your future spending to reserve for routine needs and how much you can afford to commit for foreign merchandise.

Letter of Credit. The letter of credit you are given, or the lump sum of money your store authorizes you to spend abroad, is usually meant as a maximum, not a minimum, amount for you to spend abroad. It is not a blank check, any more than your ordinary Open-to-Buy is one.

Stores do not measure the value of a buyer's trip abroad solely in terms of how many dollars are spent.

On their first few foreign buying trips, young fashion buyers tend to buy heavily "to justify the cost of the trip."

Often such unwisely heavy buying merely adds to the cost of the trip by bringing in unwanted, undistinguished merchandise that weighs down the inventory for months.

It is the wisdom with which you select merchandise, rather than your total outlay, that justifies the cost of the trip.

Preparing for Changes of Plan

It is often necessary in foreign buying to make an on-the-spot change of plan. The merchandise you came to buy may not be available in sufficient quantity, or at right prices, or for delivery at the time you originally expected.

Since you can't possibly canvass and prepare for all such eventualities and spell out all the alternatives in advance, arm yourself with facts.

For example: Sales by classification and price line, in the past year or two, and projected for the next season or two. Past promotions and their results. Markons and markdowns by classifications.

Anything that will help you evaluate the capacity of your department to receive and sell merchandise should be in capsule form for your guidance in dealing with unexpected developments.

Before You Leave Home Base

Especially if you are going to a country in which your store has no well established contact, check available sources of help and information at home, well in advance of your trip.

For example: The U.S. Department of Commerce may have overseas business reports for the countries and commodities in which you are interested. It may also have lists of foreign producers for these countries and commodities.

If there is no Commerce field office near your home city, write to Washington well in advance. If you order publications by mail, even when the charge is only a few cents, you have to send money with the order.

The U.S. Customs office in the nearest seaport city can give you current information and brochures on import regulations and duties.

Specify that you are purchasing for resale and indicate the commodities in which you are interested. Check for possible variations in rate according to fiber content or other features, since this may influence your buying decisions.

The consulates of those countries you plan to visit may also have helpful information for you. Whether or not they happen to know fashion, the officials in charge do know business conditions and productive capacity in the countries they represent.

Fashion publications, both consumer and trade, may be able to suggest firms and people to see.

Your store's resident buying office, even if it does not have a representative in the area to which you are going, can probably contribute useful information.

Buyers and merchandise managers in your own store may be able to fill you in on practical details. If your store or its buying office has an import manager, you will of course consult him.

Useful Preparation: Get from the U.S. Department of Commerce tie names, addresses, and telephone numbers of this country's consulates in the countries you plan to visit. Much easier to have this in your notebook in case of need than to make inquiries in a foreign language!
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