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All That a Fashion Buyer Must Know about Foreign Buying

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As a fashion buyer, you may have occasion to seek merchandise in Europe, or Asia, or other parts of the world where fashion ideas, materials or productive facilities are available.

Foreign travel of this kind involves a much greater investment of your time and of the store's expense money than a trip to a domestic market city.

Buying abroad, moreover, often means large and long-term commitments, and the immediate investment of cash for merchandise that may not reach the store for many months.

Yet, despite the greater costs and risks, stores send their buyers abroad. There are some fashion goods that cannot be bought advantageously, or that cannot be found at all, in the domestic market or in the lines of importers.

Initial Markon

As you review the factors that affect the costs and your own pricing of foreign goods, you will realize that your initial markon will have to cover the costs and risks involved, and yet show you a better profit. Keep in mind the advertising and promotion costs you will entail. Unless your purchases are for a store wide or division wide import event, the entire burden of promoting the foreign goods will fall upon your department.

Since imported merchandise does not lend itself readily to price comparisons with goods in competing stores, you may be able to take an initial markon that will cover all the extra costs and also enhance the profit showing of your department.

However, there can be exceptions to the need for high initial mark-on imports. In some situations, management may be prepared to accept risks and subordinate profits in order to enhance its fashion prestige, to outshine price competition, or to achieve some other objective.

Working with a Commissionaire

Your store or its buying office probably has a representative or employs a commissionaire in the country you plan to visit. If not, you may be instructed to engage a commissionaire.

Use the foreign representative or commissionaire for the things he is best qualified to do:
  • locate resources for what you wish to buy

  • interpret for you or hire an interpreter for you

  • give you directions or assistance in your travels about the city or country

  • assist in making arrangements for payment, shipping licenses, and other requirements in connection with your purchases.
The foreign representative or commissionaire knows the country in which he works and understands the intricacies of international trade. Use his assistance intelligently.

On the other hand, in matters of what to buy, you are the authority. You are the one who knows your store and its customers, and you are responsible for whatever buying decisions you make.

You may request and gratefully receive the advice of your commissionaire, just as you would the advice of your resident buying office market representative. But any purchases you make are your responsibility, not his.

Promotion — the Pay-Off

The real pay-off in foreign buying is in how you promote and sell what you have bought. Start selling, start planning promotions, even as you are in the process of buying.

As with any merchandise you buy, try to trace back to its source the thrill of discovery you experience when you find what you came to seek -fashions that are barely born, uniqueness, novelty, spectacular value, fine workmanship, or whatever it may be.

Make this the cornerstone of your promotional and selling effort. Pin it all down firmly while it is fresh in your mind, and while its impact upon you is strong.

Make notes for yourself. Write notes to your staff, and to the advertising department, the fashion coordinator, the branch department managers, and anyone else who will play a part in selling the goods. Give their mental machinery something to work on even before you get back to the store.

Look for additional points that will add romance and attraction to the merchandise. For example: hand work, ancient skills, traditional patterns, and bits of history and local color, all add charm to the merchandise.

Some of these details may be sparks that inspire copywriters to excel themselves, or that give the merchandise special importance in the eyes of sales people and customers. There is a vast difference between, say, "a sweater" and "a sweater hand-knit in Ireland in an individual pattern that is passed down in each family from mother to daughter for generations."

Capture such differences to help promote and sell your merchandise!

Reaping the Benefits

Successful completion of a foreign buying assignment, right down to the promotion and sale of your merchandise, demonstrates to your management that you are a truly capable buyer. If you can function well so far from home base and among resources unfamiliar with your operation, then you have reason to believe that you have mastered the fundamentals of fashion buying.
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