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Role of agents, reps, distributors and showrooms in today’s fashion market

Blog
5th June 2018

In an interview for the ‘Fédération Française du Prêt à Porter Féminin’, Dominique Chatelin, CEO of Webhelp Payment Services said, “Fashion agents, reps, distributors and showrooms remain indispensable intermediaries. They’re very important partners for brands and for us. It’s essential for brands to attract and convince good fashion agents since, in the case of the best fashion agents, they are the ones who choose the brands they represent. A fashion agent’s quality and reliability are fundamental. Fashion agents, reps and distributors possess a thorough understanding of the market. That’s key, since selling remains a local act.” But who are these fashion agents, where do they fit in the industry today, and what is the best way to communicate with them?

Where do fashion agents fit in the industry today?

Twenty years ago, fashion agents, reps, distributors and showrooms played a crucial role in the development of any brand for export because they were much more familiar with the market and clients than the brands. Regardless of these brands’ local reputation, they needed the support of their local sales partners to make the connection with clients.

However, the situation of fashion agents has changed considerably since then. About 10 years ago, brands started thinking they could get by without local sales partners and save the cost of their commission (around 10 to 15%) by directly managing their development and relationship with clients abroad. However, this transformation significantly increased their fixed costs, thereby reducing their margins. With uncomfortably high fixed costs and the problems they were experiencing with sales, it was not long before the brands began working with fashion agents again.

Today, fashion agents represent and sell brands while providing additional, locally based services. They foster the retailer-brand relationship by dealing with the concerns on both sides and coming up with mutually acceptable solutions. But they are also constantly on the alert, mindful of avoiding the mistakes of the past.

These days, the biggest challenge to any fashion agent’s long-term future is understanding how online promotion works. If this channel makes it possible to by-pass the agent, the question is whether we still need agents at all. With online sales to stores, brands could theoretically do without an fashion agent, but with online sales to customers it is also theoretically possible to do without retailers.

Is the digitalisation of the sector set to do away with some of the players in the fashion industry?

Fashion agents, reps, and distributors are the ones who know the market and different players best. It would therefore be more logical to work with them to develop online stores and tap in to this channel (which these days is pretty much essential) rather than cutting them out of the loop for economic reasons.

Doing away with the players who have enabled a market to grow and who still play an important role in it is sure to cause collateral damage. Without their local sales partners, brands are in danger of losing their grip on the market reality and their know-how and of being influenced by their internal logic rather than focusing on the market.

If you do without your most useful partners at a time when you are growing and dominating the market, once your business stabilises you are in danger of running into problems that may even bring about a decline.

Today, the brands that are doing well are the ones who have understood that the benefits should be shared out among all the contributing partners. Even a well-known brand cannot do without the local players on the market.

Local sales partners add value! how to optimise it and bring across that message more effectively

  1. You should always take into account the local sales partner’s opinion on the items and collections that work or will work best. They have a thorough understanding of the market and are often better than the brands at picking out the best-sellers. Conventions can vary hugely from country to country.
  2. You also have to be careful with deliveries and make sure they are on time, to prevent complaints or order cancellations. What’s more, the earlier the goods come in, the longer the sale period and therefore ultimately the greater the sales potential.
  3. One important point is to arrange a sales meeting with each agent, reps and distributor at least once a year. This is an opportunity to brainstorm with them, throw around ideas, find out what they think face to face and maintain a close relationship with them.
  4. End-customer demand has to get back to the brand to give the brand the opportunity to improve its collections accordingly. Sometimes, sales don’t hit their targets because the brand has not received on-the-ground feedback on actual demand in the market.
  5. One essential thing to do is to work with the agent to assemble a client portfolio that draws on their experience and understanding of their market with respect to both brands and retailers.
  6. You should help agents exhibit at the fashion shows relevant to their market.
  7. The same collection for the same season may come across differently in different parts of the world. Preferences can sometimes even vary between north and south within the same country, especially in Europe, so you have to be flexible. And it is the local sales partners who are familiar with these differences; you therefore need to ask for and listen to their advice on these kinds of variations, which can make all the difference when it comes to sales.

Today, agents, reps, distributors and showrooms remain essential players in the fashion market. Their role has changed in the last 20 years but their knowledge of the market and local clients remains vital when it comes to optimising international sales. These days, logic dictates that you should continue to work with these partners who have a thorough understanding of the market to enable you to remain completely in touch with end-customer demand.

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