Laura Brown, former chief merchandising officer of ViewPoint sales and marketing, recently launched Elbee Strategic to focus on brands needing product development direction. With more than 20 years in the jewelry and watch industry, Brown’s background is specifically suited to the unique inventory and trend forecasting dilemmas that retailers face every day. JCK spoke with Brown about how brands and retailers can better work together to create a successful partnership.
JCK: Explain what your company, Elbee Strategic, brings to the marketplace.
Laura Brown: Elbee Strategic is a product management company. My goal is to assist designers and vendors with their product development and inventory management processes by incorporating strategic planning. Often, designers do not have a product plan or well-researched market information in place before they start designing. Other companies may find they are not managing their inventories well and need help streamlining their product offerings and depth of inventory to keep the company flexible. When designers launch collections with a well thought out merchandising and inventory plan, everyone benefits.
JCK: What is the biggest communication challenge between retailers and brands?
LB: I believe that it is really understanding what it is like on each other’s side. Unless brands have their own points of retail, they are often very far away from any consumer interaction. There may be roadblocks to selling their products at retail that an executive of a brand will never understand unless they experience it themselves on a retail floor. On the other side, retailers may not understand that rising costs of materials and manufacturing on all fronts—metals, stones, displays, technology—are really squeezing margins and brands are not as flexible with what they can supply.
Ultimately, communicating needs on both sides is important. Businesses show the most growth and success when retailers and brands have a give-and-take partnership.
JCK: If a retailer is investing in a new brand, how many styles would you suggest they buy, and how do you advise curating a successful collection?
LB: Give a new collection the opportunity to shine. Let the brand or designer direct the retailer into best sellers, but be willing to take a chance on interesting and unique pieces to show the range of designs. When retailers invest with their point of view—and checkbook—new collections have a better chance of success. When retailers will only take consignment, then designers are left with no option but to only give over what they can afford, not necessarily what is best for that store.
When selecting from a collection, I suggest the buyer think beyond the initial buy. Make a selection that is larger than what is considered for the initial delivery and then break out about 30 percent into second delivery. This allows the first assortment to not look cherry-picked and gives the retailer something to talk about to the staff and clients for the future
JCK: What does a brand need to know about a retailer in order to help with merchandising?
LB: What is profile of the sales team at the store and the consumer who shops there? Then a brand or designer can help determine a presentation that is in the comfort zone of the sellers, and keeps them interested. If the sellers do not have any identification or comfort with the assortment it will never be translated to the consumers.
JCK: What trends are you seeing in the marketplace that fine retailers should be buying right now?
LB: Newness and unique items that do not have to be limited to precious metals! The up-market consumer needs a reason to buy more than ever. Consumer trend reports point to upscale consumers spending their money on experiences, not necessarily items, in the near future. New products with great stories (and an enthusiastic sales team to translate) will make the transaction be more experiential.
For more information, contact Laura Brown: Laura@ElbeeStrategic.com
Author of A Girl’s Guide to Buying Diamonds, Randi Molofsky has covered the fine jewelry and gemstone industries for 12 years. A noted contributor to fashion and business publications ranging from W to New York, and the former fashion editor at National Jeweler, she also serves as a strategic consultant for industry organizations and high-profile designers. Randi muses on personal style and design at pimpsqueak.com.