Sample reduction could be a tricky topic for fashion professionals. Many would argue samples are the bread and butter of the fashion wholesale business. The general consensus is that fashion samples are what drives and enables this sector of the business. Salespeople rely on them to reach their targets. Merchandisers need them to compile their collections. We have even heard brands say: “No samples, no sale!”. But do they really need them?
Fashion brands still struggle to come to terms with the topic. "Can I reduce samples without harming my business?". Even with travel restrictions and businesses opening and closing on a weekly basis, we hold onto them as a safety net. However, with budgets getting tighter and with Direct-to-Consumer shift by many brands, how will wholesale emerge from this shakeout?
Regardless of the challenges, wholesale remains a key piece of the growth engine for many fashion brands. The industry is ripe to tackle the challenge. "Can I reduce samples and keep my business going?"
Yes, absolutely. Here are five tips to start reducing samples today.
1. Understand how you use samples
Take the time to understand how your teams use samples. Some work with them daily, some of them, once per season. Find out who is working with what and when. Mapping its usage is the first step to identify potential overlaps or overproduction. This way, you may be able to remove sample sets without impacting anybody's work. In addition, you'll know which teams are working with samples and keep them in the loop to ensure the sample reduction plan will not come as a surprise to them.
2. Explore new ways of working with samples
Letting go of samples won't be easy for salespeople or buyers. To make the transition easier, take time to think of new ways for people to working without samples. Understanding people's friction will help your brand to come up with optimal ways to drive the transition. One great way to do so is by generating new digital content. Add your brand identity and your seasonal story to it and show your teams they have new (and in many cases better!) ways to move forward. People can get excited about change if they feel supported.
3. One Stitch at a Time
Think big, start small Navigating change is like going on a journey. Do it too quickly and people can feel dizzy and will eventually drop out. Instead, break it down into smaller bite-sized pieces. When reducing samples, you could start by reducing your color multipliers or your replenishment, never out of stock options. Your buyers should be familiar with these pieces and this can get them on the right path towards your desired digital experience. Keep in mind, the most effective reduction is the continuous reduction, not the direct one.
4. To sample or not to sample. That's the question.
In the sample reduction game, it’s important to know which samples you can cut out as well as which ones to keep in. Review your collection and assess where each category falls. From newness to innovation, from image drivers to commercial options, every element adds up to defining, refining and reducing your sample production.
5. Make the most of your showroom space
Less samples will open up your showroom to new possibilities. Use all that new available space to emphasize the key stories of the season. if you're looking for a WOW element, bring your digital experience into the physical world. As customers enter your showroom they will transition from physical to digital seamlessly, translating into a more focused, more efficient appointment. The true exemplification of less is more!
At Stitch we have experienced how difficult it can be to take that first step into a future with less samples. We are familiar with the risks that you may be faced with by pivoting into a new direction. After all, it is no small feat to reduce samples in fashion, an integral part of the industry’s legacy processes. At the same time, we have also seen how successful it can be. And more importantly, how a change in your sample strategy is really a great step towards bringing value to your brand.
Like any change, the scariest thing is to start. It’s about taking that first step, seeing what works for your brand and your teams, and creating a lift-off moment from there. Always keep the long term benefits in mind and keep moving towards them, one Stitch at a time.