Working with a Fashion Showroom To Boost Sales
If you’re a brand trying to boost operations and sales, you might (and, should), be looking into working with a fashion showroom. A fashion showroom is a company that specializes in getting your designs into retail stores. They act as a well-connected sales agent for your brand, who manages all the business stuff so that you can focus on the creative things. Sounds like a dream, huh? But working with showrooms is not always smooth sailing. Showrooms can also be pressure-cooker environments that come with their own set of frustrations and headaches.
So, if you have your eye set on working with a fashion showroom, the following is pretty much everything you need to know. Here we’ll break down the ups and downs of working within the clothing showroom system, and what you can bring to the table that might help smooth your workflow.
BUT BEFORE WE GET STARTED
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WHAT YOU WILL LEARN
- What is a fashion showroom?
- The two functions of a fashion showroom
- Three ways a showroom can boost your bottom line
- 6 pros of working with a fashion showroom
- 6 cons of working with a fashion showroom
- Are you ready for a showroom?
- Best practices, how to work with a showroom to boost wholesale
- Showroom resources - the best showrooms in the fashion industry
WHAT IS A FASHION SHOWROOM?
An essential cog in the wheel that is the fashion industry, a fashion showroom is a place where designers and brands can present their latest collections. Buyers who are responsible for stocking retail shelves, magazine editors (think Vogue), and even influencers interested in promoting new outfits and accessories, can view, touch, and evaluate the merchandise up close and in person. There are some things that technology will never be able to replace. And being able to see a garment in person (un-photoshopped) is one of them.
Simply put, an apparel showroom is where a lot of the fashion industry gets its business gets done.
Fashion showrooms can be temporary – like pop-up shops used as a venue for press events, product launches, and other promotional activities – or permanent spaces open year round. Generally, showrooms are owned and managed by a highly specialized third party, but sometimes showrooms are owned directly by the brand, typically this happens in luxury fashion. In every case though, showrooms serve as a powerful platform to showcase a brand’s collections to a private audience of editors, stylists, buyers, and other important industry professionals.
WHAT IS A FASHION SHOWROOM RESPONSIBLE FOR?
Showrooms are responsible for two things. Sales and Marketing.
The main function of a fashion showroom is to sell your brand to wholesalers for you – whether that’s by showing your products privately in their own space, bringing your product line to trade shows, or taking email orders, they've got all of the tools to help you get started. In addition, showrooms do this by leveraging the long-standing industry relationships that they already have with buyers.
Think of it this way, they are like your ticket into the VIP world of the wholesale elite.
But that’s not all. Beyond taking order sheets, apparel showrooms handle the entire business transaction from start to finish. So if your order is shipping late, they’ll let the buyer know and smooth things over. Or, if a store is late on a payment, they’ll handle collections.
Meaning, showrooms aren’t just a way to offer access to buyers, they become full partners on the brand’s team to manage sales throughout the entire process.
To stay competitive, showrooms have started offering brand owners additional services in recent years, helping to take even more off of your plate. These services such as marketing, promotion, and PR offer a one-stop shop for additional marketing support.
Today’s showrooms can assist by helping you to book editorial appointments and set up private showings for influencers, writers, art directors and other promoters to help you boost press. And, with this comes additional content and social media support as well.
These developments have some industry insiders claiming the role of the fashion showroom is changing. I say, the more offerings that support busy entrepreneurs, the better!
BUT, AREN’T DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER MARGINS BETTER? WHY SHOULD I WHOLESALE WITH A FASHION SHOWROOM?
A lot of brands I work with are hesitant to try wholesale. That’s because they believe the margins (read, profits) are lower. But let’s break down the numbers, and see why this isn’t always so.
Let’s say it costs $10 to make a shirt. And you sell that shirt directly to a customer for $100 from your online store. From that shirt, you’ll end up making $90.
To sell that same shirt sell for 45% off retail for wholesale. And that puts your profits down around $35 when you take off the $10 production costs. That’s a huge difference! Based on these calculations alone, it would seem wholesaling dramatically cuts into your profits.
But these numbers are misleading.
There are three often-overlooked factors that can render the above calculations inaccurate, and they’re important to consider as you’re running the numbers.
ONE: THE COST OF CUSTOMER ACQUISITION
Finding and persuading that customer to come to your website to buy your $100 shirt isn’t free. It costs money to run ads and build traffic to your website. And in recent years, the cost of advertising has gone up appreciably.
These days, what I am hearing from clients is that, for every $1 spent on ads, brands only make $3. So that means that to sell that $100 shirt, you’ll spend at least $30 or more to promote it.
This is part of the reason why many brands don’t make money off their first sale from a new customer. They’ve already spent their $90 profit running ads to get that customer to land on their website and make a purchase. It’s only when a customer returns for a second order, that they start making money off that customer.
With wholesale orders, you sell a bunch of shirts in a single transaction. And you’re guaranteed to make at least some profit off of each shirt, even if it’s less. This makes wholesale much less risky than taking DTC orders yourself, and, often, a better return on your investment. This is why most brands I work with today earn far more from their wholesale sales than with DTC.
TWO: VOLUME DISCOUNTS FROM LARGER MOQS (minimum order quantities)
Working with a fashion showroom on wholesale orders can dramatically increase your total order size with a manufacturer. And, this can do a couple of things for you:
- Make it possible to work with manufacturers you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for based on a factory’s high MOQ (minimum order quantity) and
- Enjoy the better pricing that comes with higher order sizes. Meaning, that shirt that cost you $10 to make, might only cost you $7 now that you qualify for a volume discount.
One or both of these factors can make wholesale orders from clothing showrooms worth it, even if you’re taking in smaller margins on each shirt.
THREE: THE VALUE OF BRAND EXPOSURE
Advertising can be a huge expense for a new brand – so getting brand exposure as part of your inclusion in a showroom is incredibly valuable.
Even if you’re just breaking even on your wholesale efforts, being able to say that your garment is in the company of prestigious brands and on offer from boutiques like Shop Bop, Revolve, or Matches, is brand exposure you simply can’t pay for. Customers who are on the fence about buying your product will now see that you’re legit. And this can help both your wholesale and DTC efforts.
THE PROS OF WORKING WITH A FASHION SHOWROOM
Now that we’ve talked specifically about the benefits of wholesaling, let’s break down how those benefits translate into more showroom advantages for your brand.
ONE: HELP GENERATE CROSS-PLATFORM SALES
Selling your brand to wholesale retailers is part of what a showroom does, so, top-line sales are definitely a direct benefit. But there’s also a bit of a snowball effect, too: the additional marketing, sales, and PR support from the showroom helps to raise your profile, garner more brand exposure, and help you get established in a crowded marketplace. In fact, ModernRetail reports that brands that leverage showrooms can see a 35% increase in transaction value and a 15% decrease in time between purchases versus selling online. So the bottom line is—showrooms are super great for your bottom line.
TWO: FACILITATE BUYER EDUCATION
Showrooms offer an intimate space for buyers to come and learn about your collection. But, the meetings might be different than you envision. It’s not just buyers going through racks of clothes proclaiming love it, need it, eww not that.
And while there’s a bit of that, there’s a lot more information being exchanged, and conversation happening in between.
As buyers look at each style, the sales rep tells them how it was made, and explains how the piece can be styled or might complement other designs in the collection or boutique. Their job is to close the sale and turn that ‘maybe’, into a yes’.
Another thing they can do is offer exclusives. For example, the style you made might be a mini dress, but the sales agent might know that for the buyer in the meeting, maxi dresses are her bread and butter. So, to get the sale, she might offer exclusive customization of the dress in a maxi length.
THREE: FACILITATE RETAILER EDUCATION
You know how when you go shopping, sales staff will sometimes come to your dressing room and be like, hey I thought you might like this, too?
Showrooms can help make it more likely that salespeople are reaching for your brand in those moments. In an effort to help retailers sell the brands they represent even better, many showrooms will go into retail stores and train the sales team. Because the more a salesperson knows about a brand, the better they’ll be able to sell it, and the more likely it is that they’ll make an effort to promote it in their store.
When the sales team knows your brand well and likes you and your team, they’ll feel far more invested in helping you succeed.
FOUR: EASE YOUR DESIGN PROCESS
Trends aren’t made on the runway; they’re made with data. And the best data comes from buyers.
Let’s go back to those conversations between the showrooms and buyers as they place orders. It’s not all one-sided
When Buyers look at your designs, they’re often giving feedback, as well. Like, ‘love this dress, but hate the color’. Or, ‘we’re flooded with dress options this season but we’d love to see more ruffly tops” — all valuable intel to take back to the drawing room.
Your showroom will be taking careful notes on everything the buyer tells them, and passing that information on to you. Because you both benefit when you’re able to produce a collection that buyers want next season, or that fills a particular hole in the market.
One of my favorite examples of this was a client of mine who started out with an entire clothing line for women: silk shirts, knit dresses; you name it, she made it. But after listening to what buyers were really looking for, and what they were having trouble finding, she decided to focus exclusively on sweaters. And then her brand blew up!
My point? One-on-one time spent with buyers is invaluable, and your showroom plays a critical role in passing on the information learned in the process.
FIVE: OPEN UP COLLABORATIONS AND PARTNERSHIPS
Showrooms offer incredible networking opportunities within the fashion industry and at nearly every level of the fashion supply chain, from finding a distributor to pricing strategy.
Like a secret Rolodex of some of the industry's best-kept information, showrooms work with so many different brands, their resources are nearly endless.
It’s not uncommon for showrooms to refer you to new suppliers that can help make your products better (as in, a higher quality), or cheaper. Or, to connect you with additional business support. Need an accountant? Looking for a new print designer? Showrooms are in the know, and happy to share their contacts.
SIX: BE YOUR FAIRY FASHION GODMOTHER
This one depends on your ultimate goals in the fashion industry, of course, but for many, working with a fashion showroom is all about gaining exposure, and experience, and growing your brand as big as you can.
Showrooms are your shortcut to all of this. Folks who work there know the ins and outs of the industry and can help catapult your brand up the ladder faster. While other brands are learning by trial and error, yours will have a dedicated team of showroom professionals who have all the right connections, and who are working on your behalf.
THE CONS OF WORKING WITH A FASHION SHOWROOM
Suffice it to say; there’s a lot to gain by working behind the scenes with a busy fashion show room. But what, if any, are the downsides? Let’s take a look.
No surprise, it’s not all gravy working with these showrooms, but if you know what to expect, you might be able to prevent things from going sideways. That’s because showrooms:
ONE: ARE FAST-PACED AND DEMANDING
Fashion, as they say, isn’t for the faint of heart. Style moves fast, and the frenetic pace of a showroom can take newbies some getting used to.
When you work with a showroom, you are expected to keep to a strict schedule, also known as the fashion calendar. The fashion calendar is the timeline that all wholesale fashion brands follow. The calendar dictates
When your season's samples need to be ready to show to buyers
The selling window in which you’ll to collect bulk orders
The last date you can deliver your order to the retailer without being penalized
Generally, there are at least six seasons in a year. Spring, Summer, High Summer, Fall, Winter, and Resort. All collections are expected to be delivered on time. And if you don’t stick to this traditional fashion calendar it will be almost impossible to land apparel wholesale orders.
Keeping to this strict schedule is easier said than done. However, many new brands don’t have the staff or resources to keep up with the constant demand for new designs. The best is to start out focusing on one or two seasons per year until you’re ready to expand.
TWO: CAN BE EXPENSIVE
Brands typically pay for the privilege of being featured in a showroom, and the associated costs can take different forms. They might include upfront fees, monthly or seasonal fees, commissions on sales, or a combination. Some might even offer tiered packages, with varying levels of services and fees, that can accommodate different budgets.
There could also be marketing expenses and potential travel costs when asked to present your collection to buyers at events or trade shows.
Most of the time, these expenses are worth it for the large orders that the showroom can secure for you. But, I’ve also seen some showrooms take thousands of dollars in fees from brands, and never produce a single order. So, make sure to always research and vet your showrooms before signing a contract.
THREE: ARE HIGHLY COMPETITIVE
Because your brand isn’t the only one being represented by a showroom, you could end up competing against others in your category.
Many times new brands think that if they can get into their competitor's showroom, they’ll succeed. I’d actually advocate for the opposite.
If your competitor is already in a showroom and has an established relationship with buyers, why would buyers take a risk on a new brand when they’re happy with what they have?
Instead of going toe-to-toe with your direct competitors, I always urge new brands to approach showrooms with brands that complement them. For example, if you’re a bathing suit company, instead of approaching a showroom that only sells bikinis, try reaching out to showrooms that rep silk dresses, or a beach towel line. Your bikinis will complement instead of compete with the showroom's current offerings.
FOUR: COMPENSATE BASED ON COMMISSION
Showrooms often operate on a commission-based compensation model, which means that they take a percentage of the sales generated through your showroom, thus, reducing your overall profit margins. Commission will often be a part of negotiations and will be clearly outlined in your contract, however, it’s good to factor this in when you’re making plans.
FIVE: REQUIRE CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATIONS
Speaking of which, working with a fashion showroom will always involve some sort of contract—and the specific terms and conditions of this contract could be anything from very favorable, to extremely strict, making it difficult to make changes to your collection or business strategy, and taking away a lot of flexibility. So as I mentioned, it’s important to carefully vet your showrooms, and understand the terms and associated costs before entering into any agreements.
SIX: OFFER LIMITED CONTROL
Those who have a clear vision for their brand and want to keep control over how it’s presented to the public may find it frustrating to work with showrooms. Some prefer to entirely take over how a designer’s products are marketed and presented to potential buyers, limiting your creativity.
While some of these cons may seem minor, for others, they could be a real barrier-to-entry. Yet still, many designers and brands find that the benefits of working with a fashion showroom outweigh the potential drawbacks. Of course, whether this becomes your experience or not will depend on you, your goals, and your brand.
ARE YOU READY TO WORK WITH A FASHION SHOWROOM?
Any brand that’s interested in expanding into wholesale can hire a showroom. showroom.
But, here’s the thing. Sometimes new brands reach out a little too soon, and when they get rejected, they get discouraged and give up.
To boost your chances of getting accepted into a showroom, I recommend DIYing some of the wholesale work first.
It’s rare that a showroom will take on a brand that’s currently in zero retail locations. They want to see that you have a few retailers behind you and a small stockist list.
So, do some wholesale sales work yourself before you start approaching showrooms. Your chances of them saying yes, even if you’re in just 3-5 stores, are much higher than if you don’t have anything to show already.
HOW TO WORK WITH A FASHION SHOWROOM
Fashion showrooms can be hard to break into. So, here is a list of skills I highly recommend bringing to the table, if you’re going to survive – and thrive – in a fashion showroom.
- Brush up your communication skills: To coordinate with a showroom requires constant communication, patience, and the ability to build strong relationships. Have a system in place to make sure you answer emails in a timely, and professional fashion.
- Pay attention to detail: Don’t rely on the showroom to get your branding just right – stay involved and on top of those small details. Don’t assume they will do it for you, and do it right.
- Flexibility in working hours: Fashion showrooms may require irregular work hours or the availability to travel when sending your collection out for certain opportunities. Be prepared to sometimes work weekends.
- Knowledge of fashion wholesale vocab. Here are a few must-know terms:
- Cancel date - this is the date until a retailer can cancel their order; it is usually one month before the delivery date.
- Return to Vendor (RTV) - The retailer can return unsold goods to the brand for a refund
- Delivery terms - Who is paying for the transportation of the goods to the retail location?
- Payment terms - How will the invoice be paid, and at what intervals? For example, some payment terms are NET30, meaning the retailer has an additional 30 days after they receive the shipment
Instead of trying to muscle your way in without a clue, bring your
A-game. Then you’ll find working with a fashion showroom a whole lot more fun and collaborative than you might think.
FINDING THE PERFECT FASHION SHOWROOM TO WORK WITH
START WITH THE MAJOR MARKETS
New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas are major fashion hubs. And, each of these hubs has concentrated areas where these showrooms set up shop (think: the garment district in Manhattan), making it super easy for Buyers to get around. Here are a few examples of the major markets broken down by city.
The Cooper Design Space - Located in downtown LA, and home to over 100 fashion showrooms.
Brands with permanent showrooms there include:
- 7 For All Mankind
- Alice + Olivia
California Market Center - Right across the street from The Cooper Design Space is the California Market Center, another giant building housing LA showrooms.
Brands with permanent showrooms there include:
- Blue Ivy
- Happy Socks
The Garment District - While not quite as convenient as LA, New York’s famous garment district is a bit bigger, spread out over many blocks through Midtown Manhattan. It is home to some of the best fashion showrooms in the world and also has manufacturers and buying offices as well.
A few of my favorite NYC showrooms include:
- Babel Fair
- Showroom Seven
- Peoples Revolution
The Fashion Industry Gallery (FIG) - One of the biggest fashion hubs of the south with year-round showrooms, and special events.
Brands with Permanent Showrooms at the FIG include:
- Free People
- Show Me Your Mumu
- Hanky Panky
HIT THE TRADESHOWS TO MEET FASHION SHOWROOMS
Most showrooms reserve booth space at apparel tradeshows. So, take a peek around. If you can’t go in person, many tradeshows offer online participation.
Here’s a tip: the booths that have more than one brand tend to be showrooms or sales agents, and are a great place to start reaching out!
Other international fashion hubs you might want to research and not miss out on include, Paris, Tokyo, and Sydney.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Despite the associated stress and some margin-eating costs, fashion showrooms are an incredible opportunity for new brands to get a leg up.
So are you ready to start working with a fashion showroom? What have been your experiences, good or bad? Let’s learn from each other! Hit me up in the comments.