Independent retailers: your biggest competitor is NOT who you think it is

Looks harmless enough... Wolf Ceramic Cup x Donna Wilson from Third Drawer Down.
Looks harmless enough… Wolf Ceramic Cup x Donna Wilson from Third Drawer Down.

It’s not Urban Outfitters or Typo or H&M. It’s someone you know well: a creative and clever wolf dressed in independently-designed sheepskin clothing, and you probably emailed them just yesterday.

Yup, it’s the designers you stock. They’re selling the same sheets/necklaces/mugs as you. And that means you’re competing for shopper $ and publicity.

Who wins? Most often, it’s the designers. By several lengths.

Retailers, let’s wallow for a bit and explore how much easier it is for a designer to market their wares than it is for you. The first step towards solving a problem is it recognise and understand it, right?

1. Designers have a PR opportunity every time they launch a collection.

It's campaign imagery like this that gets a label new stockists. Image credit: Retro Print Revival. Photo taken by @mikebakerphotographer, styling by @beckielittler, furniture from @_moderntimes_.
It’s campaign imagery like this that gets a label new stockists. Image credit: Retro Print Revival. Photo taken by @mikebakerphotographer, styling by @beckielittler, furniture from @_moderntimes_.

If designers invest in great campaign imagery, it’s easy to pitch blogs and magazines and get featured for free. However, by the time the collection arrives with retailers, the blogs and magazines have already featured the products. They don’t want to run them again.

The only naturally occurring PR opportunity that retailers have is when they launch. That’s it.

2. Designers get more bang from blog and magazine coverage.

Let’s say your store is lucky enough to be featured on a top design blog. Benefits for designers are:

  1. New stockists
  2. Direct sales through their online store
  3. More social media followers
  4. Credibility and awareness

Retailers get 2, 3 and 4 but, crucially, not new stockists, where most of the $ are, so the sales impact is far less.

3. Designers can create awesome visual content for Instagram virtually blindfolded.

Behind-the-scenes eye candy from the Instagram account of designer/maker Andrea Shaw aka Stampel.
Behind-the-scenes eye candy from the Instagram account of designer/maker Andrea Shaw aka Stampel.

They’ve probably got a studio full of colourful pens/paints/clay and prototypes, and their Instagram audience can’t get enough of those artfully composed behind-the-scenes shots.

If you’re an online retailer – especially one without a physical shopfront – creating unique visual content daily to feed the hungry Insta-beast can be brain-breaking work.

A snap of the orders you packed in their post bags? Not all that pretty or exciting.

4. Designers create strong and focused brand-identities with one hand tied behind their back.

When there’s a single creative or creative team responsible for designing products and marketing collateral, everything naturally looks like part of the same design ‘family’. The colours just go.

When you’re selling products designed by different labels and design teams, like retailers, it takes way more consideration and discipline to create a strong and cohesive brand identity across your store and social media channels.

5. Designers have more margin to profit from, and play with.

The upshot of being able to create awesome visual content for Instagram and strong brand identities, is that designers are able to build considerable social media followings. They’re able to market direct to these followers and earn 75% profit when selling their goods at full price.

With so much margin to play with, some designers have adopted a strategy of aggressively discounting their current collections by 50% after a relatively short period. At 50% off, they’re still making a profit, whereas a retailer selling at half price is generally selling at cost price.

The other benefit of having so much margin to play with, is that designers can run social media giveaways and gift products to bloggers very affordably ie at a cost of about 25% off the RRP.

It costs twice as much for a retailer to gift products and run giveaways, putting these bread-and-butter marketing strategies beyond the reach of many.

6. Designers have a MILLION specialised marketing platforms to experiment with.

OK maybe not a million, but every other day, there seems to be a new marketing platform popping up that caters to independent designers.

Online there’s Etsy, Of A Kind, One Kings Lane, Houzz,¬†Down That Little Lane, Hard To Find, Temple and Webster, The Grand Social, FAB.com … the list goes on. Offline there are the markets which cater mainly for independent designers, like Finders Keepers, Life Instyle, The Big Design Market etc.

Which marketing platforms cater for design-focused independent retailers? The Third Row. :) At a stretch there’s Shopstyle and Press Loft but neither of these cater specifically to independents. If you know of other platforms catering exclusively for independent retailers, do let us know in the comments!

So, how can retailers compete?

Retailers need to become more like designers. They need to start CREATING as well as curating.  More on this in our next post!

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