Whenever I set my alarm clock for anything with 5 as the starting numeral, it had better be for something outstanding! Wednesday’s Stonnington Fashion Industry Forum at the brisk hour of 7:00 am in the Prahran Town Hall certainly didn’t disappoint. Today’s blog covers off on some of the key topics discussed by the morning’s participants including Colin McLeod (Associate Professor, Monash University and Executive Director, Australian Centre for Retail Studies) Arthur Galan (Designer, Arthur Galan AG), Kristen Boschma (Head of Digital and Social Media, Haystac) and Nicholas Hobley (Planning Manager, Just Group). I was accompanied on the morning by the ever enthusiastic Kyra Pybus of Pybus PR, and tickets were courtesy of Cheryl Lin from Busichic. Many thanks Cheryl!

The Fashion Industry Forum was a great opportunity to look at the ‘business of fashion’ prior to this week’s Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. Hosted by Jan Jacklin, the structure was fairly informal and allowed the various experts on the panel to weave from one topic to the next. Here is an (abridged) version of the morning’s events after the Lavazza coffees were eagerly guzzled and the snack boxes devoured.

Businesses – How can they best deal with change?

Colin: A good plan creates a strong business. You only get better at this by practicing – a perfect business plan develops over a period of time and isn’t instantaneous. Plan by plan, you’ll work out what you business is – and what it consequently isn’t.

Kristen: Social media can help you manage your business at the inception and conclusion of the ‘decision to purchase’ cycle. With consumers now asking their friend’s opinions on products in the social media sphere, having ‘brand advocates’ is invaluable. Social media assists businesses communicate ‘who they are’ in an authentic fashion, and can assist in dealing with negative consumer feedback before it becomes a problem.  

Arthur: My business has changed over time, through peaks and troughs in the production cycle. Our philosophy has remained the same – we create things that are different and beautiful. We have expanded from being a small business to now having over 20 stores nationally.

Nicholas: My role at the Just Group focuses on making sure we put the right stocks into the right stores, in the right quantity, at the right price and at the right time. Businesses need to be aware of what their customers are doing. If that means discounting stock to clear it and bring in more appealing product – it must be done. Reducing risk is about maximizing cash flow in a business – proper planning helps realise this goal.

Businesses – How can they deal with negative market sentiment?

Colin: That’s a difficult question. The business community is so diverse. My general advice is ‘don’t die wondering’. If you know something needs to be done in your business, take the risk on growing it or changing it. A ‘death of a thousand cuts’ isn’t good for any business – so it’s better to get rid of something that isn’t working and replace it with something your customers like. Businesses still have the capacity to improve in the eyes of their customers – retail employees can be a huge resource in differentiating your brand and creating value.

Kristen: Businesses can counteract negativity in the market by using social media to complete the chain between paid media and owner media – that’s EARNED media. Earned media enhances your relationship with advocates through social media. Increasingly we see ‘earned media’ being used as part of  marketing campaigns within the owned media sphere ie reproducing the comments of Twitter users on a brand billboard. You can build rapport with the customer base by creating competitions, or trying to engage bloggers to write about your product.

Arthur, do you have any tips for young designers?

Arthur: My biggest tip is to make your business and your product unique. Learn about your customers, and tailor what you develop for them to their tastes. Don’t think cost-cutting is the best way to create a strong business. We find that our most expensive AG pieces go out the door first – our customers love the quality and idiosyncratic design. Pay attention to small things – details like thankyou notes can make the difference to having a single great sale, and a raving advocate for your brand. Make sure that before you begin working in the fashion industry that you can be both a business person and a designer simultaneously.

Nick, what’s the biggest mistake in managing merchandise?

Nick: The biggest (and most dangerous) mistake is having too much stock. Before you make the decision to order, you need to be realistic with sales expectations. Overstocking can tie up funds, and stops a business being able to deliver new exciting product to their customers.

Retail Strategy: Online shopping – friend or foe?

Kristen: Online shopping is probably a little bit of both. Some trends we’re seeing in the US (who are generally 5 years ahead of us in trends) are mobile point of sales, to minimise customers walking out without purchase and location-placed shopping deals with texts being sent to passers-by with discounts or incentives to purchase. Businesses are also rewarding their online advocates with ‘loyal customer’ vouchers which they can share with their friends and family. Some companies are recognising their ‘real life’ stores as experiential spaces, and know their customers are going to go home and order online once they’ve decided on their selections.

Colin: Consumers are now purchasing using multiple channels. Online shopping is as much about convenience as it is about cost. In Australia, less than 5% of sales are currently made online.

Arthur: AG customers love learning about out product and being engaged physically with it. Online shopping is for people who aren’t as concerned with the tactile experience – books, technology etc is perfect for this market.

How can businesses quantify a ‘return on investment’ when using social media?

Colin: A great danger of using social media is thinking that because the method of communicating is cheap, online marketing is cheap. If you’re going to do social media as a business, it must be done as well as any other form of market.

Kristen: Social media doesn’t work if the brand isn’t committed to interacting genuinely with its customers. Using social media is a long-term commitment to regular conversation with your clients – it’s not a ‘set and forget’ option.

Nick: ROI for social media is difficult to quantify. However, the benefits of using social media in a business are widespread. Instant feedback on product is so valuable in making changes to your stock list – which is the keystone to building a sustainable business.

Arthur: We were a bit nervous initially,  but now we know social media is an essential part of our business.

Wow! It was terrific to hear these industry leaders discussing both their own businesses, and the importance of social media when building  brand reputation and receiving feedback from their customers. Be inspired to get on the social media bandwagon in your own business! If you need a little help and a push in the right direction – never fear – Ruby Assembly Consultants are here! We have experience in enhancing the reputation of businesses in a range of disciplines, and would be chuffed to find out more about your own brand. Email info@rubyslipper.com.au and say hi!