What’s Your Merchandising Vision
What do companies like L.L. Bean, Coldwater Creek, Lands’ End, J. Jill, Victoria’s Secret, Williams-Sonoma, Ross-Simons, Pottery Barn, The Sharper Image, Cabela’s and Frontgate have in common? They all have a clear merchandise vision, says Chuck Howard, president of Howard Consulting, a Rockville, MD-based catalog consulting firm.
“A merchandising vision is simply an understanding of the customer and his or her lifestyle,” he explains. But, according to Howard, it is one of the most difficult topics for catalogers to grasp.
Most don’t truly understand the importance of merchandising, he laments. While numbers are the foundation of good merchandise planning, a lot of people can be led astray by them, he explains. “No great catalog merchant should be totally reliant upon the numbers. Just because you could be selling something doesn’t mean you should be,” he asserts. “The danger is that the book doesn’t stand for anything.”
That’s why having a merchandise vision of who you are and what you’re bringing to your customers is so important. Consider the following example: In apparel, special occasion dressing is a category that any of the major apparel companies could do well at on the front end, Howard suggests. “It looks good on the page and there’s a high gross demand,” he says.
But returns can be very high in this category — sometimes more than 60 percent, he notes. So before adding this product to your catalog, the questions to ask are, is it sustainable and will it add to your business long term. If not, don’t add it. Howard asserts: “Lands’ End could sell special occasion dresses if it wanted to. This doesn’t mean it should.”
As he notes, to be a successful catalog merchant, answer two questions: Which products in which categories are driving the business? And what’s the contribution of those products? “Successful catalog merchants have an assortment of products that work,” says Howard.