9 things independent fashion brands can learn from high street inventory success

16 Mar 2022

It’s true that smaller fashion startups shouldn’t adopt the strategies of large high fashion corporations with a one-to-one approach. Even still, we can learn a lot from larger fashion brands for SMBs, such as how to categorise and tag merchandise, or why so many fashion brands are adopting a lean strategy. 

Here are nine key takeaways from today’s leading fashion brands for smaller fashion businesses. 

9 key takeaways from high street fashion brands

1. Maintain strong supplier relationships

One of the most important lessons fashion SMBs can take from high fashion brands is prioritising supplier relationships. For any fashion brand, suppliers make up one of the cornerstones of your success. 

A prominent fashion brand that knows this all too well is H&M. Despite its large size, H&M doesn’t own a single factory. All of its fabrics and materials are supplied by third-party factories, meaning the brand has to maintain a close and consistent relationship with its suppliers. 

Maintaining a solid relationship with your suppliers allows your business to plan your seasonal offerings, restock quickly, and weather disruptions with success. 

2. Categorize and tag merchandise for optimal data analysis

For smaller brands especially, the idea of tagging and tracking merchandise can seem like an intimidating task. After all, doesn’t doing so require expensive software, hardware, and data analysts?

The truth is, not really. This is something that brands of any size can, and more importantly, should do. Otherwise, you might be making harmful decisions for your business. 

Say, for instance, that you have a particular style of shirt that you feel is doing well with customers. So you produce more of these shirts to capitalise on the product’s success. 

Then, after implementing product tagging and categorisation, you realise this shirt is actually underperforming. Meanwhile, you were oblivious to a jumper that was beginning to rise to the top of your catalogue. 

Without proper tagging and tracking, you can’t view all of these metrics accurately. Staying ahead of what’s working and what isn’t requires data, and for that, you’ll need to start better categorising and tagging your products. 

3. Adopt a push-pull system

Also known as a “lean system”, a push-pull system means you order products as customers order them. It’s a reactive approach, rather than a more traditional proactive one wherein you order products in anticipation of demand, not with demand. 

That’s why this is referred to as a lean approach. You only stock precisely what customers are ordering, no more, no less. This helps substantially reduce your overhead and prevents dead stock. 

It also requires you to be in touch with what customers are ordering, which brings us back to the previous point: You need data. By keeping track of what customers are ordering, you can keep hot products in stock and avoid ordering products that are underperforming. 

4. Release more products in smaller amounts

Another strategy that high fashion brands implement involves ordering a greater variety of products in smaller amounts. This ties into the lean approach we just covered. 

The idea is that rather than stocking a few items in bulk, you order a limited supply of a broad range of things. This maximises your SMB’s agility concerning design and demand. 

For example, say you offer a limited supply of a particular product, which performs well. You can then have your designer take inspiration from that product and create another item like it, which you can confidently anticipate performing well. Meanwhile, an underperforming product will have little impact on your overall performance because you only ordered a small batch of it. 

This approach is actively used by brands like Zara, who rely on savvy designers rather than bulk product launches to consistently land sales. 

5. Automate your communications across boundaries

For SMBs that are beginning to scale up, communications will quickly become a pivotal part of your operations. You need everyone in your organisationands your supply partners to react in sync to changes in demand and disruptions to your supply chain. 

To truly keep everyone in sync, you have to start automating your communications. Your supplier should be instantly notified when a particular product is out of stock. When a design performs well, your designers should have instant access to this information. 

In other words, if two parties that need to communicate don’t work in the same department or office, then there should be some automated way for them to communicate with one another. Software is key here. You can implement communications software that automatically updates your team on this information or provide data tracking that gives everyone access to real-time data without communicating. 

Either way, as you scale up, so should your communication procedures. 

6. Implement seasonal codes to visualise your inventory

Beyond tagging and tracking your inventory, you can categorise your products by implementing seasonal codes. These codes can be attached to each item, indicating during which season you’ll be selling the product. 

This is a simple idea that can dramatically increase your visibility and understanding of your merchandise, both for you and your entire team. It distinguishes seasonal products from your core offering, gives greater insight into what should currently be selling, and helps staff on the floor and in the office better understand the flow of your product.

7. Use IoT tags to track your products in real-time 

Another lesson that growing fashion SMBs can take from high street brands is implementing cost-effective IoT tags to track products in real-time. This is another core component of building up your business’s data and increasing the overall insight of your inventory. 

IoT tags can be barcodes, RFID tags, or NFC tags. These are cheap tags that scanners can pick up as they move from the warehouse to the retail floor and finally into the customers’ hands. 

By keeping track of this data, you can visualise your inventory flow as it’s moving. This allows you to adopt a lean push-pull system more easily, automate your communications, and maintain accurate stock levels. 

8. Take advantage of data to make discounting decisions

Your business can also utilise data when making discounting decisions. As you start to track your products more accurately, you’ll be able to make decisions regarding discounting that reflect your products’ performance. 

Discounts are a valuable way to move a product nearing the end of its season. But not all seasonal products will require discounting to be moved, and data may reveal that you need to discount some of your core lines to keep them moving as well. By collecting more data, you can leverage it to make these kinds of informed decisions. 

9. Collect customer feedback enthusiastically

Finally, SMBs can follow in the footsteps of large fashion brands by being enthusiastic about customer feedback. Collecting customer feedback can give you real-world insights into why customers choose the products they do, which products they love and hate, and how your brand can improve its processes and strategies to meet customer expectations. 

Again, this is tied to your overall data strategy. Customer feedback is crucial in the retail sector, and software and data tracking can help you put it to work. 

Put proven fashion strategies to the test with a reliable inventory management system

You can start putting these strategies into practice today and make data central to your approach with Workhorse‘s inventory management platform. Sign up today for a free demo and see what opportunities our software can provide for your fashion SMB. 

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