This week was quite the busy one! We really started the countdown for the sales meeting in Lake Tahoe (which by the way is in 13 days), a lot of my work consisted of looking through orders from various accounts in order to compile what we call Newness reports. The Full Circle team will present this report to The North Face in Lake Tahoe to track the different assortments that buyers are choosing to put in their stores. In order to get a full perspective for this report, we chose six specialty stores that are different from one another and carefully analyzed their buying plans for the year; if they are buying more new styles versus old styles or where the majority of their buys come from depending on their specialty and customer demographics. The specialty stores include a ski shop, a running store, an outdoors retailer, and some of our bigger accounts that buy a large assortment from us.
When people think The North Face, most people just assume from what they see in stores that they only design jackets. This is exactly what I thought going into this Co-op, that they just make outerwear. Boy was I wrong. The assortment I see from day to day with working with the samples extends far beyond jackets, gloves, hats, and snow pants. Basically anything you would wear when you’re active whether hiking, skiing/snowboarding, running, or even doing yoga, The North Face has a line for. Some of the feedback we receive from buyers is that our line might be getting redundant but I assure you that there are many new styles that will be in stores for Fall 14. While I work with the Fall 14 samples, I am analyzing the Fall 13 buying reports and work thoroughly with the workbooks for each activity area we sell for. I look through each style and see if it is new or what part of the design has changed to reinvent it for the next season. There are at least eight workbooks that I work with; Equipment, Summit Series, Accessories, Youth, Outdoors, Activity Inspired, Performance, and Action Sports. These books are pretty stiff and made out of thick paper, when I first got them I could barely flip the pages, now they are so bent and easy to flip through that I definitely have broken them in and worked through them so thoroughly that my fingers hurt from constantly flipping the pages. From doing so much with the assortment that each store buys I see one common trend. Most of the accounts don’t buy many new styles. But why is that?
Through my analysis I have come to the conclusion that it seems to me that buyers are scared to take risks in buying the new styles because they know that people will buy what they are used to. For example our classic Denali jacket that everyone wears all of the time. My observation, amongst my peers at least, is that we buy a fleece North Face and after wearing it for a few years, we buy a new one similar to the one we are looking to replace. This gives buyers every reason to fear getting rid of what we are used to seeing from The North Face in their stores and I can see why it stops them from buying a majority of new styles. This is also a reason I think a lot of customers aren’t fully aware on what we sell beyond jackets. So, I came to my own conclusion that when buyers say that they think the line appears stale, it becomes concerning because in line presentations, they see all of our new styles but maybe they fear that their business will not do as well if people resort to buying off of our online store if they can’t find what they need in their local outerwear retailer. When customers resort to buying off of our online store, it hurts their store. So why change something that isn’t broken, right? Some retailers are growing their business and coincidently they are buying a wider assortment of newer and older styles and the smaller stores that aren’t growing at a more rapid pace are not yet buying the new styles and it is our job in the upcoming season’s line presentations to get them more confortable and confident in our brand.