Joanne Coelho and Amber Jones are key members of the dream team behind
the continued success of the Mr. Price fashion chain. They chat about
the creative process from concept to reality and then the final
analysis of sales achieved.
Joanne Coelho has spent most of her 16-year career in the South African retail industry being part of Mr. Price’s evolution from a factory shop business to one of the country’s leading value fashion retailers.
She currently manages the women’s wear trend and design division and gets great enjoyment from working with an innovative and creative team, travelling the world and collecting information to assist the business in making the right fashion calls.
Amber Jones joined Mr. Price as a trends researcher and forecaster in 2005 following a brief spell in manufacturing and after completing a 4-year fashion degree at Linea Academy in Durban
Running parallel with her trending, she has recently added the designing of two Mr Price labels to her portfolio.
When we start researching the trends for an upcoming season there are a number of places we go to to source information.
• trend websites
• international and local catwalks
• arts, culture, politics, technology and the general zeitgeist
• local and international travel
• street wear
The trend team and retail team both do local and international travel but we have different purposes. The trend team travels to look for newness and inspiration in design and product for the upcoming season. Cities which Mr. Price visits the most are London, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, New York and LA. The trend department then buys directional products to back up the trends that we are calling for the season and to show newness in each category (e.g. denim jeans are a category). We take photos of street wear and also look at stores and their layout, point of sales, display windows, advertising campaigns. We then sit down and have conversations about the key looks and trends. We usually identify between 4 and 6 trends.
From all of this information we compile a seasonal trend report. This report is backed up with photos, ideas and samples. It contains mood boards and key looks, amongst other things, which help direct the buyers.
The buyers need to get a strong idea of the merchandise mix that is required to fulfil the trend, so we also give them a clear understanding of how to wear the key looks. We provide images of completed looks that can be made up from the samples of different categories (e.g. this fashion top goes well with these cropped pants and this jacket).
We have an in-house testing brand called ‘Project’, which we are very proud of, which is used by the trend department to test up-and-coming trends, colours and silhouettes. Mr Price won’t put Project’s product into bulk production initially, however if the smaller runs sell well, they will be put into mass production for our arty, junior fashion label. It is working very well for us and about 25% of our designs are getting rolled out into bulk production. The Project stock is placed in stores six months in advance so that an accurate sales estimate can be made.
Colour direction is another trend aspect we place in our books. Because trends don’t only last one month and because we have various in-house brands we give a selection of colour trends that allow for the brands to differentiate themselves and for the trends to be effective over a longer period of time. We take it even one step further by looking at the trends in details, trims and finishings as these can impact the success of a product category. The end of our trend report is an analysis of how we think the trends will go, which trends will be more successful than others and for what reasons. We split it up into two ways: how we see it working out commercially for us and which ones we feel in our hearts.
The design team takes our trend report and combines it with their own research to create a number of mood boards and colour packs with their own designs, based on the trends we described. These they then present to the retail team and the buyers will discuss what they can realistically achieve within budget. Once the design packs have been approved we then have to do data sheets and specs to be given to the suppliers so that they can understand what we need. These specs include fabrics, trims, colours, fitting garment construction, label packets and any other relevant information.
Two to three times a year the buyers and planners and the rest of the team will sit down and plan their strategy for the year. The buyers analyse the design packs to determine whether there is enough of a merchanise mix. They then plan their buy according to trend report/design pack (40%), the history of sales performance in each category (40%) and current trade (20%). Buyers know that they need to buy x amount from each category depending on the season and are limited by the allocated amount of budget for each category. They need to play careful attention to their price points. Price of production is extremely important as Mr Price still wants to maintain their low price points even in during the recession.
The buyers travel overseas to meet with suppliers at least three times a year. They supply the supplier with all the necessary information including the spec sheets, delivery time requirements and price points. The supplier looks through the data supplied and calculates what is possible and where they can agree on terms and conditions. Once both parties are in agreement then the order is confirmed. We also meet with the suppliers once a season to discuss various issues. Buyers will talk to their suppliers on a monthly basis to ensure everything is going on track. Buyers brief the suppliers on delivery schedules and lead times, trading ability. They also discuss the new season with suppliers which includes programmes, fabrication, clothing possibilities. Pricing and competitiveness is also another factor that buyers can use to their advantage; putting pressure on one supplier with another supplier’s figures. Time is also an important factor when it comes to suppliers and production. If a supplier has too many orders the buyers will either have to find a new supplier or negotiate with the previous supplier. Then sample deadlines for review presentations are set.
When the retail team travels overseas they check the data from the trend department to see if it is still valid before production starts. They do this by looking at stores and street fashion. And if drastic changes have occurred with overseas fashion the retail and trend departments discuss the changes and inform the suppliers.
When suppliers send over a fit sample in the right fabrication, the buyers then have a quality assurance check done. Once the sample has been approved, suppliers then make and send over preproduction samples which look exactly like they would in bulk production. Once preproduction samples have been approved the suppliers are given a seal which is attached to the garment, which is their guarantee that we can safely move into bulk production. At the distribution centre they are quality checked again before they are sent to the stores.
Final assorting and marketing
When we receive the samples from the suppliers the management team will assess the ranges and see if they align with the strategy, budget requirements and fashionability and make changes where necessary. If we have really big units coming in or a new range then we need to plan a marketing strategy. Visual Merchandising is one of the aspects discussed with the marketing team. The marketing team will present their campaign ideas, the operations department will present their ideas for store and window layouts; and the merchanise team present the ranges highlighting the various prices. Approval on all aspects begins the implementation of the strategy.
Stock is monitored in the store through sales figures to determine which products are selling and which are not. We check the current trade figures every week, which allows us to make changes to orders. We chase winning silhouettes and sub categories, so we can call the supplier and order more units or cut back on the ones already ordered if they are not selling as well as we hoped. A good selling item will sell between 15 – 25% of its stock in a week. Anything under 5% is poor. The stock monitoring also gives us an idea of whether our suppliers are delivering on time and as having certain stock level is important early or late deliveries can affect these levels. We also visit our competitors to see what stock they have and at what price points, just to make sure we are on track.
This process involves a lot of checking and double checking to ensure that we are keeping to our strategy and that we are offering our customers fast and affordable fantastic fashion constantly. Our motto is “Something new everyday” and we strive to offer her exactly that.