How to Get Your Product Into Retail Stores by Following These Tips When Approaching a Buyer

Ricki Rubin has over ten years of buying experience for Gump's, Wendy Foster, Restoration Hardware, and Macy's. Today she'll share with us her point of view on the buyer/seller relationship, and tips on getting your product into retail stores.

Hi, Ricki. Welcome. Ricki, what is your main responsibility as a buyer?

Ricki: My main responsibility is to establish a strong assortment that's compelling, new, and fresh, according to open to buy guidelines and seasonal deadlines and requirements.

Rachel: What are open-to-buy guidelines? What does that mean?

Ricki: As a buyer, we plan fiscally by month. We plan our receipt flow, how much we're going to spend. We plan how much we expect to do in sales, and how much we anticipate marking down, based on employee sales or trade discounts or markdown markdowns-when a product goes to clearance-because we ultimately, as buyers, manage a business. So it's essentially a business plan, and it flows, and every month end, the numbers roll. If we yield higher sales, it affects do we bring in more receipts the next month. It really helps us as the matrix to build the business.

Rachel: If you're going from month to month, and you're looking at how much money you have to spend, how do you decide what you're going to bring in?

Ricki: It all depends. Every store is different. If I think about a home store, and I think about my experiences at Restoration Hardware and Gump's, it's about a theme in the store. We have a set floor installation date. We work with our visual directors, and build a theme and an overall color scheme and story, that commences at a certain point in time and elapses for, usually, six weeks. And not every item in a store falls into a theme, but it's really a map to create a point of view in the store and keep things consistent.

Rachel: Can you give an example of that? Is that seasonal... or holiday?

Ricki: For example, at Gump's, we did this rising Jaipur theme in the store. It started in July, and it was all about India, and we had a certain color palette, a lot of jewel tones, a lot of golds. It was a great guideline to know what to look for. However, the store isn't completely eccentric on that installation because there's other things going on in this particular business and at Restoration Hardware.

That store, when I was there, we definitely followed along a rotation or a floor set. So maybe our color scheme was a lot of blues and a lot of yellows for summer, and we found a lot of products that fit within that world.

Rachel: As you're bringing these things in and you're going through the six week rotation, how can somebody who's trying to sell into your store be aware of that? Is that something that you're very- that information something you're very forthright with? Do you know what's coming up for an entire year? How far in advance do they plan these installations?

Ricki: Well, it definitely depends on the store, and not every store, again, operates on an installation calendar. Because I also do
Intent Clothing and apparel, we don't follow that cadence. It's just mindful, depending on the type of product that the wholesaler or the owner of the business, what kind of product and how that would translate into what a certain retailer is doing.

When it comes to clothing and baby, which I also have done and currently do, we basically go off a color palette and a seasonal flow. Right now I'm looking at Spring products. I see trends in the marketplace and then I go after, strongly, certain vendors or designers that are compelling.

Rachel: What's the best way for somebody who wants to get their product line in front of you-I'm saying you, but I mean, in front of buyers. What is the best approach that they should take based on everything that you've told us and have experienced?

Ricki: If it's somebody that's new and has developed their own product, I think that knowledge is power. The most important thing is, of course, to establish, roughly, what is their cost price. What are the dimensions? What is the wholesale price? What's the lead time to produce this product and deliver it in store? The buyer wants to feel secure, knowing they can count on that because we plan fiscally, which is established on the theme; there's so much in financial planning.

And I think that it's also important to reveal terms. How do I require getting paid? Am I okay with, this is a new retailer? Can I do in that 30? Or do I always require cash on delivery because I'm very new and I'm just getting established? But most critical is to understand when you can deliver, and how much your product costs.

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