Small Is Big

The fashion industry moves faster than ever. So how does one of the world’s largest B2B marketplaces help its customers keep pace? Think small.

By: Cole Daugherty | | @ColeDallas

For more than 50 years, Dallas has been a global fashion hub because of its unique strength of retail and wholesale (not to mention stylish consumers). But the age of catalogs and poodle skirts has given way to e-commerce and athleisure. Faced with consumers able to trade trend information and new styles easier and quicker than ever how can a brick and mortar business continue to attract eager buyers? This is the key challenge faced by our company and by our customers—tens of thousands of retailers on Main Streets across the country that come to Dallas several times per year to review new products during our trade events.
Today, these small business owners find themselves more challenged than ever as they compete on price with big box stores, on trends with thousands of fast fashion boutiques and on delivery and convenience with endless online marketplaces.  Yet despite all of these barriers to success, independent retail is actually on the rebound. A report from the American Express Open Independent Retail Index stated that nearly half of the total retail sales in the U.S. come from independent businesses. Small is indeed big again, and there is a remarkable consumer desire for the boutique experience, shopping local, and finding unique products.
For a vast marketplace like ours, in order to keep our retailer customers coming back we have returned to basic questions:  Who are they? What do they truly want from us? What are their greatest challenges? What can we do differently to help? Via phone calls, social media and even road trips to visit stores across the country, we’ve heard from our customers that it’s the small things that matter.  As a result, here are three important communications changes we have recently made.

1.    Build Small Tribes
We serve many types of small business customers: from fashion boutiques to lighting showrooms to interior designers. Each group has unique “tribe” characteristics, needs and expectations. They also want to be led (shout out to the subtitle of Seth Godin’s book Tribes). So in addition to basic audience segmentation (e.g. email groups, hashtags) here’s one way we have made it work: build small, active tribes of key customers. We’ve always had customer advisory boards but now we have taken the concept into the digital era. Recently we formed small alliances of retailers from across the country who share information with each other online including trends, promotions, sales data and workplace issues. This channel of communication also continues during our trade events in Dallas since we set up group text messaging among these alliance members who can share discoveries from exhibitors or meet up for a face-to-face discussion. It’s been so well received that we are expanding this platform to new groups in the coming year.
2.    Focus on Quality Over Quantity
We will never issue as much content as some of our competitors, and that’s OK (keep repeating that). But we can be confidently selective about what we present, especially for image conscious fashion buyers, and we can be smart about using outside experts to enhance the quality of our content. One example is our partnership with trend intelligence service Fashion Snoops, which offers great images and insights into new styles months ahead of the next selling season. They create custom seasonal reports for us, and we drop that content into communications channels. It has been a win-win, and we will continue to seek ways to utilize additional partners (and customers) for meaningful content across video, email and the web.
3.    Own The Small Screen
For our customers, video has been a game changer: it’s quick to produce and it can tell a story like nothing else. So it’s no surprise that Social Media Examiner recently found that 73% of marketers are increasing their use of video in 2016. We now issue more video content with more views than any of our competitors, especially content regarding trends and marketplace news. We issue videos directly over social media and emails, through trade media partners, and we even tested Facebook Live during a recent fashion show with tremendous success. We are hooked, and in fact we hired an in-house video team to produce videos and to manage the video monitor content across our marketplace.

Have your own experiences, trials, victories or observations? Let me know about them. or @ColeDallas.


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