Buying - one of the most integral parts of my daily work life, and easily the area that is the most mysterious for those outside the boutique world.
I often take for granted the systems and processes that I've come to know over the last three years, but I do still remember that sense of awe I felt when I saw how the industry works. Whether I'm talking to customers in store, or explaining to new friends what I do for work, it is always the mechanics of the buying process that are the most fascinating to an outsider's ears.
Given the interest and all the questions we've fielded over the last couple of years, I thought I'd devote some time to answering some of the most common queries, letting you in on a few secrets, and highlighting some of our favourite moments.
If you've watched our stories on socials during buying days, you would know I tend to indulge in a little food feasting along the way. However, I promise it's not all long brunches and coffees in the sun - there's also a hundred tough decisions, both big and small, and a lot of brain power channelled into working out exactly what our customers are looking for and missing in their wardrobes.
Who Chooses the Clothes?
I do! And yes, it is a fun part of the job!
But for all the excitement of seeing new, fresh things, there's also a lot of serious thought, budgeting and tough cuts in the process.
I turn to Sal for advice when I need a second opinion, and I've been known to run collections past our lovely Salt & Sand team, plus family and friends as well. And our reps are always a great sounding board and font of knowledge when needed, too.
How Do You Pick?
Making decisions is not one of my strengths, but life in small business inevitably means lots of choices, with buying being just one piece of the puzzle. And like many things in the fashion world, we're always running way ahead of time.
Most of our buying occurs anywhere between four to six months in advance. For example, the first part of February saw us selecting pieces for July-September this year, covering Spring and the beginning of Summer. Footwear is usually even further ahead - we've already ordered through until Christmas for all of our shoes!
For almost all our labels, I venture off to Melbourne during a one to two week window where the agencies have samples from their brands on display. If I'm lucky, and timing aligns across multiple brands, I can knock over a few in one day - showings usually last around an hour depending on the size of the range we're seeing, and whether we make selections at the same time.
Our lovely reps run through the collection, explaining fit details, highlighting features, discussing different colour options, and offering advice on bestsellers and repeat favourites.
And then, it's up to me to choose!
Do You Pick Your Favourites?
As tempting as it is to order everything that catches my eye, my number one priority when buying is to think carefully about you guys, and what you will like best. I try to buy for you first, and me second - usually there's a pretty big sweet spot between the two, anyway!
This year, I'm working harder to choose pieces that accommodate baby bumps and breastfeeding mums based on the number of lovely expectant ladies who have shopped with us recently. And I'm also trying to find more to appease our teachers as I know that classroom style has taken off, and usually has a little more flexibility than your average work wardrobe.
On top of those focus areas, I usually look for versatile pieces that can be dressed up or down, reliable staples that will see you through multiple seasons, and designs that prioritise practicality without sacrificing style. I tend to avoid anything too trend heavy or bright in colour, anything super short or bare, and I steer clear of pieces that just don't translate to our coastal lifestyle.
Once I've picked out the strongest items for Salt & Sand, I consult the budget and often check what I've ordered from other labels to make sure there's no double ups. Usually there's a few cuts at this stage, and some of them almost break my heart, but we're only a small store, we can't possibly buy everything, and we also don't want everyone in Inverloch wearing the same thing. For this reason, we stick to small quantities across a style, and we're more likely to buy wider across a range, than go deeper on just one item.
Have You Had Any Flops?
There's definitely been a few, and it's not always the pieces you expect, but every flop has been a brilliant lesson in trusting my gut.
Buying over Zoom during lockdown made choosing pieces a little more difficult, and often resulted in a few surprises in terms of colour and texture when the collections arrived in store months later.
However, I think Sal will agree that one of our worst buying choices was in our early days, and will remain in our memories for a long time - an unassuming neutral trench coat that we thought would be a great practical, transeasonal option. Man, were we wrong about those!
Admittedly, we didn't really love them when they arrived, and that's usually a reliable indicator that we may have ordered badly. We watched them sit and fail to move, and while I'm still not sure whether it was the cut, colour or price that put people off, I learned a valuable lesson to always back your instincts. If I can't think of a customer who would wear the piece, or if neither Sal nor I would jump at the chance to put it on, it's probably not the best option for us.
On the flip side, the things that have most excited us over the past few years have nearly always sold out quickly. It's not always easy to back your instincts, especially when something feels a little risky, but I've learnt over time that the pieces that steal my heart, usually steal yours too.
So there you go!
That's the nuts and bolts of the buying process, and hopefully that little glimpse into our behind the scenes world has answered some of your questions, and maybe inspired some more, too.
Did you learn something new?
Got another question for us?!
Or maybe there's a different area we could also explore for you next time? Drop into the comments below, send us an email, or find us on our socials - we love hearing from you!