Back in the day, designers would visit each stockist, each season and present the latest collection to the shop's salespeople. Some designers, like Michael Kors, still take this approach.
But it has mostly fallen by the wayside. Not so at Chris Benz, where the man himself and his vice president of sales, Kelly Stinnett, spent a good chunk of the summer trekking across the US to get salespeople at boutiques and department stores excited about the Fall 2010 collection.
Benz and Stinnett were also promoting their special capsule collection with Saks Fifth Avenue, which launched at the beginning of August. The duo presented each collection to the Saks sales teams from Phoenix to New York.
Now that they're back, I "sat down with" (aka "emailed with" because we're all too busy to meet up) Chris to discuss why this approach is so important to the success of a brand, big or small.
So, you're doing this collection with Saks. Explain the motivation behind it! Chris Benz: Our exclusive dresses collection was the brainchild of our Saks New York team, and was conceived as an opportunity for the Chris Benz brand to become a more far-reaching collection within the Saks Fifth Avenue family. We wanted to create styles rooted in historically successful bodies, all while maintaining the casual, American, and modern spirit of the collection. The styles highlight the ideals of our collection: color, ease, comfort, and carefree glamor, all at an attainable price point within the designer market.
You've been traveling from store to store and presenting the collection to employees. Didn't designers used to do these run-throughs much more often in the past? They seem really beneficial. Do you think your sell-through is better because of it? Spending time in stores, educating the sales staff, and making personal, earnest connections with customers is a huge part of our business. It's absolutely tied to selling clothes, which at the end of the day is the goal for everyone involved in the fashion industry. For me, it makes all of our hard work worthwhile to convince a woman to try on something unexpected--an unusual color, proportion, or combination--and to see her light up when she realizes she looks beautiful.
It seems like you guys really have fun meeting with salespeople and customers. What are the advantages when it comes to creating the next collection? Do you use their feedback? I am obsessed with meeting the salespeople and customers. It's important to me to present them with as much of the emotion and detail that our team puts into designing and producing the clothes, so that they have as much personal connection to the product as possible. In a very real way, the salespeople are an extension of our team, and I believe that they should be treated as such. I insist that they try on the product, feel the fabrics, understand the construction and finishing, and comprehend the message of each garment. And a random one: your clothes are so great because they're ageless. Are your "average customers" totally different in each city? Would love to know who typically wears your clothes in Chicago v LA v Phoenix! We have taken a lot of care to encourage a range of age and lifestyle in our customer. Although the Chicago woman might be an attorney or television producer, and our LA woman who may be an actress or realtor, they all have the same sort of spirit. They are carefree, excited by color and comfort, and outgoing. The synergy between the attitude of the Chris Benz collection and the temperament of its customer is very strong. In this way, there are Chris Benz women all over the world, and by getting into the stores we are discovering and building relationships with all of them while building a foundation for the future of our collection.