How we Learned (the hard way) to Create the Perfect Line Sheet

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via @flickr

Our first wholesale line sheet was a hot mess.

There is simply no other way to describe it.  Don’t get me wrong, it was professionally designed, featuring a picture of each item on a white background with corresponding pricing.  The problem was a total lack of guidance.  It was basically one of those huge menus you find at a diner which look yummy, but you can’t decide what you want for dinner to save your life.

We naively thought that buyers would appreciate choice, so we gave them free rein to customize their orders.  We displayed every possible combination, laying out all the colors, styles and embellishments available for their selection.

We brought this sheet to our first trade show in New York.  The first buyer to come through our booth loved the line, but warned us that offering too big a selection was a mistake both from an ordering and production perspective.

As we watched the buyers attempt to order, we learned that they actually wanted structure when making purchasing decisions. They would ask us what colors/styles were selling and the appropriate size breakdown to write.  We realized that on top of presenting a new product to them, we had asked them to edit our line for us.

Our factory also required a minimum order per color.  When an influential boutique placed an order for yellow, and we didn’t receive enough yellow orders, we had to tell them yellow would not be produced….that made us look pretty bad.

We decided to scratch this line sheet and start again.

Here is how we did it:

Collections:  It’s merchandising 101; we selected a group of goods that went together and edited them down to the best-selling items.  We grouped those goods into categories such as spa, travel, dancing etc.  Then we took choice out of the equation and locked a color with a style.  The “spa collection” was now only available only in Pink with “Pamper Me,” Black with “Pedi Please,”and Brown with “I hear Spa.”

Seasons:  Even though we had a year round product, we decided to break down our collection into our two big trade show seasons, Spring/Summer and Fall/Holiday.  We didn’t want items to get stale on the shelf.  For example, we saved white with “bride” for spring/summer.  However, since we had stock of white, we also offered white with “Snow Toes” for the winter collection.

Style Numbers:  Each of the items needed a style number.  We knew that sales reps and production staff be using these numbers, so we wanted to keep them simple.  It started with an abbreviation for the color.  Pink was PNK.  Each embellishment type was indicated; rhinestone was R followed by the style “Pedi Please” was PP.  So, the entire style number was PNK-R-PP.  Simple, clear and to the point.

Order Minimums:  We introduced minimum orders of (12) units and buyers could only select two different styles to make up the (12) units.  They were able to order (6) black “pedi please” and (6) pink “pamper me.”  Each of the styles were only offered in a size breakdown of (1) small, (2) mediums and (3) larges.  This encouraged buyers to order more of the colors/styles we wanted to stock and the size breakdown was predictable for the retailer and factory.

Opening Order:  This is similar to an order minimum, but the opening order is a package to get a store started.  For our product, we asked that you have an opening order of (12) units, but your re-orders could be done in group of (6). That way buyers could order more frequently without having to wait until they sold out. We also included promotional materials with our opening order package ie: signs, press materials and display to help promote the items.

Lead times:  Clarity on lead times is key to a successful line.  You don’t want buyers to assume they can get a product immediately if you don’t have the product in stock.  Instead, tell them upfront when the product will ship.  Alternatively, if you are compiling wholesale orders before placing an order with your factory, be clear on the cutoff times.  This is the last date a buyer can place an order to meet your production schedule.

Prices:  All of our styles showed wholesale prices and suggested retail. Our 2X markup was easy for buyers to understand.  For example; if an item was priced at $12.50, the suggested retail was $25.00.  We also included price breaks for bulk purchasing, which were clearly laid out starting at 100 units.  Everyone was getting the same information, they could calculate their margins and we could maintain an MSRP.

Shipping:  One thing that buyers always ask is where an item is shipping from and the approximate cost.  With a simple opening order of (12) units, we could estimate shipping and handling costs for them on the spot.  We always included a handling fee to absorb our packing costs.

Other details:  We listed additional information such as materials used, origin, descriptions of goods etc.  This helped the buyers get comfortable with the goods they were purchasing.

In the end, we saw a big uptick in sales after making these changes. It was easier for us and the buyers.

For more tips on starting a fashion line, follow @startinupqueen

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