Four Ways to Be a Successful Buyer at a Fashion Trade Show

Four Ways to Be a Successful Buyer at a Fashion Trade Show

Thursday, December 04 2014

This month, we have been discussing how buyers can develop merchandising practices that drive consumers to buy what they see in the store. For buyers, merchandising and carrying product assortments that appeal to what their customers want is the key to financial success.

In order to help buyers predict consumers’ wants and needs during their time at MAGIC, we have gathered advice from four top buyers.

Tip 1: Limit Appointments + Collaborate with Others

Advice from Lisa Weiss, Buyer for Bivouac, Ann Arbor

I try to make as few appointments as possible due to the massive size of the show. This way, I am able to go through every aisle in both women's areas of PROJECT and ENK. I am constantly on the lookout for new lines, and I would miss several if I jumped from one appointment to another on opposite sides of the show. 

I have no problem sharing an appointment with another buyer.  This is the time to talk shop; to compare customer base and lines carried. I also sit next to other stores in the buyer lounges at lunch and talk shop as much as possible.

Trends show up throughout the show. Every company introduces the same thing when it is new. Talk, talk, talk— with other stores and companies. The more I see, the more I know. I have been doing this for 30 years, and I just wing it! 

Tip 2: Set Goals in Order to Find Trends That Stick

Advice from Nicole Haase, Senior Director of Merchandising for ModCloth

MAGIC has grown exponentially over the years, so it is important to plan ahead to make the most of your time. You should come to the show with a goal in mind. Are you there to seek out new trends, expand the assortment offering in new categories, discover new vendors or network with other retailers? Your answer will help structure how you plan your time; and for me at ModCloth, it is all of those things.

A few weeks before the show, I review the vendor attendees with my team and we reach out to schedule time to meet with them while we are at the show. Vendors' time tends to book up, so winging appointments is not an option. 

If you have the time, it is great to take advantage of the panels and keynotes (especially on trends), as this helps solidify your strategies to inform the future seasons. Plus it is a great way to network and meet with peers in the industry.

Once I am there, I have learned to follow the traffic. People tend to gravitate towards what is new and noteworthy. This also helps in discovering new vendors and trends.

Finally, don't forget to enjoy the experience, as there are lots of great people-watching opportunities at MAGIC. There are so many trendsetters walking the floor that often times you can witness a trend by simply observing what attendees are wearing.

Tip 3: Pre-Plan How You Navigate Your Show with Online Tools

Advice from Mary Ohanian, Owner of La Galleria

Before the show, study everything you can about who you want to visit. Review the show maps and make a plan so you do not waste time going back and forth.

It is also important to take advantage of the industry workshops and seminars. No matter how long you have been in the industry, there is always something new to learn.

While walking the show, be meticulous with note taking and picture taking. Look closely at the merchandise so you do not buy pieces that are too similar. I have been known to buy the same black skirt from three different sources at one show!

Once you are on site, focus on building relationships. It is through these relationships that doing business becomes easier over the years. Vendors will accommodate your requests when they know who you are. Sometimes, you may need a special order.  

Expert Tip: New buyers should know that you can place a big order and ask the vendor to ship it in increments so that you have new merchandise coming to the store every couple of weeks. This way you don't have such a big spend at once. We have customers coming in every week, so we do not want to put everything new out all at once.

After the show, we spend the week laying out all the information that we gathered into a spreadsheet. We do the numbers and analyze each category. This is where all the notes and pictures comes in so handy. Then we make the buying decisions after completely reviewing everything. It all comes together nicely.

Tip 4: Subscribe to Emails and Network

Advice from Jason Wayman, Owner of Elements and 18-Year MAGIC Veteran

The buyers’ lounges at MAGIC are important. They are not only places to relax and grab a bite, but also house a wealth of information and networking opportunities. The lounges are also great places to find out what people are talking about. The buzz is always about what is new, and there is always a collaborative energy.

Subscribe to and read MAGIC emails ahead of time and utilize their efficient mapping system, as it is key in time management, one of the biggest challenges at MAGIC since it is so large. You need to be organized, but you also never know exactly what products are like until you are there in person.

One of the best things about going to MAGIC for so many years is having lots of friends there, so we can pass in the aisles and talk about what is new and on trend. Word-of-mouth referrals from colleagues are extremely valuable.

Prepare for Future Success

As you can gather from the above expert advice, buyer success at any fashion trade show comes from planning, developing experience, networking and educating yourself.

If you haven’t registered for MAGIC, it is not too late. See you at the show!