Frequently Asked Questions about The Workshop at Macy’s
You’re ready to grow your business. But the big question is how.
Running a business is like running a marathon. You’ve made it through the
starting gun and established your pace; you’ve developed a business
plan, found and managed initial startup funding, and you’re producing your line, forging
relationships with writers, editors, and buyers. You’ve built your e-commerce website and
your social media presence, and you’re getting your product into your target customer’s
hands. (Not there yet? Visit the Business of Fashion’s
excellent series on Basics.)
Expanding your distribution is a natural step, and working with a major retailer
(like Macy’s) can be a tremendous part of achieving that goal. But to be successful
in taking this major step, there are some key things you’ll need to do.
Find out more by reviewing our Frequently Asked Questions.
How do I approach a major retailer about doing business with my company?
Understand the retailer you’re targeting. What’s their business model?
Who’s the customer? What are their price points, and what value do they offer
their customer? Have an understanding of the range of business models, including
pricing structure, staffing requirements, and marketing needs.
to be able to describe how your line fits with their business model, and how your
products enhance their offering and their relationship with the customer. We see
a lot of vendors who lack basic knowledge about the business of retail, which doesn’t
set them up for success.
A retailer wants to understand the opportunity
a vendor is proposing: does your product bring in a new customer, maximize an existing
business, or capitalize on a new category? In turn, your ability to speak to your
demand and opportunity in quantifiable terms (substantiated through sales history
and market data) is necessary.
How do I position my company?
The first step is to understand your competition. A major pitfall for emerging vendors
is a lack of knowledge about the competition. Who are you competing against? What
are their strengths and weaknesses? What is your unique advantage? Where are your
competitors in the retailer you’re targeting?
Make sure you know their distribution,
how they’re merchandised, and what value your brand brings to the table for
the retailer and the customer.
What’s the value equation?
To be successful in the retail environment, you must be able to articulate the value
and pricing equation, and have a fully intelligent and realistic conversation about
what the customer is willing to pay.
Know this will vary from retailer to retailer,
and be prepared to talk about where your product falls on the value price spectrum –
and why it makes sense. Carefully target the retailers that are the best fit for
your product line and your value equation.
In this industry, you have to prove to the customer every day that you deserve her
dollar—consistently, every day, with every touchpoint. Remember who your customer
is, and who your retail partners are.
What will a retailer want to know, beyond my product line and value equation?
To scale up to working with a major retailer, you’ve got to be able to show
the demand for your product. A presence in smaller retailers and a solid e-commerce
presence in your own right will help demonstrate your financial backing and your
growth—both key elements of successfully growing your business through a major retailer
What concerns will a major retailer have in working with a growing company like
Sustainable growth is key. Filling that first big order from a major retailer can
be daunting, and many emerging vendors find they have to make a big stretch in order
to fulfill it. It’s great to hit that “I’ve made it!” point and get
that order out the door, but it’s critical to understand that’s not
The real test is how you handle the second order, and the third, and how you maintain
that ability to fill orders over time. Make sure your growth is sustainable, and
that you’ve got not only an in-depth understanding of what’s required
to succeed in your targeted area of business, but also shore up the resources you’ll
need to compete.
How do I build a relationship with Macy’s?
Through our years of working with a wide variety of retail vendors, Macy’s
has found that our strongest vendor relationships are true partnerships, with ongoing
collaboration and strong, constant communication.
Vendor relationships work best
when everyone is equally invested in the opportunity and committed to working through
challenges as they arise. We've found this to be true regardless of the size of
the business. Understanding and respect for one another and for the respective businesses
is key, and when that doesn't exist, the relationship is challenging to maintain.
We look for strong interpersonal communications skills in our vendors; we focus
on being in tune with our customers, and expect them to do the same. We also want
our vendors to work closely with their merchant partners to understand the market
and the customer; with the rollout and success of the My Macy’s strategy,
this is more important than ever.
Collaboration is a critical success factor, as is open and honest communication.
Everyone involved needs to be authentic and to really believe in their idea and
their product. You've got to have a compelling story and product offering – an assortment,
not a single product – to engage the merchants and build interest in your line.
The first impression is critical – making a strong showing and then delivering on
the initial package.
Perhaps the greatest misconception emerging vendors have coming into a major retailer
is that it's easy to become a vendor and that all they need to do is make a good
product and ship it and the retailer will do the rest. Most vendors are successful
when they can show that demand exists for their product via an online presence or
a presence in smaller retailers.
It's also necessary to have the resources (both
people and financial) in place to support marketing and sales efforts in the store.
To be successful, you must have the resources to support that great idea and product
offering day in and day out. Aligned with the aforementioned, the vendor must be
flexible and have the ability to adapt to ever-evolving merchandise strategies,
which further highlights the need for strong interpersonal skills that allow the
vendor to foster strong merchant relationships.
The best advice we can give potential vendors is to do your homework – learn as
much as you can about the industry, your potential partners, your competition. Visit
stores. Stay in touch with your target customer.
Keep a pulse on their needs. Be
a good listener. Feedback is key – be as willing to listen as you are to talk. Macy’s
shares our insights with our vendors every day, and it's important that everyone
involved is fully engaged. Being open to that feedback and to collaboration is an
important part of being a successful Macy’s vendor.
Most emerging vendors have a period of ramping up as they come into a major retailer
relationship. You may not have every piece of the puzzle in place at the outset
– but you must have the foundation. The rest is where the partnership and relationship building comes in!
How does Macy’s work with vendors?
Once a potential vendor has been vetted through our process and identified as a
good potential vendor, the next step is to place the product line in test doors
in our network of approximately 690 stores.
Using the My Macy’s strategy of localizing the
merchandise mix to fit the customer, the trifecta of the minority merchandising
and vendor development team, the merchant team and the field organization work
together to determine where the Macy’s customer is most appropriate based
on the product offering.
The merchant team makes the offering available to planners
in the identified test markets; the planners make the ultimate
determination for each store, based on their market, their customer, and their merchandise
mix. Once the merchandise mix and test doors are determined, we place the first
For many vendors, filling the first order is a major test. But the real test is what happens next – how
you fill the second order, and sustaining the ability to fill orders over time.
It's why having the foundation in place is so important to an ongoing successful
Building and maintaining demand for your product is an ongoing effort, and requires
focus, communication, and collaboration. In this industry, you have to prove to
the customer every day that you deserve her dollar; you must prove your worth to
her consistently. The pendulum shift in demand isn't automatic – it has to be built.
And when the demand is built, it has to be met, through consistent, timely delivery
of orders on an ongoing basis.
Getting our vendors through these initial hurdles is the reason we created The Workshop
at Macy’s. All of these elements and how to navigate them successfully are
part of The Workshop at Macy’s curriculum.
How can I build the knowledge I need?
All these topics and much more are covered in the Workshop, a free four and a half day training
course for emerging women- and minority-owned vendors. Apply today, and start moving your business forward faster and stronger than before.