Mary Quant – Part 2

…and so we continue!

An image of the book Quant by Quant

I love watching programmes like The Apprentice.  I’m also a huge fan of Mary Portas and her work on supporting independent businesses.  By reading Quant by Quant again, I have found some great extracts about ‘setting up shop’.  I’ve been in Marketing and developed products for nearly 15 years – and I find it fascinating that the issues that I have today are so similar to what these guys had when setting up Bazaar.  For those of you who get involved with Sales & Marketing or even run a business, I’m sure you will enjoy some of the following extracts.

One of the biggest challenges a product manager faces is what price to sell their product at?  If you price to low, yes you may sell lots, but it’s a lot of work for very little return.  Price too high, and your stock may not sell, and that costs you dearly!

Here’s a pricing mistake the guys made when opening Bazaar…

“Alexander made inquiries and discovered that the normal gross profit was 33 1/3 per cent.  What we didn’t realize was that to get a return on 33 1/3 per cent you have to put 50 per cent on cost.  By marking up our stuff one-third we were actually only getting something like 25 per cent and underselling every other shop in London.  As a result, when we did open, we were gunned at by all the local tradespeople.  Obviously they complained to the wholesalers who promptly telephoned us.  ‘You can’t buy from us any more’ they said ‘You are under-selling our fixed retail prices’
It was no wonder we did such a roaring trade the moment we opened.  We found out – too late – that on some things we were actually losing money.  We had estimated that we might – with luck – expect to take about a hundred pounds a week.”

I think this was fate.  As a result of the wholesalers not willing to sell to them anymore, the guys found that they had to make a lot of their product themselves.  So Mary set to work designing and creating originally pieces with the help of another seamstress.  Without this happening Bazaar could have become just another clothes shop, Mary was left we no choice but to start designing.    But this brings more problems, Mary found that they were continuously running out of stock.

“One day when we had hardly a dress left in the shop, I dashed along to the flat to collect one which I knew was being finished and, running back to Bazaar with a dress over my arm, I was stopped by a customer who grabbed the dress from me and said, ‘That’s the one I want; I’ll have it.’ She came into Bazaar with me and paid for it without trying it on.

We realised that we had to start thinking of expanding.  Archie lent us the sitting-room of his house and became the additional workroom”

“It is impossible to predict which one of the dresses in a new collection will be the one the fashion girls will pick on.  In fact you can never count on any publicity at all.  And – if it comes – it can be a double-edged weapon.
Undoubtedly publicity makes a difference to sales…they shoot up right away…but it also makes the look, the line and the design known all over the country so you have got to finish it quickly before the cheap copies in inferior material are all over the place.
The problem always is that if you start a distinctive trend in fashion, you are also digging its grave right from the beginning because the more people are converted to your way of dress, the less exclusive it becomes and a uniform is born.”

One of my favourite parts of my job, is merchandising.  I get a real buzz out of creating a display for customers, enticing them to purchase.  In fact I love window displays full stop!  Selfridges is clearly world class at doing this, and most big department stores have huge budgets to create fantastic displays – but I also really love small shops having a go.

When I was in Macy’s in New York, I made my hubby take a picture of this.  I loved this the minute I walked into the store.  It says to me ‘feminine’, ‘beauty’, ‘you can be gorgeous’ and ‘you can buy it all in this store!’

Macy’s New York – September 2010

Back to Mary – it sounds like her displays really created a stir!  The older generation didn’t know what to make of it – a start of something new.

“We had to be arrogant then.  We had to make a sharp, shocking statement at the beginning to be noticed at all.  Now that we are accepted, we don’t have to shock any more.  People say we do crazy things but we have never done anything just to be outrageous or because we wanted to do the opposite to what most people do; not on principle; and certainly never out of aggressiveness.
Dressing the window on a Saturday night was something we really look forward to.  We had enormous fun.  Once we used the model of a photographer strung up by his feet to the ceiling and with the most enormous old-fashioned camera focused on a bird (Bird is Mary’s word for female model) also suspended at the most incredible angle.  We wanted to give the impression that here was a dress so outstanding that it was worth while getting into any position to have a good look at it.  We wanted people to say, ‘Why is this man upside down?’ And we wanted them to feel that it was because the dress was so exciting.  We wanted them to feel a little of the excitement we ourselves felt”

And that to me sums up a lot of what designers are trying to say with their displays – ‘Hey, come take a look at me and if you like it, buy me’ – Its as simple as that!

I’ve enjoyed re-reading this book and back to the cupboard it will go.  There is a shop in Chelsea which sells her cosmetics – but from what I can see this business is now owned by a Japanese firm – no doubt I shall take a look next time I’m in Town. 

Mary Quant

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