By  on January 31, 2008

NEW YORK — When Erin Crandall landed a job at a little shop near her college in Madison, Wis., she was stoked.

She was earning extra money to help her through the University of Wisconsin and working with one of her favorite things — clothes. Little did she know that eight years later she would still be employed by that same store, called Shopbop. Only today, she's not folding clothes or manning the cash register — she's now the head buyer of the Amazon-owned contemporary boutique Shopbop.com.

Working as a buyer there for seven years, Crandall has learned to deal with all of it — demands from customers, gambling on styles, timely shipments and exclusives, to name a few. Also, as an Internet-based retailer, Crandall has to think about the broad picture — what does the girl in Los Angeles, New York (Crandall said the bulk of their business comes from major urban areas) and possibly even Wichita, Kan., want? Also, with international shipping offered as a service, she has to keep her mind on what overseas customers are looking for. It's a challenge, but with a wide range of products from designers such as Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs, Charlotte Ronson, James Perse, L.A.M.B., Rachel Pally, Rebecca Taylor, Milly and Tibi, Crandall believes she has her customers covered.

"We have planners that help us determine how much to buy based on our past selling," she explained. "We've been buying for Shopbop for so long, we know if something is going to be a popular item and we'll do the most units there. Generally, we are item-driven and because customers are buying based on what they see in a photo, it has to be visual."

Once products are shipped to Shopbop, they are housed in its warehouse in Madison, where the company has its headquarters. And generally, markdowns are taken around the same time as department stores.

WWD accompanied Crandall and fellow Shopbop.com buyer Kate Ciepluch (who also worked at Shopbop's freestanding Madison store during college) on a buying trip to three different wholesalers to see what works for their boutique, what doesn't work and what prompts them to make those decisions. The focus of the buying trip was filling the site for summer, not an easy task."We are really worried about summer, we haven't seen a lot of what we like," Crandall said. "But we have to use the dollars, so I think we are going to end up buying more from the vendors we've already bought from."

Here, a diary of their travels.

Stop 1: Vince
Saleswoman: Sophie Dymoke, director of sales.

What they found: This is Crandall and Ciepluch's second trip to Vince to see the summer line. As one of the site's top vendors, they ordered a large mix already. Today, they are adding more to their order.

"I love the leather jacket, but isn't April an odd time to bring in leather?" Crandall asked Dymoke. After some convincing, Crandall decides the shirred-neck bubble-style jacket is just too cool to pass up. It's lined in silk, is lightweight and comes in black and brown. Crandall orders the brown, since it's a bit of a lighter color for the season. The jacket wholesales for $315.

Basically, Crandall and Ciepluch like most of what they see in the Vince collection, ordering the $70 trench-tie high-waisted shorts in tan, black and brown, the wide-leg sneaker pants for $102 a pair and an array of tops — a silk printed tank for $110, striped layer tops in heather grey for $58, a one-shoulder T-shirt in black for $33 and basic tanks for $23 in pink, white and black. Crandall also liked the purple tank, but decided to pass.

"The pink and the purple are for the same customer, and usually the one customer will order either the pink or the purple, rarely both," she said. "I think the pink is a bit stronger, so we'll go with that."

What they did not find: "I really wish they had more bottoms, especially more shorts," Crandall said. "They only have one style of shorts, but if there were more, I'm sure we would sell them. I think we are going to end up looking to our denim vendors for our shorts."

Ciepluch added: "The shorts that they do have are really cute, but they are belted and high-waisted, which is not good for everyone."Stop 2: Juicy Couture
Saleswoman: Sandy Minn, sales representative

What they found: Since Juicy Couture is such a big selling brand for Shopbop.com, Crandall and Ciepluch go back to order more for summer. "Their fashion just gets better and better every season," Ciepluch said.

"The line looks really good for summer, when so many other lines are not so great," Crandall added. "We need to spend the dollars, so I think we will find a lot at Juicy."

And they do. Crandall ordered more denim shorts and decided to add on more mini trench jackets. She already ordered the $135 jacket in tan, but will also buy yellow. "I like the green a lot, but green is a hard sell, it doesn't go with a lot and isn't very basic," she said. "The yellow is better for us."

Crandall added more dresses in a range of colors, including red, yellow and blue, to add to the basic shades of white and black, which she already ordered. She also placed an order for the $50 linen cargo shorts since "linen always does well from Juicy." She decided against the linen pants since "I just don't think people wear linen pants anymore."

Crandall liked the crochet belted sweater dress in cream, and decided to order about 20 more units.

"It's really pretty and will do so well," she said of the dress, which wholesales for $172.

Crandall also added on more of what Juicy is best known for — velour tracksuits. "They still sell very well," she said, adding hoodies and shorts in blue.

Minn pulled out a grey tank dress with tiny navy blue hearts printed on it.

"It's adorable," Crandall said. "But the hearts are too small and will never look right online. They will just look like tiny dots." She passed on the dress.

What they did not find: "The line looks so, so great," Crandall said. "The Juicy girl loves color and isn't afraid to wear it. They definitely had a lot of color. The only thing I would have liked to see more of are some more social dresses, things girls can wear to weddings or parties."Stop 3: Adam Adam Lippes
Saleswoman: Michelle Smith, sales representative

What they found: This is the first time Crandall and Ciepluch saw the Adam Adam Lippes summer line. Crandall quickly chose a grey dolman-sleeve sweater for $180, a knit tank dress in tan and black for $180, a black high-waisted cargo skirt for $134 and a silk chiffon halter dress for $193.

"This line is for a very polished girl," Crandall said. "It has a designer aesthetic and is very directional."

Ciepluch picked up a plum silk party dress. "Do you like this?" she asked. Crandall shook her head and moved to the rack holding her choices.

"I don't think this dress will work," she told Smith of the knit tank dress. "You have to be really thin to wear it. Let's take that out."

What they didn't find: "The line is beautiful, but it hasn't really been doing that well for us," Crandall said. "I was hoping to at least see some more summer dresses."

Ciepluch added: "I also think it would have been nice to see more fancier dresses — again, more things that a girl could wear to a summer wedding."

Shopbop.com's Top Five Vendors:

- Juicy Couture
- Vince
- Seven For All Mankind
- T-Bags
- Theory

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