Can you make your clothing store an expression of your personality and still have a profitable business? As a retail buyer you rely a lot on data, but sometimes we forget that emotion, in its place, is a valuable decision-making tool as well as your point of sale (POS) system. Mia Vogt, owner of Indigo, a women’s contemporary clothing and shoe store based in Hanover, seems to have a pretty good sense of this.
“Even though I love turtlenecks and wear them every day, they don’t sell well,” Mia admits. Yet she acknowledges that not all her choices make sense from a hard-nosed business standpoint.
A retail business can be an expression of your personality and also be profitable. Sometimes it just requires balancing objectives.
Evolving her business without being at the mercy of guesswork
We’ve been partners with Mia since 1998, when she founded Bella, a casual women’s clothing store which preceded Indigo. Mia opened Indigo as a second store in 2007. Indigo was somewhat experimental in nature, offering higher price-point items. It obviously succeeded or we wouldn’t be writing about it 11 years later.
Indigo moved to a larger location in 2012 and Mia chose to combine both stores. When Bella and Indigo merged, it naturally meant consolidating their offerings as well. One of the things we admire about retailers is that they have to make a dizzying number of inventory management decisions under normal circumstances, so this must have been quite a challenge.
“We didn’t bring every single line over from Bella and from Indigo,” Mia says, “but we were able to figure out what was performing the best from both stores and bring it all into Indigo to make it the best of the best. Often you think you know what your best lines are, but it’s not always the case.”
This is where NCR Counterpoint, a POS platform we offer as a Premiere Solution Provider, really helped. Among other things, Counterpoint provides comprehensive POS information and inventory management, e-commerce capabilities, and dozens of reports so retailers can always make informed choices. For instance, Mia can look up her most profitable items and vendors for any given time period with virtually no hassle.
“The numbers on those reports really don’t lie,” Mia states. “It was very valuable to have that. We had so much history by then and that was really helpful.”
Indigo has roughly 10 thousand SKUs and 250 vendors. Those numbers make my head spin. A good point of sale system and a disciplined manager make it manageable, though.
“You think you know just from working in the store what you’re selling,” says Mia. “But sometimes there are sneaky little things. I’ll look up our bestseller for a certain time period and I’m often just shocked because it’s not a flashy thing that we think about a lot—it’s something that’s really basic. But we’re making a good profit on it.”
What do you most enjoy about retail?
“What I like about retail is it changes all the time,” Mia tells us. “Every day, you’re opening a new box. You know, we don’t sell the same sweater for five years.
Fashion is always changing. It’s not repetitive as far as what we’re opening and selling every day. The merchandising end of it and the buying end of it are a little bit creative.
“I like running a successful business. Trying to keep it going and making money is fun for me, and I get to work with a great bunch of women of all ages.”
“It’s also fun to be independent,” Mia continues. “We can have some fun and shake it up a little if we want to.”
Business in balance: Data, intuition and plenty of personality
For all the advantages data provides, Mia’s choices aren’t all based on point of sale analytics.
“A lot of it is emotional too,” Mia says. “Counterpoint gives me the information. Then I can decide whether to use it, but it gives me a platform to make decisions off of. I can decide I’m going to get turtlenecks anyway.
“I can get a little optimistic and think I can sell anything. But having that data that says a vendor isn’t working for us even though I really, really like them, I have that data there informing my choices. So if I do make decisions that don’t make sense from a purely business standpoint I know I’m doing it just for myself or because I can’t say no to that vendor.
“So I only have myself to blame.”
Mia’s experience shows that information from Counterpoint POS reports is instrumental in choosing which product lines and vendors to maintain. But data isn’t your boss. As Mia’s favorite brand Patagonia demonstrates, values-based choices that don’t make short-term business sense can become one of the cornerstones of a successful clothing business.
Sometimes it’s just about reading the tea leaves and believing your inner voice.
“I don’t always follow everything. It’s nice to have a little leeway and be able to not have a division looking over your shoulders and saying, ‘You don’t have the money to buy that,’ or whatever. It’s nice to be your own boss and say, ‘I know I’m going to sell that even though I might be a little overbought.’”
Brick and mortar retail is about experiences, not just great products
“You can get pretty much anything in my store online,” Mia acknowledges. “Maybe not all in one place, but you can find it. So to offer an experience when people come in, I think that’s the only way you’re going to survive. You can always offer something that they can’t get online. And that is often just having a personality and offering a nice experience.
“I think the other thing we do really well with is the mother-daughter shopping experience. It’s fun, it’s something you do with your mom and that’s still a huge part of your business and you can’t do it online.”
Do you have an overarching philosophy about the fashion business?
A lot of Mia’s business ethos boils down to being nice to people and not taking yourself too seriously.
“I try not to take myself too seriously in the fashion sense,” she says. “We love clothing, we want people to buy it, but I’m not going to push people into buying things. I’ll be honest if I think we could get something that looks better on them. You can sort of talk yourself into thinking a fashion trend is a big deal, but at the end of the day it’s just something that should be fun.”
Where would you like to be in five years with Indigo?
“I would like to have more time to do some of the creative things and less of the day-to-day things. Because there’s so much fun stuff that could be done.”
Mia would like to roll out Indigo branded apparel, have more fun with weekly display windows and use tools like social media to express her business’s personality and share offers. We bet all these things will come to fruition. Counterpoint can’t vacuum or respond to emails, but it can save a lot of time elsewhere.
Also, please put my wife down for an Indigo branded turtleneck.
As data-driven as business choices often are, emotion and intuition will always be important in retail management. Relationships matter, and many independent retailers want their businesses to be an expression of their personalities. We honor that and also provide point of sale support to keep businesses profitable.
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