Retailers Protected Council

Out Of Business Image

“If selling to the public hurts (closes) retail stores, why do manufacturers sell to the public?” — Retailers Protected Council.

by Michelle Broomes

Retail is traditionally seen as the sale of goods and services to consumers by the “middle man” – usually shops and stores in local communities or in town centres. In the UK our hub of retail shops is affectionately known as the “high street” and readers in the USA recognise it as “main street”.

This business of retailing is one of the most sensitive sectors of commerce for any economy. Issues like those of supply and demand, consumer behaviour and overall economic disposition can easily switch the dial between hot and cold in this industry. Yet billions of dollars are generated yearly by its existence, plenty of which is converted into taxes for public spending.

Teddies for Bettys Interior 4

Above: inside Teddies for Bettys lingerie boutique in Austin, Texas.

“The lingerie trade is worth a pretty penny on the global market, with retail sales recently estimated at around $30 billion dollars.”

As someone who works directly in retail, it is a sobering thought for me that this sector is under threat of extinction and my area of intimate apparel is no exception.

The lingerie trade is worth a pretty penny on the global market, with retail sales recently estimated at around $30 billion dollars. But with the challenges arising in the intimates industry, this tidy sum might not be necessarily reflected in individual shops’ bottom lines.

Research from data expert Report Linker explains the problems in the industry well by stating that:

“Competition in the global underwear market is intensifying as outlets carry ever-increasing brands and products to attract customers, not exclusively supplying any one brand. Value retailers are also using downward pricing pressure to encroach on market share held by mid-market players.”

Who’s to blame?

Ironically, one of the biggest battles in intimate apparel has emerged with retail’s closest allies — wholesalers — who have also been posing as these value retailers and selling directly to consumers according to RPC.

This has not sat well the Retailers Protected Council (RPC) – a voluntary organisation established to combat what it has deemed as this unethical practice by some wholesalers.

Retailers Protected HomePage

Above: Retailers Protected Home Page.

“When manufacturers sell directly to the public, the much needed sales dollars are taken away forever from our retailers putting them at risk of elimination.”

Founded by Rodrigo Cano of Julie France Bodyshapers, the RPC argues that wholesalers selling directly to consumers takes needed dollars out of the dedicated retail sector placing many shops under threat of elimination from the market and with them, many jobs.

Although the RPC is not antagonistic towards technology, as this is an essential tool in modern day business, Cano suggests that realistically, the problem has arisen primarily with the expansion of e-commerce that allows consumers to access goods from many sources. He explains that:

“Before the days of laptops, smart phones, tablets and eCommerce websites, the retail world was fairly simple. Manufacturers would make a product, retailers would purchase that product from the manufacturer, and the consumer would purchase the product from the retailer. In this traditional retail model, everyone leaves as a ‘happy customer.’ All parties understood their role in the market and all parties actively supported this supply chain. In this day and age, it seems that the once clear line in the sand has sadly been washed away.”

But some might argue that certainly wholesalers/manufactures have the right to sell their goods to whomever they chose, right?

“Manufactures definitely have a right to sell their products to whomever they see fit, “agrees Nicole Summerlin, Social Media Manager and Customer Relations Executive of Julie France, who also manages PR and social media for the RPC.

Azaleas Lingerie Boutique New York City

Above: Azaleas Lingerie Boutique in New York City.

Speaking to TLJ, she explained that RPC does not necessarily oppose wholesalers selling directly to consumers but when they also sell to the retailer (who becomes their stockist) then this creates what she calls “conflict in the supply chain.”

“That manufacturer is now their [the retailer’s] direct competitor,” Summerlin argued. “The stance that RPC has on manufacturers that choose to sell to consumers is not that they shouldn’t do it but that they should consider how that’s going to affect their retailers and the ethical implications that are involved when they are playing the role of manufacturer and a retailer.”

Of course manufactures want to ensure that they maximize their return on investment and this is done by cornering a larger share of the market. Consequently selling directly to consumers is one possible way of increasing brand awareness.

“We [RPC] can understand the business reasons behind that step,” Summerlin agreed. However she poses that when manufactures do this, they cause retailers to feel threatened, even to the point where they may cease trading with that manufacturer.

Retailers Protected

Above: Retailers Protected Council’s diagram, “New Online Sales Retail Model Cause-and-Effect.

“As Manufacturers sell to consumers, the retailers, sales representatives…and many others in the supply chain are eliminated from the market.”

“Although the manufacturers see the short term benefit [of] selling directly to consumers, they’re not looking at the long term – they’re not looking at the local economy, they’re not looking at the national economy and how important the retail system is [not only nationally] but globally.”

And with constant advances in technology that bring virtual markets into the hands of consumers with just one click, there is no telling how much the situation is likely to worsen for the retail sector, particularly in the intimates arena.

“It’s very hard as a new and upcoming lingerie brand to compete with some of the big name manufacturers,” Summerlin explained. “[There’s] definitely a concern about new products entering the market… that without a substantial retail system that we may not have innovation in the future.”

Real World Impact

Summerlin shared that the RPC has witnessed the demise of many lingerie companies who having been struggling to find a place in the market alongside the big brands who are “dual selling”.

“[Struggling retailers] are coming to us and they’re saying we can’t compete,” Summerlin informed. Unfortunately the overhead costs that these companies have do not allow them the freedom to vary prices like manufactures and remain profitable at the same time.

“You can physically see the [failing] stores falling off,” she added.

The council believes that the only way to combat these challenges is by rallying like-minded people and organisations who want to salvage what is left of a flailing retail system.

“The RPC is finding solace in unity,” Summerlin said.

Julie France

Above: Julie France Bodyshapers, one of the brands supporting the Retailers Protected Council.

“We encourage the manufactures to display the seal proudly and openly to let retailers know that we [RPC members] are on their side,” — Nicole Summerlin.

The organization, which launched its official website this year in January, is calling on the entire industry to get on board and help save retailers from going under and this includes manufactures, retailers, sales reps, and the media. In fact the RPC is open to anyone who has a heart for the concerns of the retail industry and wants to preserve their local high street and shopping areas.

One major part of the RPC campaign is encouraging retail friendly industry leaders to join the RPC and display its bright yellow RPC seal on all of advertising and marketing tools, including at trade shows to symbolize to retailers who want to do business with them that they will not unnecessarily compete with them and take away their business.

“We encourage the manufactures to display the [seal] proudly and openly to let retailers know that we [RPC members] are on their side,” Summerlin indicated.

She also strongly emphasized that the RPC is about educating manufacturers about the consequences of direct selling.

“They may not be aware that this is really hurting retailers,” explained Summerlin. “They may just need some help in overcoming that.”

It’s also about raising awareness in the general public as the Council supports incentives that encourage consumers to support local shops.

Kallone Intimi Lingerie Boutique, Toronto

Above: Kallone Intimi Lingerie Boutique in Toronto.

“Can you imagine going to buy lingerie and having no idea what the product feels like, having no idea what the stretch of the material feels like or the true colour?” – Nicole Sumerlin.

“Something that I like to provoke consumers with is [that] the public needs retailers because they need to be able to see the product; they need to be able to feel the product,” Summerlin expressed. And for the intimates industry this cannot be emphasized.

“Can you imagine going to buy lingerie and having no idea what the product feels like, having no idea what the stretch of the material feels like or the true colour?” she posed. “As consumers we are very visceral creatures. We need to feel; we need to see and taste and touch and hear. And if a retailer isn’t available, if retailers are forced out of the market, you may not be able to [go] to a retailer to see that product. You may just have to [go with the internet] and what that picture has to say.”

For those of us in the lingerie industry, with special reference to the plus size market, the importance of having a shop to pop in and be correctly fitted for underwear cannot be stressed.

Our shops are invaluable to the industry.

Learn More

And for more details on the work of Retailers Protected Council and how you can get involved visit their website at: www.retailersprotected.com

20 Comments on “Retailers Protected Council

  1. Avatar Nicole says:

    Maybe retailers should stop whining about the evil consumer seeking cheaper prices and think about why the consumer thinks they are not providing enough added value to justify paying the additional money they ask?

    Boutiques that strive to offer additional services – an excellent fitting service, the offer to order something they don’t have in stock, willingness to take care of the customers without instructing shop assistants to follow them around like creepy harpies.

    I happily go to a boutique where I feel relaxed and well taken care of.
    If all you can offer is a bunch of understandably unmotivated minimum wage teens flitting about and a limited product range (I wear a UK 28D-DD to 30C, so there aren’t many places I can go to in the first place), yes, I will try to save what’s left of my sanity and just buy what I need online.

    • admin admin says:

      Thanks for commenting, Nicole! Great to have a customer’s point of view here! -Luis

    • While some consumers are willing to pay more for the retail experience, others are still fixated on price. A retailer, who typically has larger overhead costs than a supplier, cannot afford to sell for less than he/she buys. Soon the retailers will be out of business.

      In a hypothetical situation, if Retailer ‘A’ offers a great in store experience, qualified and friendly staff, excellent sales/marketing teams, and offer a competitive retailer price, Retailer ‘A’ will still not be able to compete with the brand who is selling to consumers at below retailers cost.

  2. Avatar Sarah says:

    hi

    I agree with Nicole.

    I am a consumer who struggles to find bras to fit me (32FF).

    I much prefer to go to a store with a fitting service and try things on, but so few do nice bras in my size that I end up buying online 80% of the time.

    When I do find a store with a decent fitting service and helpful assistants (like Debenhams) I will buy 2/3 bras at a time, but they are so few and far between.

    Often it’s hard to find an assistant who can offer useful advice and knowledge of the product range.

    I’m currently trying to find bridal lingerie – which I would much prefer to buy in person – but am struggling to find anything on the high street – and I live in London.

  3. Avatar betsy says:

    I live in a large US city. I would love to be able to purchase 30F/G bras in person. I go, I try, I have lovely sales assistants. I’m short. I like cute bras, not industrial strength bras that can only be worn under turtlenecks. The store, systemwide, has no 30’s in a particular size and color. I go home, look at the manufacturer’s site, I find my size…

    Sorry, I don’t think the retailers need to have protection, aka price fixing, so that they can hedge their bets when it comes to ordering a smaller range of sizes. Restraint of Trade used to be illegal.

  4. Avatar Tina says:

    As a retailer, I completely support and respect manufacturers who trust me to sell their products. With that trust comes a huge responsibility, in my opinion to know how a bra is supposed to fit and the different Cup conversions per country. I cannot just sell a bra to someone- I have to sell someone a bra that FITS. Going into my open third year as a retailer, I have learned many things- one being that the average bra size starts at a 34F (in my area but I’ve fit women from an a cup to an N cup). I’ve also learned that 28-30 bands are difficult to find, as are G-N cups, so I offer these sizes. I count on manufacturers to have what I need so that I can help women one on one because I cannot imagine a harder task than buying bras online only to have to return them because they do not fit. I would hope they trust me enough to educate my clients about the quality and fit of their product.

    • Tina, this is a great response. Traditionally, suppliers have trusted their retailers to market and sell their product. That established trust between retailer and manufacturer has been a backbone of retail for many, many years.

  5. Avatar shelly says:

    Thank you so much for your comments. As a consumer and a lingerie consultant I see both sides of the argument. I too am forced to buy online sometimes given my large cup size, but as a consultant I also have that feeling of “oh no” when I look online and see the same brands we sell at a cheaper price. Luckily my company is investing more into its own label styles, so this takes some of the pressure off. Unfortunately all retailers don’t have this option and it can cost a fortune and lots of time to develop alternatives from your wholesaler.

  6. Avatar Jennifer says:

    While I appreciate this article and support of brick ‘n mortar boutiques, the evolution of retail is happening for a reason. Retailers are offered wholesale prices then sell at retail from the manufacturers. The mark ups are quite extreme in some cases. There is a balance to be seen with retail and wholesale entering a contract that the designs are sold at the same price. If a retail store needs to lower prices for sales, or vice versa, this too can be an open discussion between the businesses.
    The smaller design houses which sell pieces for wholesale are truly taking a cut in profit when it is not demanded to the retail client for subsequent orders. Each boutique has particular needs for its clientele. Each design house has particular needs for continued clients. I do believe there is a balance to be shared between them both. If we move in the direction of exclusivity then creative endeavors and unique designs will be displaced from the market.
    The new economy is here. There is a place for every business. Sometimes it in not the competition between manufacturer and retailer which is at the heart of brick ‘n mortar dilemma. It takes stamina and adaptation to survive in the new economy. It is hard to judge a manufacturer as guilty within the whole picture.

    I am a consumer of retail and wholesale, which are both priorities to my business, equally.

    • We embrace the new economy and agree that brick and mortar stores battle many unknowns as they do business. They must acquire the technology and customer service to remain current. However, what has changed throughout the last few years is the fact that retailers are now threatened by their suppliers. For additional information, please visit http://www.retailersprotected.com.

  7. […] resistant to change and reluctant to adopt new technologies. Just yesterday, I read an article on The Lingerie Journal waxing poetic about the “good old days” of pre-internet retail. And every season, I […]

  8. I must agree with Jennifer that the Manufacturer can not be wholly to blame for the demise of traditional bricks n mortar Retail, although I agree at times it does pinch. Unless you are in Retail, its difficult to appreciate what a very tough and often heart breaking environment it is these days, with ludicrous rents, business rates and overheads. Especially for the small independents. But we also need to move with the times and recognise that with the Internet comes increased competition for our customers hard earned Pound note. However let us not forget that with change comes opportunity and we can also have a chance to bid for someones hard earned Dollar, Euro or Yen! When the going got tough for Bordello, we sold our lease to a cash rich coffee chain, took the focus on-line with less overheads and with our local Showroom still service our London clients (take note Sarah). All positive change, not to mention no longer working the 12 hour days. The work place is changing for everyone and that includes Retailers. Embrace the change, you might even enjoy it.

  9. Avatar Lisa Romo says:

    Change is inevitable and it is best to embrace the change rather than tilt at windmills. Having been in a brick and mortar lingerie business as well as online I have experienced both sides of the equation and the answers are neither simple or easy to implement in a world economy. Wholesalers have the right to sell to retailers and to broaden their reach by selling direct to the public. I have seen a number of wholesalers who are “quietly”doing both and it does apply additional pressure to the local retailer. But I agree that is only a part of the problem with retail. I also saw potential customers “showrooming” our products only to buy them online at other online competitors. Needless to say that was disheartening. The “good old days” are gone and there is no point in holding onto the belief that they will ever return. Some customers attempted to negotiate our prices to get a better “deal”. Needless to say I was shocked at that one as I thought that was only done in marketplaces south of the border. Bottom line is retail is not for the faint hearted and the downward pressure on prices is very real. Being a retailer in todays market is challenging but requires someone who is willing to change frequently, offer new and better products, keep an eye on your competition and outcompete your competitors. Truth is there is not a great retail market for lingerie in the age of online sites. Lingerie is a specialty market that comprises women who wear lingerie-and while that seems like a huge market, it isn’t really. Not when you consider that women can and do buy their lingerie at Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s, Sears………………………… Yes, women who needs hard to find size bras and such are a market that needs to be better served, other segments of the market at not going to spend a lot of money on lingerie. We have watched while Home Depot has crushed the old mom and pop hardware stores, Wal_mart has done much the same on mom and pop stores of all kinds. While I applaud the effort to staunch the tide of wholesalers selling directly to the public, history has told us that the consumers will determine where we go from here and retail is now feeling the changes that were a long time in coming. When customers started asking me how much I paid for the products I was selling in my retail store I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy! Consumers are smarter today and that is a good thing, right?

  10. Avatar Christine says:

    We just finished our first year in business as a brick & mortar lingerie boutique. We offer a comfortable and accepting atmosphere, we carry a huge range of sizes (30-50+ in bands and cups to K), and we do professional fittings for all who want them. Our business and client base has quickly grown due to the personal attention, dedication and willingness to help our clients to get what they need to feel & look great. As a new boutique I was not aware at first that I would be competing with manufacturers but quickly learned that I was. Over the past year we started weeding out the brands that compete with us to sell their products. One in particular gave us an MSRP of double the wholesale and then sold their product on their website for 25% less than I was. I loved the product so I tell my clients who might need that product to buy it from them online and come to us for their other needs because they’ll get a better deal. Seems to be working. They appreciate the honesty and find other items to come back to us for time after time.

    For every woman, but especially for those who wear sizes that are not commonly sold in malls and department stores, there is no replacement for a competent bra fitter and a boutique that offers lots of choices. There are so many choices of lingerie manufacturers that there is no need to carry those that will compete to sell their own products.

  11. Avatar Frauke says:

    I run a small lingerie design label for 3 years selling to independent boutiques across the US and Europe. I don’t have my own webshop and only sell direct if I get the occasional email by customers who don’t find the brand anywhere close to where they live. I’m working with some small online businesses who respect the recommended retail price that I give them and always ask for my permission before they discount. I don’t want to see my product that took me years to develop and where I put all my heart and soul into being discounted. The only reason to discount should be if the product is the end of a line and discontinued. I had some bad experiences with larger online businesses who discounted for no reason (apart from wanting to increase turnover) which forced me to stop business with them, I even bought my own product back from them. All this to protect my brick and mortar retailers and the brand. The investment is huge and the money I make from wholesaling alone is not anywhere close to where I should be in order to make a living. I was trying to compensate by reducing costs wherever I could, not only for the business but also by making many personal sacrifices to the point where I can not spend any less. I’ll need direct sales in order to survive and to grow the business and have no choice but to start my own webshop asap. But I will not discount and undercut the recommended retail price and therefore will not compete with my retailers who I love to work with and value highly. I also believe that most women would prefer buying in a brick and mortar store and only go online if they don’t find what they are looking for or don’t get the service they need.

    • Avatar Dion says:

      Hi Frauke,
      I fully agree with you! It is a good and brave decision on your side to stop working with, and even take back collections from larger web shop partners.
      I believe this will benefit the strength of your brand in the long run. I do agree that not having your own web shop could threaten the future of your brand and is therefore essential to your survival. It is eminent that your brand and it’s collections and products are seen by your target customers, for all starts with visibility and availability. As your products can already be bought online through other web shops, you than do not compete with brick customers, online is another “marketplace” . In your own web shop you can show your brand as it is supposed to be seen, with it’s own look and feel. If you do not sell for lower prices than a brick store would do, you are really only promoting your brand. I would, in your shoes, always promote the consumer to buy at one of the fysical stores, for there proper advice is given on fit, look and style, thus creating a happier customer and therefor a more loyal fan. Brick retailers can benefit of the visibility you create for your brand without the fear of being unfairly competed with..
      Good luck with your brand! I would like to know what brand it is, so I can check it out!
      Dion

  12. Avatar shelly says:

    I have a great respect for all the opinions expressed here. Business survival is made up of a series of sometimes very difficult decisions. Unless were are in the heat of it all, we don’t know what anyone has to do to make it work. Sometimes all we can do is roll with the punches and most of all be fair when we know we can be.

    Michelle Broomes.

  13. […] few months ago I did a piece on the vulnerability of the retail sector and the friction that is sometimes caused between manufacturers and retailers competing to sell […]

  14. Avatar Guy says:

    It’s not only bricks and mortar establishments that are under threat. As an on-line retailer we’ve recently dropped brands that have actively pursued the on-line market themselves. What’s the point of competing? The pressures/costs of having the widest stock range available is un-achievable against the manufacturer, regardless of customer loyalty.

    Like many of the comments here I understand the reasons for it but its short term thinking and its forcing the hand of the high-street retailers and on-line retailers in to a discount culture.

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