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