The consumer mindset of “see now, buy now, wear now” will continue to fuel the way retailers deliver the goods, such that fashion entrepreneurs like Charlie Chanaratsopon are looking into new ways on how they could speed up the supply chain.
The founder and chief executive of the American accessories brand Charming Charlie says customers’ demands are forcing the industry to think of creative ways to meet expectations.
“Millennials don’t want to wait five months. You see what’s selling and you react,” said the American businessman on a recent visit to Manila, where his brand has one store, at Central Square Mall in Taguig, in partnership with Stores Specialists Inc.
Another is set to open this September at Glorietta, Makati.
“Traditional stores take eight months’ lead time to order. If you sell out, you can’t order more,” he said of the status quo. “If you can cut those cycles down to 10 weeks, you can replenish. Cycle times will change.”
Fact is, it’s not just fast-fashion brands like Charming Charlie that are responding to this trend of instant gratification, with some luxury brands now acknowledging—and responding accordingly—that social-media-savvy end-consumers can no longer wait six months after the collections to buy the goods.
This fashion month, Burberry and Tom Ford will be presenting their first women’s collections that will be available immediately in stores and online.
For the Charming Charlie demographic, which sells mainly fashion jewelry, handbags and other accessories, the concerns are speed, price and variety, the latter being another point of contention for Chanaratsopon as his brand expands overseas, where the store floor areas are typically just a fraction of the size of its shops in North America—250 square meters in Central Square to 1,400 sq m in its Manhattan flagship, for instance.
Charming Charlie has some 370 doors in the US and Canada, the Middle East and the Philippines.
“When we have a bigger store, we can deliver more products,” he said. “The edit is harder for smaller stores. Since our brand essence is variety, how do we stand out and make ourselves unique here with a smaller store? We’re doing it now. Smaller stores are our future.”
Charming Charlie is known for doing everything by color, its merchandise grouped according to color, up to over 20 shades at any time in its bigger stores. Its founder says the brand’s pillars are “color, variety, value and fun.”
“If, say, Zara will be all dark in the fall, we also have brights in the fall. Not a lot, but you know you can always come to us anytime for color… If we don’t have it in our store—because we cover all the looks—shame on us! We cover all trends. We product-develop into specific looks. We’ll add a wink and a smile or twist to it.”
In all its markets, it’s not competing against other fast-fashion brands, says its founder, since the business of the H&Ms and Zaras remain to be apparel, and accessories are only incidental. “Our competition are the accessories department of department stores, though they’re priced higher than us. For the same quality, 50 percent higher.”
“They talk about us as a candy store for grownup women,” he said. “Colorful, happy and fun. You can spend $30 and leave guilt-free, or P1,500 and you feel refreshed about your outfit.”
Charming Charlie’s consumer base in the US is a mix of GenX’ers, Baby Boomers and millennials, while it’s largely millennials in the Philippines.
Chanaratsopon, 38, was born in the US to Thai immigrants who ran a silver jewelry manufacturing company in their adopted country for 30 years.
He started Charming Charlie in October 2004, shortly after his daughter’s birth. He started out building strip malls in Texas, where he put up his first Charming Charlie shop. It did well.
But “I realized you can’t build shopping centers as fast as you can build stores, so I focused on building stores,” he said.
From 40 to 90 stores
Then came the economic meltdown in 2008. At the time, Charming Charlie had 12 outlets.
“Most retailers grow about 10 percent per year per square footage. Those three years, it was zero for the first time in 20 years,” he recalled. “The supply side all started opening up. The landlords were, ‘no one’s opening stores.’ We raised our hands. Being small, we didn’t have committees. It was not a six-month process. They took a chance on us. That was our luck. We hit that opportunity quick. I was 28 or 29. I don’t know what I was thinking. I went from 40 to 90 stores really fast. It worked well. That’s kind of how we scaled. The luck part helped us well.”
On his success in his relative youth, “I feel very blessed having grown up in the States and watched my parents’ work ethic,” Chanaratsopon said. “They did well, but the characteristics and attributes of working hard and having a lot of passion in what you do, are the things I never forget. Now you take that in a US context where there are more capital markets to help you deliver your innovation and dreams…
“My parents gave me the tools through education, to understand the rest. I call it return on luck.”