Q&A: Julia Redman – Owner, Buyers Eye, London, UK
Julia Redman owns and manages retail buying and sourcing consultancy Buyers Eye, empowering brands, retailers, suppliers and licensees to maximise their potential.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I am a former Head of Buying, with over 30 years diverse buying experience, and also lecture in Fashion Buying and Sourcing at the University of the Arts and the Fashion Retail Academy in London.
I started my career at BHS in 1989, having completed a Degree (BSc) in Food, Textiles and Consumer Studies, and have since worked in the buying departments of Arcadia Group, Marks and Spencer, BHS, Woolworths, Debenhams and M&Co, buying private label, licensed and branded clothing. My global sourcing experience includes men’s, ladies and children’s clothing, and home accessories, managing the process from concept and range development to production and onto the British high street.
I also write an occasional blog “A buyer’s life” published on www.wordpress.com, and shared with the fashion, retail and licensing community through LinkedIn and Facebook.
Can you describe your current role, and where it sits within the organisation?
I own and manage retail buying and sourcing consultancy Buyers Eye, empowering brands, retailers, suppliers and licensees to maximise their potential.
Can you tell us what your company does?
We create bespoke services according to a client’s needs, which might include developing and sourcing product ranges, working with them on improving sustainability in their supply chain, introducing them to licensing and working with them on the development of licensed product. We work with our clients to fill gaps in their resources and experience, and we are also available for training in buying and sourcing skills.
What’s special about your company? Is there a particular gap in the market you are trying to address?
I think we are quite unique in what we offer – we are passionate about ethical, sustainable sourcing and producing the best possible product through effective collaboration and building strong partnerships. We believe that if we can help you look after your teams, and share our knowledge and experience, they will in turn in turn look after your business.
What challenges are retailers facing in 2020 and where do you see UK retail in 2021?
The challenges for retail right now may seem, in some cases, insurmountable, but the situation we are facing is forcing rapid changes in the industry, which might otherwise have taken years to be realised.
The consumer is embracing online retail even more quickly than it has done in recent years, opening up the possibilities for online business to sectors of the market which may have resisted it before. Take a look at the huge online success stories such as ASOS & Gymshark, for example, and other growing online retailers such as Shein and Yoox.
Consumer behaviour is changing in other ways, as we spend more time working from home, and are able to socialise less than we would like. Our needs are different, in many cases we are consuming less, and what we are buying may be different than before. Retail is having to adapt to these changes – buying smaller volumes, on shorter lead times, to enable us to react more quickly to the twists and turns of a life living with Covid-19. And in order to persuade potential customers to spend, what we offer them has to be exciting, relevant and great value for money.
The ongoing battle that bricks and mortar retailers are having with landlords over extortionate rent and rates finally seems to be making headway – we are seeing agreements reached by some retailers to have their rent and rates based on turnover going forward. I don’t believe this would ever have happened had we not been forced into such an uncomfortable position.
It has also become obvious that with the right retail formula, it is still very possible to do well on our high streets. Take Primark as an example, they suffered more than most when stores had to close but are already reporting profits which are outstripping predictions. Next are another great example, one of the very few retail businesses who have managed to successfully embrace both online and offline retail, and now seem to operate at just about 50/50. I can’t think of another business that have manged this so successfully.
How will you address these challenges and turn them into successes?
Where the pandemic has spelled disaster for many, it has opened new doors for start-ups and growth for fledgling online businesses. At Buyers Eye we are in a great position to be able to help those businesses realise their goals.
Additionally, many businesses have had to lose significant numbers of staff in recent months leaving gaping holes in their resources. Many retailers have discovered that they maybe don’t need the number of full-time staff that they had, and we are ready to help fill those gaps on a consultancy basis.
What is on the horizon for you as a company?
We have been in business for less than a year and are already seeing some very interesting opportunities coming through. It has definitely been important to be endlessly creative, flexible and ready to take on any challenge. I have found myself getting involved in projects that I might never had envisaged before embarking on this journey. If there was ever a time to embrace change, it is now!
Are there other companies you partner with that help you achieve your goals? (That you’d like to share).
I lecture at both the Fashion Retail Academy and the University of the Arts – I am passionate about giving current students the tools to embark on a career that has been incredibly rewarding for me. I really relish the opportunity to give them the benefit of my experience and help them on their way. There are some hugely talented individuals making their way through both our degree and diploma courses, and I believe the future is bright for them in a vastly different retail environment than the one they perhaps envisioned.
On a personal note, what are the key challenges – and most rewarding aspects – of your role?
The challenges have involved stepping totally out of my comfort zone into self-employment, and then having to face the fact that everything ground to a halt during the pandemic. It was scary, but I was clearly not alone, and many were facing far more hardship than I. The most rewarding aspects have been seeing a client’s face light up when something I have helped them with really starts to make a difference, and, as always seeing new product come through, from an original concept to a successful delivery.
How has your previous retail experience helped you in your current role?
My retail experience has been nothing if not diverse – from babywear to menswear, home accessories to lingerie, teen clothing to swimwear, there is not much I haven’t had the experience of buying, which enables me to take on pretty much any buying or sourcing challenge. There are also very few corners of the world where I haven’t visited factories. I am a firm believer that understanding the way a factory works, and absorbing the culture of a sourcing location, as well as a more personal understanding of your suppliers and what makes them tick, is critical to delivering the best results. I sincerely hope that it isn’t too long before we can start to travel again!
What advice would you give someone interested in a career in retail?
Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable! A career in retail forces you to constantly step outside your comfort zone, but that is why the successes are so rewarding. Challenging yourself to embrace new strategies, develop new methods of doing things and create new opportunities is what makes it so exciting.
Julia Redman is delivering exclusive, never-before-seen free content to retailers who work in the licensing category during Festival of Licensing, which runs online from 6-29 October. Retailers can register to attend for free at www.festivaloflicensing.com. Julia will also be hosting live Ask Me Anything expert advice sessions on Tuesday 6 October and Thursday 8 October from 11-12pm.
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