5 Minutes With Julia Redman, Head of Buying – kids, mens, home, M&Co

Julia is a judge on the License This! competition, which is run by Brand Licensing Europe to discover the next big licensable brands and entrepreneurial talent in the licensing industry. The final takes place at BLE, which runs from 9-11 October at Olympia London.

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In what ways has brand licensing contributed to M&Co as a business?

Brand licensing has contributed to the M&Co business by enhancing our own brand offering and enabling us to increase our width of selection and choice for our customers. The brands and licenses we work with also bring significant credibility, marketing and PR opportunities to the business, enabling us to create hype and increased awareness of M&Co as a retailer, as well as our brand licensing partners.

What model of brand licensing does M&Co use and why does it work in your favour?

We have developed close working relationships with several major licensees and licensors to manage the flow of brands and licenses into our business, relying on their knowledge and design expertise in this field, combined with our market understanding, to help us bring bestselling ranges to the consumer. We are a relatively small, privately owned retailer so it is preferable to use this route, rather than negotiating a DTR for each license.

What are the challenges of securing brand licenses for M&Co

The main challenges are not necessarily in securing brand licenses, but in cost and speed to market. We pride ourselves on offering great value for money for a quality product, which in itself means that we need to offer something that other retailers don’t and that we are the first on the high street when a new brand or license launches.

Every retailer needs its USP so even if a brand license is widely available, we have to ensure that M&Co has developed a product or range with a unique and compelling point of view, which the customer cannot buy elsewhere.

I’ve also come to understand that key market trends and fashionability are equally as important in brand licensing as they are in our mainstream fashion ranges, so we have to be absolutely bang up to date with market trends. You only have to look at how the luxury end of the market is using brand and licensed collaborations to see how important this is in the modern age of licensing.

How does brand licensing address some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

Brand licensing addresses some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole by creating customer excitement; a well-placed, well timed window display on a particular license can really boost sales, create additional footfall and, if the product mix is right, drive up conversion rate and ATV. Brand licensing is also highly effective when developing and growing an online business, which is where much of the major growth is coming from in today’s market. A customer will search online for a particular brand or license, leading them to the retailer’s website, from which they might then buy the branded items, but may also buy into other product ranges.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

The greatest risk for the retail sector is the ‘great unknown’! Without clear guidance from the government, and an understanding of what will be agreed through a deal with the EU, or not, there are many things which could impact the UK retail industry: fluctuations in currency, importing/exporting restrictions, customs delays, workforce shortages, and so on. Much of what we are hearing is based on speculation, rather than fact, though.

Describe your role and responsibilities at M&Co

I am Head of Buying for Childrenswear, Menswear and Homeware at M&Co, which involves managing the buying teams and supply base for each of these divisions, working alongside our merchandising, design and QA teams to ensure that we develop and deliver the best possible ranges of products to suit our customers’ needs.

We can be managing several seasons at one time; currently we are trading through early AW18, whilst planning how we will maximise sales for the Xmas peak selling period, managing through the critical path for SS19 to ensure that all products are fitted and tested to our requirements prior to shipment, and we are just starting the design process for AW19.

There is never a dull moment, there is always too much to do, and my teams have to become masters at managing their time and prioritising their workload. When not actually involved in product development and working with suppliers/licensees/licensors I am regularly involved in recruitment, training and development, preparing and presenting ranges to area mangers/directors, visiting stores and our competition, and regularly traveling to various parts of the world to spend time with the factories making our production.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before?

I have worked in retail since I left university, with a degree in Food, Textiles and Consumer Studies. My career has enabled me to gain a wide variety of high street experience with a number of major UK retailers, including, BHS, M&S, Arcadia, Woolworths and Debenhams, as well as some time teaching buying and sourcing skills at the Fashion and Retail Academy, before joining M&Co eight years ago.

I have always been aware of brand licensing, and previously bought licensed product in a number of roles, however, it is only since coming to M&Co I have really had the opportunity to work very closely with several major brands and licenses, and to realise the power that a great license brings with it.

What got you into retail in the first place?

I have always loved fashion, and that is what brought me into retail – the pace is fast, no two days are ever the same, the people I work with now, and have worked with in the past, are endlessly creative and inspiring, and it enables me to indulge my passion for travel! I have been fortunate enough to have visited many places that I would otherwise never have been to, although it is not always as glamorous as it might seem.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?
Variety of experience I think, has been the key factor. No two retailers operate in the same way and I have learnt the pros and cons of working in almost every type of retail environment. I can honestly say that I am still learning something new most days of the week, and this gives me a very broad- and open-minded approach to every new situation or problem.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Time – there is never enough time to really feel that I give enough to my team and suppliers. I am always running from one meeting to the next, and rarely stopping to draw breath in between.

And the most rewarding?

There are many rewarding aspects of this role: seeing a new product come into store and become a bestseller; seeing a well-managed factory with a happy, healthy workforce; and being able to promote one of my team is always a high point.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Go for it – if you are passionate, committed, self-motivated and prepared to work really hard, driving your own development, it can be a very exciting career.

You can read my blog “A buyer’s life” here:  https://buyerslife.blog/

Retailers can register to attend Brand Licensing Europe or free at https://bit.ly/2C1latU and meet over 250 suppliers and network with over 7,500 licensing professionals from all over Europe.

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