An Australian reader of this blog came to New York during the last week of October, and was extremely enthusiastic about shopping in the garment district. No stranger to New York City, she already had her favorite stores in mind, as well as her usual haunts, and very sweetly offered me the opportunity to meet with her for a bite to eat, share her insights as an international customer, and... well, get some additional shopping tips, too!
With the looming hurricane threat (no biggie, right?), and my own busy schedule, I wasn't able to make concrete immediate plans with her, but we were able to correspond via email, with a tentative plan to meet up on October 29th. No worries... we could always bring umbrellas, right? I gave her some "must sees" to add to her schedule, and she explored those stores happily, with plans to continue her Manhattan fabric shopping spree after the weekend.
I suggested she visit Fabrics and Fabrics, which she did... and has since (rightfully) scolded me for sending her into such a tempting fabric wonderland without adequate preparation... or a sedative, at least...
I quote her here...
"A couple of guys at Fabrics & Fabrics yesterday will attest to you that yesterday when I was in the store I could be heard saying several times over “Oh no! What has that women done to me!!” --- meaning you, of course. Wow, what a store. I spent hours there...looking, talking to (the proprietor), looking, buying... a lot... To add to the excitement, they were having a sale, with 40% off silks (squeal) and 35% off woollens (all other fabrics discounted as well). I got silks yesterday and took swatches for woollens on the basis that I would think over the weekend, work out what could go in a suitcase and what I might need to post, get postal rates, then go back on Monday to do my wool purchasing."
You've noticed the timing here, didn't you?
Her original plan was to fly back to Australia on Tuesday the 30th.
I thought maybe I could hop into Manhattan and meet with her post-Sandy.
Nope. No subway. No driving. No gas.
We had planned via email to talk to each other on the phone. But after the storm roared through, even that wasn't possible.
The next time I ventured out, is the day I wandered aimlessly in my post hurricane daze. Sadly, I received this email from her...
"Sorry we didn’t manage to catch up with each other and I’m especially mortified as I have just seen your latest post on STGD and, I too was wandering around the garment district on Friday and we could have caught up with each other.
There were big problems with the communications systems at the hotel last week. Their phones were down for a couple of days and internet too, so while the phone lines were up again on Friday, I didn’t see emails again until Saturday…and then that was all in a rush as I was packing, checking out etc. The phones were a real problem as I (along with most of the hotel) needed to call airlines and do all other things necessary to accommodate a delayed schedule."
What we did do, however, was have a really LOVELY, long VOIP phone conversation after she returned to Australia, during which, she gave me amazing bits of information regarding her post Hurricane Sandy experience as an accidental long-term tourist here in New York City. While this part of the story and her impressions of the experience could fill pages on their own, I'll stick to the fabric information for this post. Because she knows first-hand just how hard/impossible it is for her to find all of the wonderful things she found here in a heartbeat were she in Australia, and she seriously LONGS for better access, I feel I NEED to share this information with you.
And, who are YOU?
Some of you, although you may not comment publicly here, are store owners, fabric vendors, and other fashion professionals. Some of you are international shoppers and American shoppers who simply aren't close enough to shop here in person! Vendors, I know that opportunities abound for you among the enthusiastic international buyers, and if you can reach, serve, AND satisfy them, it will be a mutually beneficial relationship! For this post, I strongly encourage comments and dialogue. Shoppers, let your voices be heard... and vendors, let the shoppers know how to find you!
So, this lovely Australian is a particularly business-savvy woman, who adores fabric and the creativity it inspires, and just thrives on the wonderful array of fabrics available here in the NYC garment district. During our conversation, we discussed online fabric sources, which, while meant to be a great convenience, have more than a few significant issues to overcome. Among them...
High quality photographs whet the appetite for fabric, just as beautiful food photography does. If you can accurately convey its softness, drape, fuzziness, stretch, or sheen in a photo, the viewer can "feel" it, and will be more likely to buy.
Shipping fees, carriers and charges are of GREAT importance to international shoppers, and if the vendor is only willing to do what requires the least thought, without doing at least a small bit of research/fee comparison for the client, that client will not make the purchase. It is important to understand that shipping fees exceeding or coming at all close to the price of the goods purchased, make a customer feel disrespected and unimportant, and makes the vendor look like he/she is not on the customer's side.
This goes hand-in-hand with shipping. The best online vendors have excellent customer service. Even if sent in the form of a standard script, the answer to a customer who has not received his/her goods yet, or wonders about your shipping procedure should contain at least the following:
- We sent your package via _____ on ______(date)
- Please allow _____ days/weeks for it to arrive
- If it hasn't arrived by __________, please let us know.
- At that point, we will ____________ OR ___________.
Accurate Fabric descriptions and fiber content:
Fancy terms and words that make the client wonder will lose the sale for you. It is great to give a fabric a fun name, but care instructions and real-life words, like cotton, silk, or wool, are more easily understood.
Some stores in the garment district sell online, and those that my client has used have big challenges in at least one of the above-mentioned areas. Keeping in mind that selling internationally opens up the world as potential competitors, it is an area where you really have to bring your "A" game if you want to compete. But here's the thing; the quality and variety the stores offer right here, gives many of them an automatic advantage, as she was just floored by the options available to us right here!
The international (and long-distance shopper) is real. And special. And, perhaps... an untapped market??? And a boost to business and the economy of the garment district and New York City. They should all get one, great, big virtual HUG!
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts....