Drapers joined women’s fast fashion retailer Quiz Clothing during its peak pre-Christmas trading period, to find out how it capitalises on the spike in demand.
Rows of jewel-tone jumpsuits, sequinned dresses and mustard jackets peek out of their plastic wrapping as they hang neatly in Quiz’s distribution centre in Bellshill near Glasgow. When Drapers visits shortly before Christmas, the all-important festive trading period is fast approaching, but the atmosphere is one of calm focus.
A similar feeling pervades the fast fashion retailer’s Glasgow headquarters, where teams across the business are gearing up for the busiest time of the year. Leading the charge is managing director Tarak Ramzan, who welcomes the pressure.
“If you can’t have fun [in retail] during November and December, when can you? The stores are busy, the online side of the business is busy, everyone’s busy. It is a time of the year I always look forward to,” he tells Drapers.
Ramzan’s confidence proves to be well placed. Black Friday has created a new trading peak at the end of November followed by a scramble to maintain traffic and footfall until Christmas. Where some retailers have struggled to keep up with this shift in shopping habits, Quiz has thrived. Group revenue was up 31.9% in the seven weeks to 6 January, compared with the same period the year before.
The retailer said it recorded strong full-price sales and “good growth” across all channels, helped by growing brand awareness.
Unlike some retail bosses, Ramzan sees Black Friday as an opportunity: “A lot of people moan about it but, for me, Black Friday brings opportunities, and it is not going to go away. November now is much bigger than it used to be, and you can have a really great month.”
At the heart of Quiz’s operations all year, but particularly during peak trading, is its distribution centre.
The product of a £3m investment in 2015, the 20,000 sq ft “Big Blue Shed” employs between 130 and 150 people on average during peak periods. The facility can hold 600,000 hanging garments, and has the capacity to increase this to 2 million. Between October and December 2017, the centre dispatched 1.6 million items to stores, and sent out 800,000 online orders.
Last year, Quiz invested a further £750,000 to increase the number of packing stations for online orders from 24 to 78, to help it handle peak trading periods.
The warehouse has been designed to grow with Quiz. Mezzanine levels can be added throughout the building to provide additional space, which can be used for garment storage.
“Our omnichannel business model drove the design of the building and then we overlaid the right software, which fitted what we do and how we do it, as opposed to the systems and processes driving us,” Faisal Butt, head of special projects explains. “It helps us get the right stock to the right place, at the right time.”
A lot of people moan about it but, for me, Black Friday brings opportunities, and it is not going to go away.
Tarak Ramzan, Quiz
Quiz moved its website to Amazon’s “more flexible and robust” hosting platform in November 2016 to ensure it runs smoothly during traffic spikes. The retailer has also invested in technology across its bricks-and-mortar estate. In selected stores, among them Westfield Stratford City, customers can order from digital kiosks for home delivery or click-and-collect. It is an additional purchase avenue, letting shoppers skip the queues during busy times of the year.
But, as Ramzan is keen to stress, smooth fulfilment alone is not enough to guarantee success during the all-important festive weeks: the product also has to be right. Ramzan argues that Quiz’s focus on short lead times helps it to capitalise on trends. He points to a sequinned dress that had sold out in the weeks before Christmas, which Quiz was able to order from a supplier in China and restock in two weeks.
“The only way to keep on top of trends and give customers what they want is to have short lead times and work closely to the season, so we’ve built a fast, flexible supply chain,” he says. “Some [suppliers] will say it’s going to take three months and it can’t be done any faster. Others will say: ‘Right, let me look at this and work it out.’ If someone has the right outlook, then you’re halfway there. You meet people all the time who think it can’t be done and, if they think it can’t be done, then they’re right. If they think it can be done, then they’re also right.”
Senior buyer Karen Dougall agrees: “We’ve always questioned how long things take and we’ve been taught to work with suppliers so that they understand our business model, and the importance of getting products in and out.
“Quiz is also very report orientated – we’ll gather information and look at every SKU to see what has worked.”
Glen Tooke, consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel, agrees that speed is becoming ever more important.
“One of the key things retailers can learn from 2017 going into 2018 is that they need to be able to react to what’s happening outside the door almost instantly, which requires being as nimble and flexible as possible. The days of buying in advance do not exist any more.”
Quiz’s focus on speed, and continuing investment in fulfilment and technology, both behind the scenes and in stores, has proved a recipe for success across Black Friday and the Christmas period.
As retailers start looking ahead to this year’s festive season, amid what many are predicting to be a turbulent year, the industry will need a similarly laser-like focus on getting the right product in front of customers – in the right place and at the right time.