The Art of buying?

So June brings with it our Walking Festival, the school talent show, the World Cup . . . and our bi-annual buying trip! We spent last week up in the glorious Lake District to see many of our most valued suppliers to put together orders for Spring/Summer 2019 and I thought you might like to know why we do it, and how we do it so here is a little insight into our trip.

The planning started back in March when dates were announced for several of our suppliers who create a pop up roadshow at a Hotel in Kendal. This is the anchor point which we then work around, attempting to fit around 10 or so meetings into 3 or 4 days. Juggling days and times with various suppliers is a challenge, but then we also throw into the mix arranging cover for the shop, and also care for our children while we are away. It's a fine balancing act which is never straight forward and this year involved some very detailed rotas and a last minute stand in from my sister who moved into our house to ensure our children got to school, clubs and bed at the right time! Thankfully Aunty Harriet runs Shropshire Event Nannies so is a master at childcare and I can pay her in Gin! 

So, with the shop covered, children delivered to school and the M6 in front of us we set off with a dashboard picnic for lunch. Before we leave we always review the current season's sales and any tweaks we want to make. We love feedback from customers so if you happen to be in the shop prior to a buying trip you might find yourself being quizzed about styles and colours! We spend the journey chatting through strong sellers and weak spots with a bit of car Karaoke thrown in, this trip was mainly George Ezra, Ed Sheeran and The Greatest Showman (guilty!) The reasons we forward order are varied. Mainly it allows the brands to buy in their stock confidently and means that we have stock allocated for us, if we choose to order in season there might not be stock available and we risk not being able to get the stock that we want. It also allows us to plan a range that gels together making sure that we choose the right balance of pieces and don't end up with way too many waterproofs and not enough t-shirts. And of course there is a financial benefit as it allows us to forecast our spending 12 months in advance hopefully meaning no nasty surprises and unexpected invoices.

We hit the ground running with our first appointment at Meindl as soon as we hit Cumbria. Based in rural countryside it's easy to overlook this buzzing office but we were met by business owner Alistair who talked us through the new ranges of footwear and how they will best fit in with our custom boot fitting service. Footwear is something we need to get right, it's a large part of our business so this was an important meeting and one that James headed up finding out about shapes, lasts and the finer details of each new piece to see if it has a place in our range. He buys footwear on fit, not look or price point. That way he can ensure that we have footwear to suit every shape foot that makes it's way through the doors at The Outdoor Depot! After a few hello/goodbyes to the fantastic office staff we usually deal with on the end of the phone, we were off. Next stop was Staveley to see Montane, a UK clothing company who we have been proud to stock for many years. They may not be the most well known but their kit is hardcore and made to work hard. We met our new rep and were very impressed with his knowledge. Relationships with reps can be built up over years and are a little like relationships so having a new rep can be a worry, but we needn't have had concerns, Gary was knowledgeable and understood our business. The new ladies Eco range from Montane was a highlight for us, all too often new products are introduced for men first and then for women if they take off, but our sales are slightly more to women so we like to buy in a strong range for our female customers, not just a lower grade version of the men's range. We left the showroom at gone 8pm, and headed weary for our digs - a small but beautifully located pub in Bowland Bridge called The Hare & Hounds but not before a quick breath of fresh air. It's easy to get stuck in work, but when in the Lake District it's rude not to dip a toe in the water of the lakes! time-off-1.png

Day two was a full day with the brands I mentioned earlier who organise a pop up roadshow. We started with Mountain Equipment, a classic climbing brand with all the gear. Next was Sprayway, our classic walker's brand and one of the original brands we took on when we bought the shop. Next up was Trekmates, an accessory brand with everything you never knew you needed from sun hats to waterproof toweling ponchos. To finish we saw Ronhill, our choice for running clothing, with heritage from back in the day with Ron Hill, and technology and prints that are bang up to date. Each brand has their own showroom with samples of every item, new and existing, and whilst we focus on the new products, we also take time to review the existing range to make sure we haven't overlooked a gem in previous seasons. We collate a spreadsheet over our trip with the pieces we like form each supplier broken down into departments so we can easily compare them when it comes to picking our range. It was a none stop day with lunch on the hoof, so once we were done we headed to Ulswater where I found a trail to run while James set up for some photography. A little piece of quiet and calm after a lot of chat. We headed for a lovely fresh dinner at Dodds in Ambleside before hitting the (very comfy) hay.

Day three was an early start at 8am with Scarpa, again James takes the driving seat here with the footwear, quizzing the unflappable Glyn on shapes and lasts. Glyn has such a depth of knowledge and has spent a lot of time at the factory seeing the manufacture process so is the perfect person to field James' questions. We then moved swiftly on mid-morning to see James at Deuter - one of our pack suppliers. The range of packs is so vast, it's easy to get lost but with just a small amount of space in our store we have to streamline their range to a few core products that we hope you will all like. If space was not a factor, these decisions would be so much easier, but we have to distill their vast range into a handful of packs to suit every one. Tricky! After a fleeting lunch at Brew Brothers, our daytime eatery of choice in Kendal, we headed on to the new showrooms of Thermarest, Outdoor Research and MSR where we perused a multitude of accessories, learnt what happens to the holes that are punched out of the Thermarest sleep mats (made into their travel pillows - who knew!?) and tried on way too many hats. We ended the day at new digs in Ambleside, the aptly named Rooms@Apple Pie (the bakery next door will keep you carb loaded for weeks!) and headed up Wansfell Pike for some fresh Cumbrian air and a leg stretcher. The route was a steep but short climb with superb views out across the various peaks. Needless to say, coming back down was much quicker especially as a race seemed to spring from nowhere and both James and I turned into mountain goats running back down! We arrived back in the town out of breath with achey legs, entirely ready for dinner! After a brief drink at The Drunken Duck to take in yet another awesome view we headed for dinner with Lowe Alpine at Fellinis with it's glorious food and relaxed atmosphere. The company was great, Mark from Lowe has long since handed our account over to his colleague Steve, but is still always happy to see us and keep us company of an evening with his ability to take a ribbing from James. Good times.

We awoke refreshed and after a great nights sleep at The Apple Pie and headed straight up Loughrigg for a run before our first meeting of the final day. Another steep climb was once again forgotten once the view of Windermere sunk in and the peace and quiet refreshed my buzzing brain. Our final meetings were with Rab and Lowe Alpine, now both located in a new showroom with lots of space and natural light. We started with Lowe, and again were deluged with numerous packs we really liked, but the old problem of space crops up again. If we stocked more choice would we sell more? Can we give packs more space? Should we have a bigger shop? Will England win the World Cup? We know the answer to one of those, just not the one that concerns our business! Lowe are putting plenty of R&D and money into their packs at the moment, so watch this space, they're fast becoming the top pack brand. We moved next door to see Rab, a recent brand to our portfolio, but one that is fast becoming our biggest. Rab are well known, well liked and very well respected within the industry. They make for true outdoor users and won't compromise for the sake of fashion. They would rather produce an authentic mountain piece and sell less than mass produce a piece they can sell on every high street and that echoes our brand, we want to sell great kit to outdoor people. As always, the technology has moved on, the pieces have evolved and what we thought knew we wanted has now changed. 

Our wish list is bulging and we need to head home, refocus, regroup and trim our orders down, so we bid goodbye to Cumbria, we wave farewell to the Lakes and the peaks and hit the M6 in time to wave our eldest off to Cub Camp and tuck our youngest in to bed with talk of tooth faries and trolls. Now the number crunching starts, we need to streamline our spreadsheet picking the strongest pieces and leaving us with a cohesive range that covers all bases. It never gets easier - do ladies want more colour options than pink or blue? Do fleeces need hoods? How many options of legwear do we need? Are shorter shorts back in fashion or is a knee length ok? Whatever we choose, we have to put together our orders to be submitted by the end of the month . . . and then we hold our breath and hope come next March we like what we see, and more importantly, you like what you see!