Retail strategies for high-end fashion

by Agnes Chen

Alice Lau, deputy director retail operations, Moiselle International Limited

Finding a niche in a fiercely competitive sector

Alice Lau is dressed stylishly in a latte-coloured, double-breasted coat stitched with a floral design that complements her crystal-studded, knee-length jeans and eye-catching necklaces. The ensemble combines femininity with a touch of flamboyance and, though not a look often found too often in today's boardrooms, is just right for the female executive who has something to say.

That, also spells out the unique market position of Moiselle's prestigious label.

"I don't think we have any direct local competitor because we are in a niche market priced at the high-end of the range," says Ms Lau, deputy director, retail operations, Moiselle International Limited. "We aim to compete with foreign brands with a whole range of collections of party wear and gowns, as well as stylish daywears, suits and jeans. We offer an alternative for those who opt for something different by showering them with a variety of choices in limited quantity."

Limiting the quantity of each product line has proved to be a clever business move, which has been achieved, in Moiselle's case, via tight cooperation between different departments — everything from in-house design, warehousing and administration to retail operations in Hong Kong and mainland China.

French style

Into the 10th years of manufacturing and retail success, the company has come a long way and still has a long way to go. Ms Lau adds that the key is sensitive marketing by uniquely positioning the company. This approach starts with the Moiselle name, taken from the French word for "young lady" and chosen to create a connection with French fashion and ambience.

"Modern romance is our style," says Ms Lau. "Most of our fabrics are imported from France and Italy; and embroidery, ruffles and lace are trademarks of our design." While the beading and embroidery work help to identify Moiselle, fashionable details and innovative in-house design add to the strengths of the company's own label.

The company is also strategically positioned not to compete head-on with local chain-stores, something that becomes clear when you discover that a pair of studded jeans on display costs HK$2,000 and that items in the limited Walt Disney Princess collection, launched last year, are also priced in the thousands. This, though, along with the decision to limit the number of reduced price sales, is all part of maintaining a classy image and distinguishing the company from other Hong Kong clothing retailers.

At present, the strategy is certainly working. "We have quite a number of VIPs who spend in the six-digit range every month in our shops," Ms Lau says. This clearly explains why the company now operates over 80 outlets both in Hong Kong and the mainland.

Different preferences

Customer preferences tend to vary quite significantly in the different locations, so each shop effectively caters to its own clientele. However, the qualities required of a salesperson remain consistent. "The starting point is to look for passion and commitment," says Ms Lau. "We always tell the salespeople that they are not selling clothes, but helping customers to dress in a way that makes them look beautiful. Of course, a smile is also very important."

Most of Moiselle's frontline staff is between 22 and 28 years old and have one to two years' experience. To better serve the more diverse groups of customers, frontline sales staff must be excellent communicators and, in the role of image-makers, must be able to explain design concepts and what sets the company apart from competitors.

  • Niche brand position offers alternative fashion choice for customers
  • Fabrics imported from France and Italy, while embroidery, delicated craftsmanship, ruffles and lace are trademarks of design
  • Marketing plans not to compete with local chain-stores constitute business success
  • Limit the number of reduced price sales a part of maintaining a classy image and distinguishing the company from other Hong Kong clothing retailers
  • Customer preferences vary in the different locations, so each shop effectively caters to its own clientele

Taken from Career Times 19 May 2006
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