Taking Over Luxury Retail With an Endless Aisle Strategy: An Interview With the Founder of "The September"

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“We've managed to add more brands faster. Typically, when we go to market or first connect with a brand, we would place an order for the following season. With Convictional, we have the ability to start right away. To be able to partner with a company then sell their product, [and have the entire process] fully automated, is brilliant.” 

-- Christine Carlton, Founder, The September

Before Christine Carlton started her designer footwear boutique The September, she was the Vice President of Accessories at luxury retailer Holt Renfrew. There, she became well-versed in traditional retail buying methods, but didn’t feel the company was moving in a trajectory to take control of the luxury ecommerce industry.

Christine then decided that she was the right person to bring online luxury retail to Canada. And soon, The September opened its virtual doors. 

The Problem with the Traditional Retail Buying Models

The September is a B2C ecommerce marketplace that curates the best of the best in women’s lifestyle products. Visitors to the site don’t have to scroll through 50 pages of shoe styles, for example, because they know Christine and her team have done all the hard work for them. 

Initially, The September’s team adopted the industry standard buying method, influenced by Christine’s background with a traditional retailer like Holt.

In the traditional method, retailers go to showrooms 6 months in advance to buy inventory for the next season. Whether they negotiated net 30 or net 60 terms with the vendor, the retailer paid on the spot, before they received the inventory. 

But as a cash-strapped young retailer, The September had limited capacity to lay out that capital upfront. 

On one hand, The September was acquiring a lot of customers and had high repeat shopping rates. However, they frequently ran out of their customers’ sizes and couldn’t order more inventory because all their product selection and inventory purchases had already been made months in advance.  The high cost of inventory for their designer products compounded this problem. “Because of restraints with inventory, we can only sell as much as we own, which to me just seems so archaic,” Christine says. “I just felt the business model we had in place was really stifling our growth. And I thought, ‘I need to unwind this and find a way where really, the growth is limitless.’”

And that’s when she started experimenting with an endless aisle strategy. 

“What is an Endless Aisle Strategy?”

The endless aisle strategy is a dropship order fulfilment model that works for both physical and online stores. Implementing this strategy requires a synchronous, direct line of information transfer between the retailer and their vendors or brand partners. 

When a customer orders a product that the retailer doesn’t carry in store or have in stock, their team can order the product from their vendor, have it white labelled with the retailer’s delivery label, and shipped to their customer.

But perhaps you’re wondering:

“Is an Endless Aisle Strategy Worth It?”

The endless aisle strategy benefits both the retailer and their customers.

Under the traditional buying method, the retailer would have to prepay for a brand’s inventory 6 months in advance or at most, have net 60 terms. They were locked in, irrespective of what was happening in the market or how consumers’ tastes changed. Instead of working on revenue growth or customer acquisition, they had to spend the next 6 months trying to sell the inventory that they had already paid for. 

On the other hand, an endless aisle strategy allows retail customers to select any product from their catalog, whether or not the store has the actual product on hand. The product selection is no longer constrained to what fits in the store or warehouse.  

This equates to more sales with less upfront costs. 

In adopting an endless aisle strategy, The September could experience the ever-elusive exponential online retail growth, even with the limitation of capital. 

How The September Overcame the Challenge of an Endless Aisle Retail Strategy

But Christine and her team ran into another roadblock as they were implementing their new business model. 

Onboarding and working with multiple brands on an ongoing basis took a long time. Getting the initial inventory and then updating that product information into The September’s Shopify online marketplace involved manual work. “I had ecommerce coordinators who would literally take a line sheet and retype in the product description and the cost,” Christine says. “There was a lag time there and we ran the risk of selling something that the vendor no longer owned.”

But that all changed when she started automating her vendor onboarding and management with Convictional.

Once integrated into their Shopify ecommerce environment, Convictional became the bridge, allowing Christine and her team to source, onboard and integrate with third-party vendors quickly and automatically. Speaking to the speed of vendor onboarding with Convictional, Christine says, “It's one of the selling features I highlight when I talk to a vendor. They're so used to this old school model. When I get on calls, I say to them, ‘Listen, this technology that we have, if you have the inventory, we can start tomorrow.’ And then they send me a list of their inventory, and they're thrilled we can start right away.”

These days, Convictional runs in the background of her business, powering The September’s endless aisle strategy, and making sure everything operates smoothly -- even while other retailers are sitting on unsold inventory in the wake of the pandemic. ”We learned this last summer,” Christine says. “We were very well positioned for COVID-19 to hit [when] a lot of retailers were scrambling to put this model in place.”

“Part of me wants to selfishly keep [Convictional] to ourselves and not share [you],” Christine laughs. “I don't necessarily want our retail competition to be using it.” 

But ultimately, she values working with Convictional as a startup because it mirrors her own customer-centric approach to business. “When you work with a new company, they’re open to ideas and suggestions and to ways to work together. And that's what we like in our partners -- a real sense of collaboration that we're growing businesses together.”

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