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Interview

Interview: Transforming the Wholesale Buying Process in Fashion, with Kristin Savilia, CEO at JOOR

Fashion is one of the categories that has undergone the most massive shift in terms of how retail buyers and brand sellers interact. The rise of fast fashion, the mummification of trade shows during the pandemic, changing consumer expectations and demands: all these trends in an economically challenging environment mean that buyers and sellers must collaborate faster and more transparently than ever before to drive the growth and competitiveness they need to thrive. Kristen Savilia, from her time as a buyer at Macys to CEO of Virtual Showroom and Wholesale Management Platform JOOR has spent her career transforming how fashion makes its way to market to drive the success of both brand and retailer. She joined the podcast to detail the recent innovations from the  digital transformation of fashion wholesaling.

Transcript:

Peter Crosby:
Welcome to Unpacking the Digital Shelf, where we explore brand manufacturing in the Digital Age.

Peter Crosby:
Hey everyone, Peter Crosby here from the Digital Shelf Institute. Fashion is one of the categories that has undergone the most massive shift in terms of how retail buyers and brand sellers interact. The rise of fast fashion, the mummification of trade shows during the pandemic, changing consumer expectations and demands; all these trends in an economically challenging environment mean that buyers and sellers must collaborate faster and more transparently than ever before in order to drive the growth and competitiveness they need to thrive.
Kristin Savilia from her time as a buyer at Macy's to CEO of virtual showroom and wholesale management platform JOOR, has spent her career transforming how fashion makes its way to market to drive the success of both brand and retailer. She joined the podcast to detail the recent innovations from the digital transformation of fashion wholesaling.


Peter Crosby:
So Kristin, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. You're working in such an exciting area for us and our listeners. We really appreciate it.

Kristin Savilia:
Thank you. Thank you for having me Peter and Lauren. I'm very excited to be here.

Peter Crosby:
Well, we've been talking so much at the DSI, and thinking about particularly in this challenging economic environment, sort of in quotes and not in quotes, that it feels like for the next phase of growth, for both brands and retailers who are trying to present the best consumer experience possible, the best assortment, to stay competitive at all times, the collaboration between those two pieces, their fates are so interconnected, and your company has been working on that collaboration for years. And so, just so excited to have you on to talk about why that is so increasingly more important and what you guys are doing about it.

Kristin Savilia:
Yeah, great. So just, yeah, top line, JOOR is a wholesale management ecosystem. So essentially, we work on digitizing the process of buying and selling, and we serve brands, retailers, and the trade show industry and fashion predominantly. And it's funny that originally, JOOR launched as a mobile-first tool, that you took an iPad with you to market, and you digitized that experience of walking a showroom, or walking a trade show and actually taking orders and digitizing, and that was important. But it really took the pandemic for folks to realize that there's a better way to do wholesale buying and selling. And the pandemic forced everybody onto their couches and they had to find a way to do business that did not involve in person.

We were so fortunate to be prepared for this, because we had had this tool, this virtual showroom idea for years. And if I'm being transparent Peter, couldn't get anyone to use it before the pandemic. And the pandemic hit in March of 2020, and the phone was ringing and folks were saying, "JOOR, help us. You always have that tool. Can you set us up quickly?" And people were forced to this way of doing it, but what they learned was exactly what you said; the collaboration is so much stronger when it's digital because you can just control so much more of the experience and story.

An example I'll give you is that in the physical world, when you go to a showroom, you're not really seeing a personalized showroom to you. You're walking to a showroom that a brand has created for you to walk. And I know I used to be a buyer at Macy's, so they used to bring me into a secret room and be like, "This is the room for Macy's," but that was a lot of work for them to do, and it wasn't as comprehensive of what you can do digitally. What we allow digitally is it's tied to your login experience. So if you log in, and whether you are from Neiman Marcus or a small business, the showroom that you're seeing and presented by that brand is exactly the pricing and experience that they want you to have. So it's really been... when people see how easy that is, it's hard to go back to physical only.

Peter Crosby:
And so tell me what the retailer piece is of that experience, because I know that as we said, it's collaboration, not just sort of one way, here's your thing. How has that evolved in this tool?

Kristin Savilia:
Yeah, so a retailer logs in, and as I mentioned, that login shows them a digital version of the showroom that's for them to shop. And there's two ways that it works. What we see is that brands working with larger retailers, like some of our clients from Bergdof Goodman, or PrintOps or Harrods, that's more of an appointment type of setup. So they set a digital appointment on a Zoom like this, and they're able to view the showroom collaboratively together, where they're looking at items one by one and determining a style out, but a digital version of a style out.

So a style out definition in a regular showroom is a rack, and you're putting things on a rack that the buyer likes. We have digitized that, and that's the experience for the larger retailers when shopping any size brand. Small businesses can have a very ecommerce-like experience. They don't need as much attention. They're not buying as many quantities or dollar amounts, and they log in and shop it like you would shop on an e-commerce site. So they're able to go in and heart items, or purchase items, and create their rack on their own. And in both cases, there's checkout ability. So you can take it all the way to the final order. And in our industry, it tends to not be an instant checkout, it's more of an invoice. So the order is complete, it goes, you're invoiced and then you can pay.

Peter Crosby:
Got it.

Lauren Livak:
What types of digital experiences are the buyers and the sellers also kind of creating? Is there anything unique they're doing on the digital shelf to try and replicate that in person experience?

Kristin Savilia:
Yeah, I mean the biggest thing with... so we have virtual showrooms, which is a big launch for us that really took off in the pandemic era and it's still very, very big. But essentially, we really invested in the content and particularly the imagery. So when you are in an environment that's not physical anymore and you can't touch it, you need to show as much as you can. So I know 3D is really big on the consumer side. It got really big here quickly. And the funny story here is, we are under the good fortune of signing a relationship, a partnership into our ecosystem of bringing 3D imagery in February of 2020. And when we signed that relationship, I remember thinking to myself, this is going to take a really long time to catch on, but I want to be ahead of the curve. And by April it was-

Lauren Livak:
You were.

Peter Crosby:
That was really fast.

Kristin Savilia:
And by April, it was our most popular product. So I was like, wow, bingo! So it's been really... and it continues to be great. So that's the ability to actually have a full spin, zoom in, stop, look at the item, that has really helped. But also the improvement of the showroom experience in general and the content being really rich, bringing in the social aspects to it so that your TikTok can be embedded, your Instagram can be embedded. These are the things that we did to really create that experience. From the collaboration standpoint, we created that tool I was mentioning, we actually call that tool the edit, which essentially is a digital replication of the rack experience in a showroom. So you're able to see everything available, and it's the equivalent of two parties sitting at a table and determining the assortment. And living on a style board, you are sorting your one store or your multiple stores, and it really brought a lot of positive experience to this experience.

Peter Crosby:
Oh my gosh, so many questions. So the first one that pops into mind is, fashion has long been a seasonal kind of thing. I'm seeing all the Paris Fashion Week stuff come across my Twitter, which will tell you what I look at. But there's also now clearly fast fashion, which is just changing moment to moment. Do you have the data to know if the buying patterns in the industry are changing, and are you following any of that, and is that part of what is making having digital experiences more important?

Kristin Savilia:
Yeah, that's exactly what's happening, is that the digital experience is, first of all making travel not necessary. So in essence, the showroom time is getting expanded. So you are no longer limited to the three days of a trade show or the seven days of a Market Week or New York Fashion Week. You can do that shopping later. What we're seeing is over 50% of our buyers are actually buying outside those windows now. When they used to always buy in those windows, they've now chosen to buy closer to the season, closer to the delivery times. And that is something that you can't do if you don't have a digital experience. Because if not, you're relying on Excel spreadsheets and paper line sheets which will not do your brand justice.

Peter Crosby:
That must be a challenge for the suppliers a bit, because now... their customers aren't making decisions as far out as they used to. And so there maybe, is there a little more nail biting going on to try and manage it?

Kristin Savilia:
Believe it or not, what we're saving a lot of time on is that back and forth as well. So they may not be getting these orders much later than they used to, because if you think about the old process, they were doing a lot of back and forth to confirm orders. The way it works now is they can get a hunch, they can get an idea of orders, and because it's on a platform, if you're a global brand, you are seeing the global buying real time.
So we have this product called Snapshot in our application, where that was transformative for the company, because we saw that owners of companies and manufacturers were putting Snapshot on their office televisions, because real time they're like, "Oh, this product's gone, this product's gone." They could get a really good feel for forecasting based on the interest levels of the product. So I think what's being made up in efficiency here is that it's just shorter to get things done, so they're able to place it closer to when they're going to get it.

Peter Crosby:
And so my next question, because we think so often when we talk about how the digital shelf, as we refer to it here, is not just a thing that exists on Walmart, or Amazon, or someone's DSC site, but is so much a part of now the in-store experience, and it's bleeding in. I'm wondering now as people return to these in-person events, are you seeing that the digital capabilities being used on site to transform how they do the buying there?

Kristin Savilia:
We are. And one interesting thing that we added is QR code. So when you walk a trade show in the fashion industry, you will likely see in every booth a sign that says CR expanded assortment, or a full showroom on JOOR. You scan it, and we in essence are connecting the physical to the digital, because those booths are small. So the booth's good for featuring stuff, but to show the breadth of the showroom, that's how we've been connecting the two.

Peter Crosby:
That's very cool.

Lauren Livak:
And I can Imagine... Oh sorry, go ahead.

Peter Crosby:
No, no, I've been talking forever. Go.

Lauren Livak:
I was just thinking about all the data you have, Kristin. I mean because it's now digital, you can see who's shopping where, how they're shopping. Are you providing that back to both sides of the buyer and the seller to understand where trends are going? Can you talk a bit about the data side?

Kristin Savilia:
We do. And what we do with it is we do a lot of on-platform as well as outreach, which we call our recommendations and personalization program. So what's really interesting about this is that we have the good fortune of really understanding and watching from a distance e-commerce for 25 years, and seeing what works there. And when you think about it, B2B is really late to the game, which is somewhat surprising because this is the moment of intent where you're deciding your assortment. There's no more important decision than carrying the right assortment on your website or on your selling floor. And that's predominantly been left, until recently, to Excel spreadsheets. So what we get to see is, you know that conversion rates increase on the consumer side when you personalize that experience.
So for example, about two weeks ago we started a new campaign related to each one of our categories really feeding the audience. We know you're a women's wear buyer because we see your activity, so we're feeding you women's wear brands. It sounds very simple, but those emails and those click throughs have tripled from what a basic email sends. And again, that's obvious to people on the consumer side. You've been doing this for years, but bringing that same thing into B2B has been really beneficial in helping to guide.
And as a former buyer, I'll stand here and tell you that you can't do your entire buy on data or you'll have a very boring assortment. There is an art to being a buyer, and I lived it at Macy's and I got it. But why wouldn't you want as much information as possible to guide that decision? And that's the role that JOOR plays. We're going to feed you all the information of what others are buying, and people who bought this also bought this, just to give you guidelines. But at the end of the day, you know your store best, you know your customer best. But I know I would've utilized this years ago if it existed for sure when I was a buyer.

Peter Crosby:
So, I'd love for you to tease that out a little bit, maybe with some real customer stories. And whether you can mention names or not, I totally leave that up to you, but I'd love to know... we're all talking about people getting value out of their technology spend right now, and where they're putting their money. What are some examples of the value that you see the sides getting out of some of these?

Kristin Savilia:
So brands, the typical brand on JOOR, in their first year going from non-digital to digital increases their sales 42%. This is their wholesale sale. So their sales to retailers increased 42%. Several reasons why. I already mentioned the flexibility of the showroom being open longer. So you're able to capture sales that maybe you wouldn't capture. You're not requiring travel to come see it, so that's a big differentiator. The big one on the retail side besides getting your assortments right, has to do with your appointment time being saved in efficiency. So you're spending about 30% less time per appointment, which enables you to, quite frankly, see more brands, and do more as the same buyer. So you're able to really see the market more.
So those are two key stats I can share. But what it's really about is that collaborative experience of a buyer no longer being stuck in a silo of seeing one showroom at a time. I can also reflect on stories when I was at Macy's, and walking to Herald Square selling floor and wondering why I bought the exact same dress from two different brands. Because you were doing it on Excel; you didn't have any visual to really say what am I getting in this delivery? So JOOR's ability and our data that even just allows you to go across brands and see everything available in the market, is not unlike what you would do on the consumer side when you were shopping for something. You would search for a pair of jeans and want to see what your options are. We have brought that same ability to B2B. And with that you can make better decisions, and you're not going to duplicate and waste open-to-buy on buying the same item. So it sounds simple but it happens a lot more often than you think.
Taking it even further, from a brand perspective, there's a real ability to also save purchase orders, because brands tend to have a very high drop rate. They produce a certain amount of goods, they sell out and then they have this big order, but they can't fill that order. And the process now for notifying someone about that, if you don't use a platform, is completely manual. You get an email that says we can't ship this. Or even worse, they don't even notify them and just don't ship it. And then the retailer is like, "Why am I missing half my open-to-buy?" On a platform what you're able to do is, with a push of a button, there's a notification that says "Hi buyer at Neiman Marcus, we are dropping this style, and we recommend this style instead." So you are in essence saving a sale, but you're also doing good for your retailer because the worst thing as a buyer is expecting a certain amount of open-to-buy to come in and not knowing that they didn't ship a whole style where you had revenue tied to that.

Lauren Livak:
I also imagine that you're bridging the gap between a lot of functions within the organization too, right? Because if you were using a spreadsheet and then you were tracking what your assortment looks like, you're in stock, that's several different team members trying to collaborate together. Do you see that that helps, at least on the retailer side, everyone to work together, and know what's going on, and have a clear picture, where before it may have been disjointed?

Kristin Savilia:
Yeah, definitely. One of my favorite stats actually is that we can reduce time-to-site, which we all know is so important, by over a third. So essentially, because the data is coming from the brand and it's in JOOR, and you have images... you always rewrite your copy but you have the facts you need to write the copy. And as an iterative platform, we constantly feed newness. So when the UPC comes in, you get it as a retailer automatically. When Country of Origin is required for most websites these days, we capture it in the platform and it goes to everybody at once. So gone are the days of the 100 phone calls to the brand asking them for copy, UPCs, and fax and all that stuff. It's on the platform, they update it once you get it. And that's what enables you as a retailer to reduce your time-to-site.
What we're starting to see, which is exciting, is some of them are not doing duplicate photography anymore. So when we move to this 360° imagery approach, where it's just a white background and a spin image, we're seeing some retailers willing to just adopt that and take it. And when they don't do the imagery themselves, we're seeing over a 50% reduction in time-to-site, because they're just taking it, rewriting the copy and getting it live. And that obviously is... it increases your selling window and it enables you to be first-to-market with something, which is important.

Lauren Livak:
Yeah, no, that's a huge increase in efficiency. I mean ultimately, you can do so much more with that time, to your point. So Kristin, current economic environment, right? Supply chain issues, businesses are struggling with inflation, there's just a lot going on. And it's really important for that transaction between the retailer and the brands to happen on time, and get paid appropriately. You recognize that at JOOR, and you have an exciting new announcement that recently came out. Can you share more about that?

Kristin Savilia:
We sure are. Thank you for bringing that up. We're so excited about this. We launched JOOR Pay just over two weeks ago. And essentially this was us listening to our audience. But you know, you don't win when you build exactly what they ask for; you win when you actually understand the pain point and bring forth a solution that solves the real problem. And what we were hearing in the industry, you got hikes in interest rates, you have supply chain problems, everything adding to costs. What we were hearing was brands need to sell merchandise, and they need to get paid quickly so they can actually produce it. Retailers want to buy goods from you, but they don't have the money right now to pay you. They want to pay you down the road after they have an opportunity for it to hit the selling floor and sell it.
So JOOR Pay has a couple of key benefits. One, we take all types of currencies and all types of transaction types. So whether it's a credit card, whether it's bank transfer, whether it's PayPal, we accept all that, which really extends your reach of types of credit you can take. But our most exciting thing is that we have introduced net 60 terms at no risk to the brand or retailer. So essentially, we have stepped in as the middle man, middle woman who has said, okay, brands, retailers, you use net 60 terms, we're going to get the brand paid in six days. Retailer, you have to pay back in 60 days. And that is what's created a lot of excitement for the industry, because it's closing that gap, and rather than having to take out business loans with banks, or do different types of factoring, we've just made it easy for them to do it on JOOR, and the uptick has been pretty exciting.

Kristin Savilia:
The other exciting thing is, you also want the opportunity, if you can, especially if one market is a little soft, to expand your reach. Now one of the limitations for brands is their ability in that FX can be very complicated for brands, conversions and having a team that tracks that. We take that off their hands as well where we're handling that. So if you're a global brand, the retailer can pay in any type they want to pay in, any payment type they want to use, but we convert it to the payment type you need it to be, and that takes a huge burden off.
Then the final is in this kind of industry, it's unfortunate, but a lot of fraud is going on, and we provide fraud protection as well. So if you use JOOR Pay, just to summarize, you get any type of payment you want to use, you get net terms, you get FX conversion, and you get fraud protection. So it really is speaking to the times, and really allowing people to have business continuity in these tough times.

Peter Crosby:
Wow. I did a startup several years ago that involved essentially it was a crowdfunding site for helping people raise money for their dreams. I won't go into any details, it's not around anymore, but what I learned, part of that that we did in the back end of that software was to build out essentially a bank. I mean essentially it was a way to... and I know how complex that is. The regulatory, just all of it is so complex, and to build that into technology is a huge, huge investment. And so, I have to imagine that you've looked at that business and said there's a great opportunity there for both parties as well as for JOOR to get into another area. So congratulations on that effort. That's a lot of work.

Kristin Savilia:
Thank you. Thank you. It was three years in the making, so we did a lot of listening and learning and I think you need to. We launched a raw version of it three years ago, but it only took credit cards, it had no net terms, and it solved some of the pain points, but we found that it wasn't enough to really be super useful, and to give people a reason to use it. So I think we hit it this time. So it's been pretty exciting.

Peter Crosby:
So I mean, I know what that feels like when you can really match the technology you're able to deliver with not just the business challenges but the business opportunities that you hope... and I know, and Lauren knows from being in this industry, these people that are involved in retail and brands, it's hard, it's stressful, especially when you're getting... When you are at the forefront of digital in your companies, it can be a really challenging job to do the complexity of what we're doing right now and certainly in the environment we're doing. So it's just great to hear somebody be thinking so much about those challenges and opportunities on both sides in a similar way that we at the DSI think about. And it's just been great to hear about how you brought that to life. So thank you Kristin so much for joining us and walking us through that. It's really cool.

Kristin Savilia:
Thank you for having me guys. This was great.

Peter Crosby:
Thanks again to Kristin for joining us. Please swing on over to digitalshelfinstitute.org and become a member to keep up to date on what we're up to, and thanks for being part of our community.