Manage Samples and Styling Efficiently: Quick Guide for Brands & Retailers

How to organise samples, and organise styling and outfitting to make your e-commerce shoots more efficient than ever - and how technologies like sample management tools can help.

Despite their importance to fashion, lifestyle and consumer goods businesses, sample management and styling are two of the most overlooked stages of the content production process.

That’s due to the complexity of requesting samples, tracking orders, and organising styling options for shoots is so often hidden from the view of content production teams. However, this also means effective management of samples and styling presents an opportunity for online fashion brands to improve how they operate and cut the time-to-delivery for content down to size.

How to optimise sample management

The introduction of effective sample management is often ignored because it takes place before the studio. Yet, in reality, the success of any shoot is defined by the stages before it, and from my experience, ineffective sample management is the biggest contributor to reshoots. Missing samples, misplaced orders, and samples that don’t meet design criteria all delay content delivery by making a productive shoot impossible before it has even begun.

Many brands know they have issues managing samples, but continue to run an ineffective sample management workflow because of the perceived effort involved in making the process run smoothly. Unlike other departments, such as the studio, sample management falls between content production, marketing, and product development, which makes it more difficult to coordinate a combined effort to improve, and confusing to assign an owner to the problem.

However, the emergence of more demanding content formats requires improved sample management. While complete-the-look options grow sales, they also grow logistical complexity. How quickly can three different products be in the same place on the day of the shoot? What additional details or colours are required? Sample management is the key to handling these demands effectively.

Sample Management: Where to start

To improve the way your business manages samples, you’ll need to introduce an end-to-end workflow for all samples at your organisation. This workflow consists of a number of digital and physical touchpoints that link each part of how samples are handled at your business, so each sample always has an owner, and your team is notified whenever a sample goes missing.

Every functional sample management process I’ve seen includes two steps. The first is to implement a standard check-in and check-out workflow that’s easy to follow and introduce, and the second is to use barcode scanners to reduce errors and speed up the processing of samples.

There’s also a third step, which is to use RFID tags and readers to automate workflows and reduce reliance on manual tracking. I wouldn’t recommend this step until you’ve successfully implemented stages one and two, because trying to automate processes that aren’t well-defined becomes very complex very quickly.

Defining sample status, owner, and location

Of all the improvements you could make to sample management, the most important involve sample statuses, sample owners, and sample locations. Every time a sample moves between different departments, there’s a chance that something could go wrong.

By establishing accountability for each sample with dedicated sample owners who check in samples, you’ll have a point of contact for each sample. This is best supported by barcode scanners and a reservation system.

As soon as that individual is finished with their sample, they’ll check out the sample, and the sample’s status, location, and the assigned owner will be updated. Then, when samples are no longer required, you can schedule returns.

Improving sample management practice for your team

Regardless of whether sample management is handled effectively at an organisation level, there are a number of improvements you can make at a team level to help your teams find, store, and send samples quickly and effectively.

By making someone at each location accountable for sample management, you’ll always have a point of contact for each sample. Additionally, by bringing all teams into a single sample management workflow that supports communication, you can effectively raise questions and share updates about samples in a way that often gets lost among long email chains and WhatsApp messages.

Above all, it’s key to take your time with sample management. It’s unlikely that you’ll find an out-of-the-box solution to suit your needs; however, developing the right solution over time can lead to huge efficiencies. By coming up with a custom workflow that can handle whatever you and your external teams throw at it, you’ll be able to un-muddle sample management and make shoots a better experience for your teams. Companies like Burberry, Lyle & Scott and Spring Studios are using Lets Flo’s sample tracking and workflow tool.

How to manage styling & outfitting

If sample management is where your brand’s content production efforts are most likely to falter, then styling and outfitting are where your brand is most likely to shine. That’s because a great stylist can curate an outfit that can sell not just one product, but additional supporting products too.

Despite boosting online sales, for many brands, complete-the-look data is viewed as too time-consuming. What could be an energetic and creative outfitting session, they instead perceive as a laborious spreadsheets-based task. But although complete-the-look data can be tricky to manage as content progresses from shoot to post-production to PDP, with a little foresight, any brand can sell outfits online as clusters of products.

To bring fun and creativity back into styling sessions, remove as much admin as possible. If you need to use a spreadsheet, prepare every outfit in advance with its own row, so you only need to add supporting products to each column.

Here are a few other tools that can help you when coming to styling sessions:

  • A barcode scanner to help you check items in and out
  • A mobile phone with a high-quality camera to help you capture racked-up outfits
  • A well-lit space will make imagery clear for teams on set as they prepare to shoot
  • Preparing a keynote with the looks in your styling session well ahead of time helps teams, both internal and external, prepare more for the shoot

What success looks like for samples and styling

A successful sample management and styling setup means creative teams won’t have to compromise. Instead of delaying shoots or product launches due to miscommunication or unpreparedness, you’ll be able to achieve much more. Whether that’s outfits that show off complementary products within a range, or simply getting a range in the same place simultaneously, what used to feel impossible will become routine.

If you want to improve the efficiency of your sample management and styling processes, a workflow and real-time tracking platform like Lets Flo can help you consolidate all processes under one roof and scale your business. Request a 1:1 tailored demo and see Lets Flo in action, and how it can support your growth.

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