Imperial Motion Upends Wholesale Sales Model
Pacific Northwest-based brand Imperial Motion has implemented a big change in the way it sells to retailers.
Essentially, the brand has launched a B2B version of its direct-to-consumer site.
Wholesalers pay with credit cards but are set up on 70% IMU for owning the product upright. That means Imperial Motion no longer makes samples and their calendar is set to sell at once. It also virtually eliminates sales reps and sales commissions.
Three friends, two of whom are brothers, founded imperial Motion in 2002 in Tacoma, Washington. The brand is carried in independent surf and skate shops, outdoor retailers, and larger accounts including Tilly’s, Zumiez and Nordstrom.
We asked co-founder Eric Wicken some questions about the new B2B system and about the brand’s strategy overall.
Why move to the B2B model? Any concerns from retailers about buying the inventory directly? How does this model help Imperial Motion?
Eric Wicken: Having worked in the apparel brand and retail space for almost 20 years, we’ve observed a lot of change.
Previously, the sales model for inventory was top heavy, with costs for samples, sales representatives and trade shows.
With this new model we have factored in the expense of rep commission, collecting money and all the other aspects that go into the old way of selling product, and given those savings directly to the wholesaler.
This allows them to have the same margins on product that they would have had on doing private label, but without the inventory liability and development expense. Plus, they have access to all the content we produce for our products.
By developing a direct pipeline to our retailers, we were able to improve margins, ship faster and provide a higher level of customer service. Our account team now consists of two sales representatives and two dedicated account managers.
We introduced this change directly to our partners, both in correspondence and in conversation. We are still providing high-touch client and account management, but in a more cost-effective way.
The response from the majority of our retailer partners has been overwhelmingly positive. We did lose a few accounts that were not comfortable with this way of doing business and we respect that.
For the customers who shifted to our new model, we are seeing an increase in orders and a higher level of engagement. Previously we touched base with our clients quarterly, now it’s weekly. This level of communication helps us track market demand and keep sales high.
We anticipate this approach will soon be standard in the industry and we are proud to be part of this change.
How did Imperial Motion get started?
Eric Wicken: In the spring of 2002, at the ripe old ages of 19, 19 and 14, myself, and Steve and Spencer Goetz simply thought, we can do it better. Not knowing anything about clothing production, having zero industry connections and only a handful of credit cards to work with was the perfect formula to drop out of college and take over our parents’ garage.
From day one, the brand has always been about the blind pursuit of our passion and the vision of what our brand would one day become.
What are the best-performing categories?
Eric Wicken: It varies by season. During the spring/summer, also known as our “warm season,” sales of our boardshorts, swim and active bottoms are very strong. We have a tiered product line for this category, starting with our performance, fully bonded, compression-lined boardshort, down to our high quality, but more entry-level volley. Our tight and right waistband feature has been popular since we brought it to market in 2007 and remains a key feature throughout all styles. Sales on shorts continue to grow as we evolve our designs and expand the offering.
Our jackets are a top seller for the “cold season.” Lightweight windbreakers with unique fabric stories are popular. For winter 2019, we’ve introduced a more elevated, three-piece, performance outerwear collection that we’ve called Control Freak. This collection includes a number of features designed for high performance, including 10K waterproof/breathable, four-way stretch and moisture wicking.
One of our recent collections has been in the form of gear. That includes our evolving wetsuit line, ranging from 2-mm jackets all the way to hooded 5/4’s, a handful of wet/dry bags and all weather accessories.
What are some of the brand’s key accounts?
Eric Wicken: If I were to highlight a single retailer, it would be evo. We are neighbors in the Pacific Northwest and they definitely have a like-minded love for catering to the active, outdoors enthusiast.
In 2019 we launched inline wetsuits exclusively with them and the results have been excellent. In 2020, we are expanding our partnership with them, broadening our product offering in the wetsuit category.
How is business in 2019? Are you growing? If so, are there certain channels that are working well?
Eric Wicken: 2019 has been a great year for Imperial Motion. We’ve grown our product line to include more elevated products and our direct-to-consumer business has exploded. This is another reason our new B2B site is so important – we are working to ensure all retailers have access to the same products and a competitive margin.
We have also expanded internationally. We have a solid partner in Asia and have just secured an amazing crew to work with in Europe. We’ve also seen new evolving markets like South Africa and South America expanding the brand. We are excited to see what 2020 brings and want to thank everyone past and present that has helped us get to where we are.