Trusting Her Own Voice, Heidi Merrick Steps Away From Wholesale in favor of D2C
Over the summer, Heidi Merrick began to lay the groundwork for her plan to move away from wholesale partnerships with retailers, forge stronger relationships with her customers and answer only to herself in matters of business.
“There is pressure to do things the way you’re supposed to do them,” she said. “Every season, I hate shipping to stores and rushing and I find myself designing toward stores, which I think is the way to end your business. They want specific things and they’re all closing.”
Designing pieces that afford elegance to California’s beach-and-surf culture, Merrick manufactures in Los Angeles, which has created a deep, personal relationship with her brand. With an emphasis on quality, she designs garments keeping in mind the needs of the women who will wear her clothes, which retail from approximately $39 for a belt and $64 for a T-shirt to $850 for a gown in silk noil or velvet.
“When I would make something exquisite, I knew the pricing would never work with stores,” she explained. “That is the worst thing you can have as a designer.”
Over the last year, it had become apparent to the designer that input from retailers wasn’t always a sound representation of customer feedback, which left her feeling that she was designing for a buyer rather than a customer who was investing in special pieces.
“You rarely hear back from stores regarding customers,” she said. “If I am direct-to-consumer, I can make as many as I want. My offering is going to be extra special because it doesn’t fit into any expectations.”
In addition to relying on her online presence, heidimerrick.com, the designer will retain a retail presence through her flagship location H.Merrick of California, at 115 West 9th St. in downtown Los Angeles. To celebrate this next step in her business, Merrick will redesign this retail space. She hopes to bring in more art installations, such as surfboards that were designed in collaboration with her brother Britt, the head designer and shaper at Channel Islands Surfboards.
Merrick is confident that she can navigate this new world of commerce in which larger department stores and retailers are struggling but independent bricks-and-mortar stores are evolving.
“We have so much data with what sells and doesn’t sell and where we want to go. [Wholesale] is a channel that doesn’t need to happen,” she explained. “I always had to wait until after LA Market to buy fabrics and go into production. Now, I still need that lead time to produce for the web and my stores, but I am on my own timeline, which is healthy.”
This timeline will allow Merrick to release goods on a schedule that more closely fits into an Immediates calendar and the California lifestyle. In the past, the designer would have shipped her winter coats out to retailers in early August, but with her fresh, independent approach, she was cutting the pieces during the final week of the month.
“If I am direct-to-consumer, I can meet the way people are shopping now. They are not wardrobe planning, so you can wait until Oct. 15 to release your coat colors,” she said. “California has such a specific Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer seasonality, and it’s never matched with New York.”
Without the pressure to ship out to retail partners according to their timelines, Merrick is excited to have more time to think deeply about her collections, monitor customer response and consider client feedback directly from the source. Merrick will have the freedom to add or remove pieces from a collection throughout a season, but one traditional element to her business will continue.
“The thing that will remain is my love of doing a collection. I am a classic fashion designer, so I will always produce Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer collections. That is an artform—a way to express yourself and say, ‘This is how I see us dressing,’” she explained. “We’ll be able to refine it in a way that we haven’t before. That is the beauty of making it in Los Angeles.”
Another area of focus for Merrick as she reclaims her business is the way in which her brand is represented at the bricks-and-mortar level in her boutique. For her sales associates, this means that they will be required to spend time in the studio each week learning about how clothes from the Heidi Merrick brand are made, the people who make them and how this is relevant to the label.
“They need to be real brand ambassadors. They need to understand how clothes are made. It’s a consciousness that they can then pass on to customers,” she said. “They see us, they see the people sewing the clothes, and it’s so much more powerful than someone just clocking in.”
By arming her associates with an education regarding her brand, Merrick believes her sales staff will be able to convey the message of how the brand’s boutique size offers an authentic approach to quality.
“It will expand us as a fashion house,” she said. “Instead of hiding that we’re a small label, we can let that be a badge of our authenticity.”
For now, Merrick is more committed than ever to creating beloved pieces for her clients and reveling in the independence she has worked hard to establish.
“It’s going to broaden the collection, make it more accessible and, at the same time, give us the ability to offer those pieces that will be in a client’s closet forever,” she said. “It takes a bit of courage to listen to your own voice.”