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Milestone: How to Buy for Boston

At The Tannery, staying connected is everything.

The constant meetings, text messages, emails and phone calls between The Tannery’s co-owner and GMM, Talal Hassan, and his team are imperative to the firm’s buying process.

“Communication is key to hit the right mix,” said Hassan, noting that co-owners Sam Hassan and Tarek Hassan, along with Tannery merchandiser and buyer Lisa Gorlicki, all participate in those conversations, whether they happen online or on the sales floor. And that constant input — combined with intuition and hard data, plus a collective talent for spotting the next big thing — keeps the right product flowing in and out of the store.

“Gut instinct is the driving force in most of our decisions, but having numbers to back up a decision, whether good or bad, is always well received,” Talal Hassan said. He described The Tannery’s overall approach to trend forecasting as a fusion of gathering in-store customer feedback and traveling to trade and fashion shows.

Gorlicki often is on the road, working shows and showrooms or simply standing, looking at feet, in the middle of an Italian piazza. Hassan, on the other hand, “lives on the floor,” said Gorlicki, who has a deep background in merchandising and has been buying for The Tannery for about four years. “He is there from open to close every day,” she added, noting that they meet in Boston often, but their discussions really rev up when Gorlicki is traveling. “We talk probably three or four times a day, and we don’t have a filter. [Merchandising] is not work; it’s a lifestyle. We live it, and it’s evident [in the product mix].”

The Tannery’s shoe mix is vast, encompassing men’s and women’s labels, from comfort to high fashion, at a variety of price points. “If the brand is not in the store it’s because we’ve made a decision not to go after it,” Gorlicki said. Strong sellers in the women’s assortment include Tory Burch, Dansko, Hunter Boot, Repetto, Salvatore Ferragamo and Jimmy Choo; for men’s, top brands include Maison Martin Margiela, Balenciaga, Ecco, Mephisto and Rockport. And Nike and New Balance drive business in the athletic category.

Hassan said Tannery customers can expect expansion in the coming seasons. “Mostly based on our current growth, we are increasing our buys,” noted the GMM. “[It’s] based on what styles performed [the previous season] and what our voids were. We rely heavily on what we learned in the past. Consumer insight and lots of new information are good, but only if they help us make unique buys specifically for our consumers.”

When it comes to new additions, Gorlicki said The Tannery’s recent Charlotte Olympia buy (the label will be available there starting in November) is a good example of how that process works. “Sometimes I track brands for a couple of years,” she said. “I see their exposure and then I look to see how the shoes performed overall. Tarek and Sam Hassan actually went to the [FN CEO Summit in April] and got to know Charlotte.”

But there isn’t always time to deliberate, and in those cases, snatching up the next big thing requires a leap of faith on the buyers’ part. “Sometimes I can just look at a shoe and know it’s going to sell,” Gorlicki said. “You fall in love. It just has the right look — it looks like it’s going to fit and it has the right material and is comfortable.”

While Gorlicki noted The Tannery’s buying team is seasoned enough to discern between their personal preferences and what will work for the market, the bigger challenge lies in staying ahead of fashion without going too far. “Sometimes you bring in a trend that’s early,” she said. “The trend is right, but the customer doesn’t understand it because it’s not validated yet. You have to be able to decipher the difference between that and if it was just a disaster. If you are judging yourself too harshly on your mistake from season one, you’ll lose all the business potential you could have had in season two.”

An even larger challenge, she added, is predicting quantities. “When you have a good shoe and you keep reordering it, it’s wonderful that you can maximize volume and sell 600 pairs, but at the end of the run of the shoe, if you still have 20 size 6s and 20 size 10s and five [size] 11s, the belly of the beast is gone and you have to have markdowns. It’s a gamble,” Gorlicki said.

Still, The Tannery’s buyers always have a reliable fallback: each other. “We all have input on buying decisions … for all stores, yet each store has its own dynamic and styles [that are unique] just to them,” Hassan said.

Added Gorlicki, “I make tons of notes, and then when I’m in buying appointments, I send pictures [to the rest of the merchandising team] right away. If I’m ever on the fence, I will defer to them. I feel lucky to be part of the Hassan family’s dynamic, and to contribute [to the business] is an honor.”

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