Leaders of buying community are clearly saying that they don’t have orders for the next 6 to 9 months and have expectedly announced salary cuts, so one can easily understand what will be the condition of buying agents, and small buying houses going ahead once the pandemic is over. Many of them are closing their businesses for the time being, but the fact of the matter is that after a year or little more, businesses will be normal and things will be back on track. But at the same time, it cannot be ignored that the way of working will change completely. There are some important points which are now unavoidable for everyone, but are a must for buying agents and small buying houses.
A lot of buying agents feel that for overseas buyers, things will be clear only after June-end, as post-lockdown in their countries, they will realistically assess their existing stocks, goods in the pipeline, old payments, Government policies in their countries, people’s sentiments, buying strategies, etc. So till then, the upcoming two months May and June are going to be very relevant to engage in business activities.
Majority of buying agents and top management of buying houses are of the strong belief that this is the time to reinvent and see where everyone has been lagging behind in recent years and where the scope for improvement is.
“I am spending my time wisely, with a set schedule every day and ensuring I execute on it. I will dedicate maximum time towards acquiring new skillsets, through webinars and Zoom meetings with associates in the industry, besides day-to-day work, of course. I also encourage my team members to do the same to keep on moving and gain knowledge. Those who are not spending this lockdown time in a productive way probably won’t be of the right calibre to manage the complexity post COVID-19. One has to keep on moving with a vision at all times, even when the terrain is highly uncertain,” says Linda Augustsson, CEO, Continuum Buying Agency, Gurugram.
Linda further suggests that everyone must analyse ‘what they need to have’ versus ‘what is nice to have’. Every penny will matter in this fight for survival, as there will be no foreseeable income for the next 6-9 months, to say the least. “We’re together in this and we have to see the larger picture. Analyse your strengths as an organisation, network to explore new opportunities, and understand that how we used to work in the past is not necessarily going to be good enough in the ‘new normal’. Modern technology will be more important than ever,” she adds.
Lokesh Parashar, President, Federation of Buying Agents (FBA), informs, “We are focusing on webinars and online meetings, and these are not only knowledge-sharing platforms for us but also an avenue to meet potential buyers and explore new businesses. Post COVID-19, many international buyers will find and want to move away from China. They will be looking at other Asian countries as their sourcing hubs. This is the time for Indian factories and buying agents to polish their skills and start adding value to the buying and sourcing needs.”
Over the past two weeks of marketing and attending webinars, quite a few buying agents have connected with multiple buyers and initiated first-level dialogues vis-à-vis for their sourcing needs.
The FBA President further says that with the COVID-19 lockdown globally, the business norms are changing and changing fast. He states, “We at FBA actually want to limit travel. Buyers globally have already begun asking for virtual inspections; next on the plate is to take sampling approvals to virtual platforms. And this is not as difficult as the major chunk of the industry feels. Online platforms will also work to bring efficiency, both in terms of cost and timing, and for managing/conducting everyday business.
Buying agents have to work as virtual buying agents as the biggest events are now going to be online. China’s Canton Fair is worth mentioning here, which is geared up to go online. Now there are ratings of buying agents too. It is also worth mentioning here that few buyers, who don’t follow compliance norms like the top brands and retailers, would now avoid working with ‘unorganised’ factories; or even in case they work, they would not like to venture into such areas as issues of hygiene are now the topmost priority for them.
“I have some factories that work on per piece rate, and workers used to make good money also, but their working conditions were poor. One of my buyers who visited these factories advised to improve the overall conditions or he’d stop working with them, while earlier the same buyer was happy to source from there as it was cost-effective for him,” a Delhi-based buying agent shares on the request of anonymity; he works with two wholesalers of Middle East countries.
Some of the buying agents are also active on the Government’s corridors, having meetings, trying to get support from the Government, so that the buying community can be on the forefront to promote the trade. “Our groups have recently met people in the Ministry of Commerce and Finance. The Government is recognising the importance of buying agents, so we are hopeful to get support regarding participation in BSM or trade promotions,” informs Raman Dutta, MD, Taads Apparel, Faridabad.
Regarding the market and for fellow buying agents, he holds strong views that as people across the EU and the US, who have seen losses of their dear ones, will not be buying fashion garments, so commodity buying will be the key. As across the globe, sentiments are strongly against China, buying opportunities will be more for Indian companies. “In this scenario, it is the responsibility of buying agents and buying houses that we should bring this business to India, keep motivating the buyers as well as suppliers. India should focus more on commodity apparels, not fashion. Fashion apparel will be in demand at least after one year or even more,” he adds.
For more details on this issue, please see the upcoming May 2020 issue of Apparel Online India magazine.