During COVID-19, safety measures have forced suppliers to get creative and more digital with their marketing and retailer outreach.
Chinese-based garment factory Tianyun, which is a wholesale supplier to U.S. retailers including Nordstrom, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Tilly’s, is no exception. In recent months, the 200-person manufacturer hasn’t been able to attend the physical trade shows that it relies on, but that hasn’t stopped it from brokering deals remotely.
Tianyun is one of the companies that has embraced Alibaba.com’s new online trade show model, which kicked off in May. Between livestreamed product demonstrations and client meetings, the supplier has been able to keep conducting business virtually.
“We got lots of inquiries and received lots of messages from buyers,” said Lihua Xie, general manager of Tianyun. “I think this kind of online trade show and livestreaming will be the tendency for the future. More and more buyers and suppliers will be connected to talk about business through e-commerce and digital platforms.”
Sourcing Journal caught up with Xie to discuss how Tianyun is navigating business during the pandemic and where post-COVID production trends are pointing.
SJ: With China being hit first in the pandemic, raw materials supply became constrained everywhere. How did Tianyun handle its material supply?
LX: Actually, all suppliers had the same problem—that lack of raw materials in February and beginning of March. After discussion with buyers and checking on online selling performance, we found our digital printing shirt was very popular, and this fabric will not be impacted by the pandemic, so we suggested buyers try this way. The digital printing shirt was a huge success, even during the pandemic. From mid-March, [once China got the pandemic under control], material supply hasn’t been a problem anymore.
SJ: With travel and access restricted, what is the role of e-commerce and digital platforms for sourcing materials and selling products wholesale?
LX: It makes big trouble that we cannot attend the exhibitions/trade shows as before, and we cancelled the travel to the Magic show in Las Vegas. That means we cannot meet with and show our products to buyers.
On the other side, as buyers who want to develop new styles can’t travel, there was no way to source and meet with the supplier as before. So it is a tough time for both suppliers and buyers.
Normally, most clients would visit our booth at the Magic show to select new styles and make some orders, and we would discover some new clients as well and start some test orders for cooperation. So now we need a new way to continue business. Actually, we started B2B business at Alibaba four years ago, and every year we were able to connect with more and more new clients, and they also started business with us.
SJ: How else is Tianyun reaching buyers in Europe, the U.S. and your other key markets?
LX: We will keep…using new and virtual ways to show [our garments] to clients. In addition to Alibaba.com Online Trade Shows, we will also do livestreaming and recorded short videos to promote through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and we send video links to clients.
SJ: How are you strategizing and planning for production and sourcing to avoid excess inventory? What technology are you using to help with that?
LX: I feel the garment business will request fast delivery and low MOQ in the future. In the past five years, many clients I know moved simple garment orders to India, Vietnam and Cambodia. For fast delivery and small quantity orders, the clients will prefer Chinese suppliers to produce. So we brought in an ERP system to control order date and schedule, and it will help the factory arrange more small quantity orders and catch delivery dates.
SJ: What’s your outlook for Asia-based garment businesses in the coming year?
LX: In my mind, the garment business will still be based in Asia, but it may be changing after the pandemic. The buyer may request a smaller quantity and faster delivery date…So the buyer will request that you offer a new design, and low MOQ and fast feedback and delivery. So that is why we try the ready-to-ship (RTS) business in Alibaba.com as well. Alibaba.com provides not only the RTS channel focusing on this business model, but also matched promotions like a weekly deal as well as tools like upcoming 3-D products to increase communication efficiency.
Check out the Apparel Pavilion at the Alibaba.com Online Trade Show here.