From the trenches: top 20 tips learned throughout a long career in retail

by Steve Pruitt

1. ALWAYS look for newness.

2. Tell product stories—Let clients know why a product is special so they’re not just buying a piece of clothing. They’re buying into the discovery.

3. The first markdown is the cheapest—Small, early markdowns drive sales and prevent you from taking steeper markdowns on leftover products later on.

4. Live the lifestyle you want to sell—If you, or members of your staff, are not wearing the trends that you’re pushing or showing passion about the products, why should your customers get excited?

5. Leave 20-30 percent of your Open-to-buy for timely in-season purchases.

6. Always create reasons to call your customers—New products, new events, new trends.

7. Your profit potential is in direct proportion to the amount of margin built into your inventory.

8. The last step in a sale is not the close; it’s the question “What else do you need?”

9. Most sales are lost due to lack of size. Buy deeper.

10. Markdowns are your friends; treat them respectfully—Turn markdowns into marketing dollars.

11. Research and shop not just wholesale markets but the best stores worldwide—You need to stay one step ahead of your most knowledgeable customers.

12. When you go to market, spend time not just with your vendors but also in local stores—This is a great way to unearth new trends and brands.

13. Rotate 10-20 percent of your vendor structure every season.

14. Tackle problems head-on. Ignoring small issues can lead to larger problems later on.

15. Remember, slowdowns are a normal part of the retail cycle.

16. Bank some cake for the slow days—In other words, save money when you can.

17. Understand the difference between trends and fads—Fads are quick hits; trends build and last longer.

18. It’s all about the landing. When you land goods and how much.

19. Seasonal (quarterly) planning is no longer enough. Learn about the micro-seasons.

20. People buy from people—Fostering relationships is the key to creating long-term clientele.

Steve Pruitt is the founder and senior consultant of Blacks Retail Analysis and Blacks Consulting. With over 30 years of experience, Steve is one of the most respected merchandise analysts in the industry. Ask Steve about merchandise planning and strategy:


    1. Been with Steve Pruitt since 1979.
      Kept me in business through many difficult times.
      Most of his advice bullets he taught me along the way and they made a huge difference in my growth and sustainability.
      My advice is to keep on moving and adapting . Contact Steve and experience Black’s yourself.

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