Tell us about your agency, how did it all start?
I moved to Sweden from Estonia in 1998 and had an assignment from the largest clothing factory in the Baltics, Baltika, to start and run a subsidiary in Sweden. For several years I worked with the production of ready-to-wear for companies such as Polarn and Pyret, MQ, Åhlens, Twilfit and Oscar Jacobsson. I was responsible for their own brands and ran stores in the former PUB department store and at NK in Stockholm. My closest collaborator and mentor in Sweden was the now deceased Britt-Marie Ekman. With her knowledge and professionalism, she was incredibly helpful in assisting me in transitioning into the Swedish working life. It was Britt-Marie, but also several other successful agents, who sparked my interest and inspired me to start my own agency company.
What type of products do you sell and which market do you target?
I have been running my business for 10 years now, focusing on self-owned clothing stores in Sweden. I work with Para Mi, a trouser concept from Holland, which specializes in jeans as its main product. Additionally, I work with the Flare Collection, which offers well-fitting woolen coats that they take pride in. Another brand I partner with is Orientique, known for its collection of vibrant colors and patterns that captivate everyone. Lastly, I collaborate with the Danish brand Elton, renowned for its linen and knitted garments. Interestingly, none of the suppliers I work with engage in online sales targeted at individual customers, which has been a fortunate coincidence rather than a conscious choice. Our main and sole focus has always been our customers – the stores.
What identifies a good collaboration between supplier and store?
All cooperation is based on relationships where both parties must feel safe. For me, it’s about teamwork, long-term thinking, and prompt action.
By teamwork, I mean that all parties must do their utmost for us to succeed. You can draw parallels to team sports that I love, for example football where the suppliers can be compared to backs. They must deliver a strong and commercial collection. The agents can be compared to the midfield that must mediate back and forth during the purchasing season and during deliveries. The stores are strikers. It is the stores that must take the last and decisive step, to get the goods out to the consumer – make goals. All ranks must work hard and do their utmost, but also be able to rely on the others to do so. That’s a good collaboration.
In addition to that, it is about thinking long-term and being solution-oriented. Collecting feedback from customers, improving products and routines means that we will succeed even better in the long term. But also skipping a deal sometimes, being able to say no, nurturing relationships and keeping doors open for future deals – it’s a long-term mindset that I think wins in the long run.
Acting quickly means always delivering clear messages as quickly as possible. This means that as an agent, you must be available and reachable, not “duck” to uncomfortable decisions and take care of the practical in a quick and correct way. With today’s pace, store owners usually need support and information immediately. Acting quickly is an important part of a good partnership – that’s what football is all about – enabling the striker to score.
What is the most enjoyable thing about running your business?
The most fun has been getting to know and meeting so many different people – both from Sweden and with roots from other countries. During my years in the clothing industry, I have established many contacts and it is my customers I have to thank for all my success. I have great respect for hard-working people, regardless of the size or location of the business.
During my travels and customer visits, I have learned so much about Sweden, learned about different places and businesses, heard different dialects and stories. I dare to say that I have developed my Swedish language and knowledge in trade thanks to the abundant interaction with so many shop owners and skilled employees with so many different backgrounds. It’s also a pleasure to connect people and find ways we can learn from each other. No matter how stressful it may be at a trade show, I always make an effort to introduce customers who come to our booth to each other. It might just be a polite phrase, a fleeting encounter, but who knows, it might become a meeting that grows and leads to new opportunities.