In small town retail, deciding what to stock (and how much of it) is an ongoing process and an inexact science.
- Trends come and go;
- supply lines change;
- economies change.
Discerning what to keep or not can be challenging. One of the things I love about having a store is that I can decide what I want to buy to put on the shelves. A lot goes into that decision-making process.
The Base-Line Stuff
There are certain staples that I just have to have on hand.
- Basic sewing notions;
- knitting and crochet tools
- and accessories;
- a good cross-section of elastic;
you know, all those fundamental things that sewing and fibre arts enthusiasts need for their projects. These no-brainer items are easy to recognize and you simply have to have them… whatever your small business niche happens to be.
Direct customer requests
A lot of what I have on my shelves is there because a customer special ordered it.
Most of the time if one person asks for it, others will want it too. Often customers will ask me for something and it’s a product that should be a staple in my store… I just didn’t think of it before they asked.
Sometimes they introduce me to new products that I didn’t even know existed.
With many products, suppliers require that you purchase a minimum number.
Each colour of yarn comes in bags of either 5, 6 or 10, for instance. Other products have different prices depending on how many you buy. If you buy singles, you pay more; yet hey, in a small town, I can’t say that I need to buy 1,000 or 10,000 of anything! So the higher singles price it often must be. With a lot of the little items, (like sewing notions) they give you a small break if you order multiples of either 3 or 5. It may not be a lot, (often it’s only pennies difference) but it all helps. This can make a difference as to whether I decide to order it or not.
With yarn in particular, each line has a variety of colourways.
Although some only have 6 or 8 colours available, some of them can have between 60 and 70 different colours each. It’s unrealistic for me to carry every colour of every yarn I have in the shop.
Choosing the colours can be both fun and frustrating.
I would love to have them all. Shortlisting from 60 to 8 can be tough! When I bring in a new line of yarn, I usually go through what is available and start with neutrals and basics. I might start with 6 or 8 colours to begin with. Once I get some feedback from customers I can then decide whether to continue carrying that yarn and to expand the colour selection, or to sell it off and focus on something different. Then, if I’m placing an order and I don’t have quite enough to make the minimum order, I may look to see what new colour I’d like to carry in an established line to top up the order.
Each supplier has its own personality.
Their energy can range from feeling like family to quite formal to downright frenetic. If a company is going through changes (like implementing a new computer system; or was just bought out) there can be a lot of chaos going on for them. Orders can be mixed up or lost. Ordering from a company that is chaotic can be stressful… and can make the difference between deciding not to bother with their product and just ordering from someone else.
- If the people who answer the phone are extremely difficult to understand, orders can end up incorrect.
- If the staff is constantly changing it can be difficult to sustain a good rapport with the company. If a company makes promises it can’t keep, it affects me. Especially if those promises involve special orders.
- Websites that are not maintained can create unrealistic expectations regarding product availability.
All these factors come into play. If ordering from one company is stressful and I can get what I want from a different company with whom ordering is friendly and easy, I’ll go where the least stress is. Over time, you build relationships with your suppliers. They get to know what your business needs and they can often make helpful suggestions regarding new products or programs that they offer.
The Cool Stuff
And yeah, there’s just some stuff that is so cool, you gotta have it on hand.
It may be a funky take on something from the basic tools category. It may be a more luxurious version of something basic. Sometimes I just really like something and I can’t resist ordering it.
Shifting Times and Trends
Once you have a bunch of stock on the shelves there comes a point when you also have to decide whether you enough of it moves to justify the real estate it takes up.
As a trend starts to inch toward its end it can be hard to know when to sign off on it. I have made the mistake of reordering when I should have cleared off the shelf. And that can be tough to discern. You win some, you lose some.
And isn’t that the biggest determining factor for most things?
At the end of the day, you have to be able to pay your bills. It’s easy to get carried away buying stuff. I don’t know any small business owner who hasn’t had that moment when the feeling in the pit of their stomach makes them pray that their buying choices will pay off. It usually works itself out though.
At the end of the day, choosing the stuff to sell in my store is the best part of my job. And when the parcels arrive, it’s like Christmas! What’s not to love?