Inventory Management: A 360 Degree View
This month's Greeting Card Association blog is brought to you from Dan Collier, a self-described merchant “through and through,” who started his career as a buyer for Macy's and Federated Department stores. He started Atlanta-based daniel*richards with Richard Pfeiffer in 2001. Today, daniel*richards is one of the top gift and stationery manufacturers’ rep groups in the country, representing some of the finest and best brands in the industry. Dan opened a retail shop in Atlanta in 2013 with plans for a second store this fall.
As a retailer and a sales rep in the fine gift and stationery markets, I like to think I have a 360 degree view on many industry issues. Inventory management is an issue that can create challenges for any retailer. However, being prepared can go a long way toward preventing problems that can arise if inventory isn’t managed properly. Following are some of the steps we take to ensure smooth “sale”ing.
This year’s biggest inventory challenge for retailers was the January dock strike on the west coast, which delayed deliveries. Many retailers bought product in January – only to have it arrive last month – six months later. That strike was a reminder: always count on some product not arriving, arriving late or damaged. Prepare by over-buying. For my two retail stores, I go about 10% over my order on specific products.
Plan and Anticipate
Inventory management is a balancing act. I order product and wait two to three months for it to arrive, which also ties up my open-to-buy availability. As a sales rep, I over-buy and I often spread out my orders, writing back-up orders now that will ship in one to two months.
Selections and Decisions
One of the obvious challenges about inventory is that there are more choices than ever before. As a retailer, I really prefer to write orders with reps because I want to see and touch the card or product – and talk about it. Is it a good seller? Does the publisher or manufacturer have any merchandising tips? I’m a real “people person,” so real time, real person interaction is important to me.
Software helps us manage inventory whether I’m in the store or traveling. We use Shopkeep, which provides real-time data and allows us to run reports remotely. It’s easy to use.
Along with knowing the numbers, I need (and like) to stay in touch with what’s happening in store. I look at stock reports daily and when I’m in the store, I ask questions (of customers and staff) and sometimes I’ll just hang out. You can’t get the kind of data you get from observation on a spreadsheet.
On the wholesale side, the fourth quarter keeps getting later and later. When I started in the business 15 years ago, we sold Christmas/Holiday in March and April. Now, we book those products in July. Boutique retailers set up holiday products later in the season. Unlike many big box stores, where holiday