Supply and demand – is it obsolescence or is it just me?

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I had a rather lovely email yesterday from a customer and follower of my blog, someone who herself is currently pondering whether or not to start a business.

I remember what an exciting time it was when I opened my first shop – arrogantly called Guapa (Spanish for atttractive, lovely, noble).

And therein lay problem number one perhaps. Was Preston linguistically geared up for a foreign shop name? Was it a turn-off from the outset? Was it patronising? Was it condescending? Did it shout – only come in here if you know what guapa means? I don’t know, but you wonder. I lasted four years and then had to close.

The naivety of youth. I called it guapa because I love Spain, all things Spanish and calling my shop guapa made me feel less like I was living in the frozen wastelands of the north and more like I’d opened a boutique in Marbella’s Orange Square. While I specialised in contemporary ceramics back then, it wasn’t a Spanish pot shop, which might have been another reason for its downfall..ah well ya gotta laugh!

I digress.

In replying to my customer’s email I felt like I should be giving advice, pointing out the pitfalls…and then I felt – what if she will be my direct competition? Isn’t self employment hard enough without giving away trade secrets that have taken an age to acquire? Ah the paranoic ramblings of the self employed…protect your patch at all costs!

But I think no, I’m sure I can impart some worthy material without giving away too much and I genuinely do feel like I have knowledge worth imparting. I’d rather not see another person on the dole if I can help it.

OK so my issue is offloading stock which I can’t sell. I employ all the same rules to that stock which sells at a more plodding rate to the stuff which flies out, yet it doesn’t go with the same speed and as such, I would rather swap it, for obvious reasons, for items which I know to sell faster.

But what to do?

As a maker, a manufacturer, a wholesaler whose brand is known, respected and has taken a lot of dedication and research to create, the last thing you want is to see your product on eBay. You don’t want your goods in what you see as an online car boot sale.

That’s fine until those goods don’t sell at a fast enough rate to suit your customer. Their option is to put it in their sale. But an online sale is not the same as sticking a sign in your shop window on the High Street – EVERYTHING MUST GO style. People do not come to my website and browse, make impulse purchases, cruise round the sale departments and wait for the parcels to arrive.

No, they do a google search, find what they want, buy it and leave.

So I’m left with wanting to respect the wishes of my supplier but not put myself in a position where I’m in effect lumbered with stock. The problem is, I don’t sell fashion, there is no season. So if I can’t sell an item it’s not because it’s out of fashion. The same item I know to be flying off other peoples’ shelves. So I’m in a dilemma. Do I lose credibility by selling something cheap? Do I lose credibility by selling off on eBay? Will my suppliers then refuse me future stock on the grounds of not adhering to their RRP?

It’s a real bummer. I am in half a mind to say – look, here’s the situation. I know your stuff sells, when I had a physical shop I couldn’t stock enough of it but the harsh reality is it ain’t going online so I can do one of two things:

  1. Put it on eBay at half the wholesale price, possibly therefore devaluing your product as you might see it
  2. or, you buy it back off me so you don’t get compromised at all

I am fascinated to know what the answer would be but have never had the courage to ask for fear of losing face. I honestly feel that any maker would NOT want to buy their stock back, so with all the greatest will in the world, I feel I have no other choice than to sell on eBay.

Part of the problem is the size of minimum orders required by some suppliers. I have one supplier whose minimum order size is £95.00 with free delivery. At the other end of the scale I have a supplier whose minimum order is £3,000.00…and delivery is on top unless you place an order for £5,000.00.

Now that’s a lot of stock when you consider we’re talking about products which retail for under £10.00. The sad and ironic truth is that if their minimum order size was £1,000 I’d doubtless order 5 times a year anyway but to buy one line in such huge numbers over any other line I stock, takes a lot of thought….especially when you consider that might equate to 30 other suppliers!

So I’d say to anyone going into retail as an online only small business to sort the stock levels out from day one and not fall into my trap!

Good luck my fellow would-be retailers!

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2 Responses to “Supply and demand – is it obsolescence or is it just me?”

  1. Colin Edwards Says:

    Hello Sally. I’ve just found your website and blog. Once upon a time my wife and I had a small shop in Broadstairs and, before that an hotel in Ramsgate … so we can really identify with your adventures with suppliers and trade show visits etc. We had fun at the time but it is quite a relief to have retired. Anyway, thought you’d like to know that what you do is appreciated and you may soon expect an order for a set of three Jordi Labanda A5 Miquelrius sketchbooks … give me until next week tho, ‘cos I use a prepay creditcard these days, and it needs topping up … probably on Tuesday. Thanks and best wishes, Colin

  2. sallyedmundson Says:

    HI Colin, It’s so nice of you to take the time to write and commiserate. You’re right though, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions running your own business, and most of the time it’s fabulous, it’s when you realise you’re not one of the big boys with big boy clout that you suddenly feel like such a small fish! Plus having had a high street shop and now being online only is a massively difference. On the plus side I love having customers all over the world shopping all day round, on the negative side, it seems the customers are more clued up that my suppliers! Great to hear from you. Kind regards Sally

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