Inventory Management: Select the Right Gear to Stay Competitive
Consumers have high demands and unlimited shopping opportunities, so choosing the correct inventory is essential to success.
How can a small pro shop or specialty retailer compete with online retail giants that have massive inventories?
First, don’t try to be something you are not. While large online retailers can carry “everything,” it would be disastrous for most retailers to attempt the same. While online retailers may do an admirable job of marketing, they can’t really compete with hands-on service that you can provide, so take advantage of that.
Impeccable service is vital to the success of smaller shops, but your inventory also is a key component. If you offer the best service in the world but don’t have the products that your customers are looking for, you won’t be successful.
Since you can’t stock everything, selective buying is vital for the smaller shop. Having the right merchandise will ensure that your customers can get what they need, and you can provide it with friendly, helpful service that your online competition cannot provide.
A key component to smart buying is having a plan. Know how many SKUs you need (and can afford) to carry to meet your sales goals. Without a plan, it is easy to buy too much. Try not to get caught up in sales promotions from your vendors. While quantity discounts are appealing, make sure the deal will work with your plan. Remember, you are the customer here and you make the final decision of what you need and what will work best for you.
Be methodical in your buying and know your customers. With a limited inventory, knowing your customer is a crucial component to making sales and not having dead inventory hanging on the wall.
A large part of knowing your customers is having a method to track sales, such as a good point of sale program that allows you to easily see what is selling and what is not. Knowledge will help you make better buying decisions. If you find you’re selling more oversize racquets, then you’ll want to skew your inventory in that direction. What grip sizes are your best sellers? Make sure your buying reflects that knowledge.
This applies across the board to all departments. In apparel, it is vital to know what sizes and silhouettes are your best sellers. Knowing what styles, sizes and price points are your best sellers will make your apparel and shoe inventories turn faster and ensure that your customers are finding exactly what they need.
Pay attention to trends and to what your customers are seeking. If your customers are asking for a certain item or brand that you don’t carry, you may want to consider adding it your inventory — but be cautious. Remember, you can’t carry everything, so make sure there is adequate demand and that it fits into your plan before jumping in.
Also look for trends on the court. Are you seeing a certain brand that you don’t carry or an item that seems to be popular? If so, they are buying it somewhere, so you probably should be stocking it.
Your inventory selection should always be evolving. Don’t get stuck in the rut of selling the same things the same ways. There are constant innovations in the products you sell, and your customers are changing too. So keep up to keep your business relevant and successful.
Don’t Compound Mistakes
No matter how meticulous you plan and how careful you buy, you will make mistakes. An item that you thought was a sure winner is still hanging on the wall. Don’t compound the mistake by just watching it hang there. Why is it not selling? Does it need marketing? It may be as simple as moving it to a different location in the store to bring more attention to it, or having your staff explain the benefits.
It is inevitable that you will have something that just does not sell regardless of your best efforts. In those cases get rid of it. Even if you have to sell it for less than you paid or donate it to charity, don’t allow it to hang there gathering dust. Move on and learn from it.
With a good buying plan and inventory management, you can compete with anyone while providing your customers with the best customer service they could ask for and in doing so you will ensure that your business continues to grow.
Tips to Keep Your Gear Moving
- Make sure you have a selection of frames for all player types, but skew the selection to fit your customer base.
- Stock the grip sizes of the models to fit the likely customers. Don’t buy larger sizes for racquets that you know will primarily be bought by women.
- Make sure you have a good selection of all types and gauges to fit different playing styles.
- Try new strings as they are introduced and add them to the inventory if they fill a need.
- Don’t hold onto an “old faithful” once sales have declined significantly. Replace it with something new and relevant.
- Schedule deliveries so that you consistently have new merchandise coming in.
- Have a mark-down schedule to start discounting items as the group gets picked over or has been on the floor for a while.
- Continue marking down until it moves or donate it and make room for merchandise that will make a return on the investment.
- Make sure you have a good selection of styles and price points.
- Keep sizes in stock for top sellers so that you don’t miss sales.
- Make frequent reorders to ensure that size runs are adequate and special orders are prompt.
See all articles by Bob Patterson
About the Author
Bob Patterson , the founder of the RacquetMAXX customization service, is a Master Racquet Technician with more than 20 years of experience. He was RSI's Stringer of the Year in 2005. He is Executive Director for the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association.
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