Christian Retailing

Retail Advice: Ask Lorraine Print Email
Written by Lorraine Valk   
Wednesday, 06 January 2016 02:25 PM America/New_York

Get answers to your questions on the business of retail

LorraineValk 2015Since introducing “Ask Lorraine” in the December-January issue of Christian Retailing, I’ve received great feedback and questions from my fellow retailers. In this issue, I tackle the topics of tradeshows, inspirational gift trends and pricing policy:

How important is it for me to attend CBA’s International Christian Retail Show (ICRS)?

It’s difficult to explain the value of attending events. Relationships, renewed vision, encouragement and education are somehow not easily quantitated. Through the years, I have never left an event thinking it was a waste of time; instead, I have left feeling rejuvenated and ready to reinvest in my ministry/mission. I have felt poorly for my industry friends who have been unable to join in because of financial difficulties, medical emergencies and the like, as they have missed what I consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Meeting authors, face-to-face meetings with vendors who don’t frequent my store and keeping abreast of the industry help my motivation in our challenged marketplace.

Make plans to attend ICRS in 2016 with the intention of reconnecting and being recharged. Cincinnati is close enough for many of us to drive!

How important is it to attend gift shows?  Which market should I shop?

Attending the Atlanta gift mart every January for the last nine years has really helped our product selection. Our store used to have a gift buyer, but because of financial considerations, we no longer have someone in that position. Fewer road representatives visit our store than in the past, narrowing our gift choices. Attending a larger market is overwhelming at first, but with practice it becomes much easier. My support goes first to the road reps who visit my store. Generally I do not buy products from those lines at market unless my rep is there and gets credit, and I try not to spend much time in the showrooms looking at products we already stock. The goal I have at market is to see new, different, intriguing lines or products I am not familiar with. There are several markets to choose from—and it might just be worth flying to go to a larger market. Consider rooming with an industry friend, using your frequent flier points for your airline ticket and strategically stopping by preselected showrooms during mealtime (Is my Dutch thriftiness showing?), and perhaps your attendance won’t break the bank. It pays to be decisive, have a budget, be organized and stagger shipments for better cash flow. Using an old-fashioned print calendar, or a digital one if you prefer, to track the dollar volume and which vendor is shipping which day is vital to avoid overstocking.

Which vendors make an effort to stay attuned to gift trends?

Many vendors keep their product lines updated with new themes and color pallets. The rub comes from trying an entirely different product either from existing vendors or new ones. One benefit of utilizing road reps is they know your store and which products sell well in your region. It takes bravery to try new soaps or lotions, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Naked Bee Lotion has become a staple in our store.

It’s a bonus when an existing vendor keeps up with the changing climate. Being able to try a few new things along with some tried-and-true lines is certainly less stressful than trying a new line from an unfamiliar company. For instance, P. Graham Dunn came out with a new line called “RED” last spring. RED coasters and cutting boards have done very well in our store and complement our other product lines. Having some items with scripture next to some without gives more versatility.

What mark-up formulas should I use to price products?

We try not to purchase gifts we cannot mark up at least 2.2 times. It’s even better at 2.5 times with 3 times as a target. Searching for items that can get 4 times really helps keep overall margin up. Shipping is often at least 10 percent. Shelf damage is common, and gifts have a shorter shelf life than books.

If in doubt, ask a staff member how much she would pay for a particular item. Shop the competition and see what similar items are going for. Know their prices before setting yours.

If items don’t start selling fairly quickly, move them. If they still don’t sell, put them on sale. The real-estate adage “location, location, location” and the saying “Everything will sell at the right price” hold true for gifts as well. (But I still have a few duds I can’t unload for nearly free; those can become charitable contributions.) Don’t feel guilty about marking up items. Your ministry cannot continue without a healthy business supporting it!