What? Where? When? How much?
There are seventeen different posts I could write about inventory alone (How do I manage inventory now? How do I deal with sold out products? How much inventory do I keep on hand? How do I insure my inventory? How do I know how much to buy of what?...) BUT for the sake of this post, I'm going to focus on what I get asked about the most, which is how I approached inventory when I was first starting Teak & Twine and:
- I didn't want to spend too much money
- I was working with a packaging designer, but we hadn't nailed down the final design yet
- I wasn't totally sure which products my customers would love
I'm also going to talk separately about boxes and products- because they are each a big nut to crack with different approaches. If you're focusing specifically on gift boxes to start, that first order of boxes is one of your biggest initial investments (we're talking thousands..!) By "first order of boxes" I mean- "that first time you place a large order of boxes where you're actually trying to order enough to get a price break, and the boxes themselves are custom designed, branded, and sized just for you." Whew! I do NOT recommend doing this at the very beginning of your gifting journey! There's a lot of tweaking (nailing down product- market fit if you want to get all business-school-y about it) that goes on in those first few months, and the last thing you want to do is realize that your customers would actually prefer a black box over a pale blush box... and you just spent $5k to fill your garage with black boxes!! yikes!!
When I was trying to remember my actual timeline for when we got our first boxes, I actually ended up wildly overestimating how fast the process was- so I dug up the real timeline here:
How much to spend when you don't know what to buy
When it came to ordering inventory, I started by heading to shops everywhere I traveled and looking for beautiful products. Searching for packaging inspiration on Pinterest and google images was another way I found beautiful products to start! If I thought I liked a product, I would buy just one of it at retail and use it to design gifts that I would then post on Instagram. If I was getting a lot of emails and orders of a particular gift, then I would move forward with ordering a full-on wholesale opening order! Basically, I was looking for the following clues:
- This is a product that my customers are loving
- There are a lot of different designs I can use for this product
- My ideal customer likes this product
- This product is a good fit for my brand in terms of pricing/ size/ shape/ look
I knew that I wanted to launch my website with 9-12 gift designs, so I used May 2015 - Jan 2016 to refine these designs and make them as perfect as I could. Every time I created a one-off gift design during that time, I was using it to refine the designs I wanted to launch with. When placing orders (there's enough to talk about in placing orders for another entire post!) I would order as little as possible, ask for a smaller opening order if I wasn't yet 100% about the product (I didn't always get it!) and try to order a few different products from the same company so that I could experiment with different things with just one order.
What a mess!! :) For weeks, I left the 9-12 gifts that I wanted to launch with on the floor, and I would look at them every day individually and as a group and asked myself questions: Do these gifts fit a variety of price points and styles? Are all of them as beautiful as I can make them? Is there another product I need to order to fit a certain space? There was a lot of product overlap, which helped cut down on costs when placing wholesale orders. For example, when I first ordered Little Market candles, I ordered Gardenia scented candles for our first-ever Spa Day gift, and Peony scented candles for our New Home gift (called The Hearth!) and Clementine candles for a gift that became The Back Porch and sold really well in Summer 2016!
Don't worry about ordering too little inventory in the beginning and running out! First of all, congratulations!!! It's the BEST problem in the world and much less common than the problem of having a bunch of inventory sitting on your shelves, wasting away! Secondly, most customers I've talked to are happy to accept a similar swap ("we are currently out of pink clay soap, but we do have ___ soap which we could use and it would still look beautiful!") Plus, having some gifts sold out might even help create a sense of demand and urgency on your website. To this day, we still offer gifts that are Limited Edition or even One of a Kind! Oh, and of COURSE I made of ton of mistakes! I quickly realized that I hated those little candles you see in this photo and ended up just burning them around my house- and there's a crate of Beef Jerky on one of those shelves that my husband ended up eating six months later (bonus- he loved it :)