'Tis The Season

What's In Store?

Maintaining adequate inventory can be tricky for seasonal entrepreneurs. Your selling period is short, and you need enough stock on hand to fill orders--but not so much that items go unsold. Before buying a franchise or business opportunity, ask what kind of assistance the company provides in selecting inventory, and make sure orders can be filled rapidly.

"Anytime you're in retail, [inventory] is a guess," says Steven Fink, who has operated a seasonal Swiss Colony storefront, selling gift packages of sweets, cheese and beef, since 1993. "It's an educated guess, but it's a guess." The Spring Valley, California, entrepreneur bases his initial shipping order on his previous season's sales. His third year in business, though, sales boomed--and in a last-minute air-freight shipment, Fink ordered a few hundred more gift packages than he needed. He kept his stores open past Christmas to sell them off and donated the remainder to charity.

With sales increasing 15 percent each year (he sold more than 1,500 gift packs last season), Fink is already planning his 1998 locations. He initially discovered Swiss Colony's seasonal opportunity through a newspaper ad. He liked the product, and the company's November/December selling season corresponded with the slow season of the three furniture stores he owns. Last year, Fink, his wife, Myrna, and eight employees ran two stores.

Monroe, Wisconsin-based Swiss Colony opened its first retail outlet in 1962, and its first seasonal franchise opened in 1986. "Rents in regional malls got so high, we knew we couldn't continue on a year-round basis," explains Donna Bartley, the company's national franchise manager. Because 75 percent of its sales occur in November and December, Swiss Colony began focusing on seasonal opportunities. Today, 32 seasonal franchisees sell the company's products from 100 kiosks and storefronts.

Swiss Colony's franchise fee is $500 per location per year. Franchisees must also have working capital equivalent to 60 percent of the store's projected sales. (For example, $60,000 in projected sales would require $36,000 in working capital.) Before franchisees sign on, Swiss Colony finds locations for them and puts together a financial game plan. It also helps with lease negotiations, design and layout, inventory selection, labor scheduling and training. Franchisees' gross sales range from $15,000 to $160,000 per store per season, depending on location and size of the store.

If you're looking for a way to test the waters of entrepreneurship, a seasonal franchise or business opportunity could be just what you're looking for. With opportunities as varied as the customers hurrying through a busy mall, there's sure to be one that fits your needs.

Next month, we'll tell you how to start your own independent kiosk or cart business.

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This article was originally published in the July 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 'Tis The Season.

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