Warning: Stocking the shelves of your new store may require bottomless pots of coffee, several two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew and plenty of good-natured loved ones at your disposal (and perhaps missing a few hours of prime-time TV). Choosing the items that will grace those bare shelves will take time and careful guesstimation on your part. For what you put in your store will either make or break it (or break you--whichever comes first).
Scott Fiore, 31, equipped his Littleton, Colorado, natural pharmacy, The Herbal Remedy, with only the finest, most knowledgeable employees. To round off his high-service retail concept, his next step was finding a variety of quality products that would set him apart from big-name chain competitors.
"It really helped to know Ron [Stock, a college buddy who owns a similar natural pharmacy in Dover, New Hampshire]," says Fiore. "I looked at his inventory during my week-plus visit and decided which lines I definitely needed to carry, which would be nice to have and which I didn't want to carry." He did this by printing out page after page of inventory data from Stock's system to see what products had and hadn't sold over a year. He also scanned the shelves of Denver-area vitamin stores and natural food markets. After assessing his research, Fiore decided his key to success would be to offer an extensive selection (because everyone wants 15 varieties of echinacea to choose from), while not carrying the typically lower-end brands easily found at chain supermarkets.
If you're wondering when to start thinking about the what, where and how of the inventory process, Fiore's got one word for you: "Instantly." The easiest way to begin your search for manufacturers and/or distributors is to snatch every industry-related periodical from your local bookseller's newsstand, sit in one of their comfy chairs, and start taking down the toll-free numbers from product ads in the back--though libraries are more likely to appreciate your research efforts. Fiore obtained a list of vendors from Stock, but he also requested wholesale catalogs and product literature from manufacturers listed in magazines.
Once you decide which products to carry, don't assume ordering will be a piece of cake. "I was led to believe I'd be able to get around 50 percent of my stuff from one distributor, but I think the number's more like 40 percent," says Fiore. "The rest of it is ordered direct from manufacturers." At press time, he was ordering from about 40 different sources around the nation. Thank goodness for technology.
The only reason Fiore knows The Herbal Remedy stocks 3,800 products and can keep track of his numerous suppliers is because of Millennium Software LLC's inventory program, Atrex. "Don't set up a manual [inventory] system in this day and age because it's just going to hurt you," stresses Fiore. "When it comes to filing for taxes, I print up a list, and it's a done deal. Doing it manually [would be] an auditing nightmare." Do an Internet search for "direct point-of-sale programs," and you'll find bountiful software options to suit your needs. The programs Fiore purchased cost less than $150 each.
The big fun comes afterward. "Make no bones about it," says Fiore, who enlisted the help of his partner, his wife, and his partner's wife, "it took us weeks to get all this inventory into the system." About three full-time, all-hours-of-the-night weeks, actually.
Sure, there were issues, like not knowing how the products would fit on the shelves or which sections would grow based on consumer demand. But Fiore's projections for how much inventory he needed to open his doors ($50,000) were right on target. His store boasts more than 300 book titles; herbal teas; homeopathy, aromatherapy, sports nutrition and natural pet products; and a small natural foods section. He even has a clipboard where customers can request products. In most cases, he'll get them whatever they need (even if it complicates his life a little).
So have no fear: With a little time, energy and tech help, you'll be able to supply upon demand.
The Herbal Remedy, (303) 795-8600, http://www.theherbalremedy.com