Friday, May 28, 2010

Wholesale: It's not as scary as you think


When artists start out in wholesale most are afraid that they’ll suddenly get overwhelmed with orders and won’t be able to fill them all. This is the concern I hear most often from beginner friends and students. Don't worry! Just take a deep breath and relax. I'm about to tell you about a simple tool that will ease your worries and help you manage your schedule. It's called a production calendar. Your production calendar is the key to preventing overload, show panic, and most importantly late orders.
To create your production calendar you'll first need to figure out how much you can comfortably produce in one week, taking into consideration how many hours you want to work as well as the time you need to keep up with all the other aspects of your business. How many hours do you realistically have to devote to production? How much time do you need to do bookkeeping, pack orders, make phone calls, do paperwork, update your website, etc, etc? You may want to take a month to track how much work you can comfortably produce in that time and then average it out.
You can calculate your weekly quota by dollar amount, by number of pieces or number of orders. Then, using that weekly production goal you can pretty easily figure out what you can ship each week and each day. Some people designate only certain days of the week for shipping, some allow a certain amount of time each day to get orders shipped. This is totally up to you.

Okay, now you have something concrete to work with! Here's the next step:
When you go to a show, bring your production calendar marked with all the orders you already have scheduled as well as any days you’ll be closed, out of town at a show or unable to ship for any reason. As you take each order you'll ask for the date the buyer needs it, and then write the name of the store on the day it’s scheduled to ship. When you reach your limit for that day, consider it closed. If another buyer asks for that ship date simply explain that it's full and show them the calendar and the dates you have available. Together you'll find another time and schedule it in. Handmade buyers are used to this, and are happy to work with you. This is how you manage your work load.
Above you'll see one of my old production calendars. I can comfortably ship 6 -10 orders a day. But when I'm at a show once any given calendar day has 4-5 orders on it I consider it full in order to allow openings for reorders that come in from my regular customers. This way I can insure that I will never be overloaded.

Production is easy to manage if you are doing online sales. You are not going to be slammed with orders the first week you sell on a wholesale site. It just doesn't happen that way. But at a show they fill up quickly because you are writing a lot of orders in just a few days. Don’t worry if your production calendar fills up. That's a good thing! It’s perfectly acceptable to tell a buyer your calendar is full and that the first open date is weeks or even months away. Some artists schedule production 6 months or more ahead of time. You can offer to write a back up order and/or put the store on a waiting list and call them if you get cancellations or have some time open up.
One word of warning: If you schedule an order for a certain date, ship it on that date. If something comes up and you get behind, don't worry, it happens to all of us now and then. But please, don't delay the order hoping your buyer won't notice. Call them, explain and negotiate a new ship date. You've made an agreement and you're a professional. Your buyer depends on you to be good to your word and will appreciate the call. I promise.
A full calendar shouldn't scare you if you've planned it well, and it won't scare your buyers away, either. It's a good thing to have your work be in high demand, it only makes it that much more desirable. When you have a waiting list it's a sign of success. Don't forget that most people who appreciate what you do understand that you make each piece by hand. In fact this is one of the reasons they love it. They know you are not a factory! 
So breathe easy, you are in control of how many orders you take and how much work you do each week. You'll come to love seeing a full calendar - it means you've got work to do and your bills are paid.

7 comments:

Katherine said...

Pam,

Thanks so much for encouraging us to use a calendar to be able to visualize orders and such. This has helped me tremendously.

Pam Corwin, Business of Crafts said...

You're welcome, Katherine. I love your resin pendants!

Manya Vee said...

Way to go! Hit that nail on the head immediately about the fear of getting too many orders when moving into wholesale. That's the most common comment I get as well in my own classes. Using the calendar like that is just the ticket!

bellapuzzles.com said...

Pam,

I'm a first time visitor and this post has me hooked on your blog.

One question: do you build into your schedule any "unforeseen emergency" time? (e.g. jury duty, illness) If so, how much per month?

Pam Corwin, Business of Crafts said...

Lara -

First of all I just came back from visiting your website and Etsy Store. LOVE your puzzles! They are just beautiful. I had prototype puzzles made of my artwork not that long ago - this exact same type of thing. I have them right here on my worktable and LOve them! I just couldn't get the prices down to where I wanted them for wholesale but I love having them as my own special treasures. Bravo to you, yours are fabulous. I am just crazy about this detailed cut out method.

I do prepare for unexpected time off and emergencies. I actually have a stockroom always fully stocked. At all times I have about 1500 magnets (10-24 of each deign), 1000 clocks (8-15 per design depending on the design) and 200 of each bookmark all ready to ship. (I also have 8000 cards from my last printing) When I ship, I am pulling the orders from those shelves and bins. Then each week I make more to refill what I shipped. With 300 accounts I can't make each order as it comes in, and having this amount keeps me pretty safe - even if I had to take 2-3 weeks off I'd be okay. (And that happened last year. Boy was I glad I do this when my Mom was in the hospital for several months last year and I had to fly back and forth to the east coast every other week.)

Of course, for smaller businesses you wouldn't need anywhere near those amounts. So just get a little ahead. You know about what you ship each week, and of course this will change as your business grows and with the seasons. Have a week's worth of each item ready at all times if you can and try to never let your shelves or bins get lower than that given amount. You can't always have everything, sometimes I get an order for 24 of just one item so I run out, in which case I just tell other people I'm out or can backorder it and ship as soon as they are ready.

Hope this helps and I'm so glad you like the blog!

Pam Corwin, Business of Crafts said...

Lara -

First of all I just came back from visiting your website and Etsy Store. LOVE your puzzles! They are just beautiful. I had prototype puzzles made of my artwork not that long ago - this exact same type of thing. I just couldn't get the prices down to where I wanted them for wholesale but I love having them as my own special treasures. Bravo to you, yours are fabulous.

I do prepare for emergencies. I actually have a stockroom always fully stocked. At all times I have about 1500 magnets (10-24 of each design), 1000 clocks (8-15 per design depending on the design) and 200 of each bookmark all ready to ship. When I ship, I am pulling the orders from those shelves and bins. Then each week I make more to refill what I shipped. With 300 accounts I can't make each order as it comes in, and this amount keeps me safe - even if I had to take 2-3 weeks off I'd be okay. (And that happened last year. Boy was I glad I do this when my Mom was in the hospital for several months last year and I had to fly back and forth to the east coast every other week.)

Of course, for smaller businesses you wouldn't need anywhere near those amounts. So just get a little ahead. You know about what you ship each week, and of course this will change as your business grows and with the seasons. Have a week's worth of each item ready at all times if you can and try to never let your shelves or bins get lower than that given amount. You can't always have everything, sometimes I get an order for 24 of just one item so I run out, in which case I just tell other people I'm out or can backorder it and ship as soon as they are ready.

Hope this helps and I'm so glad you like the blog!

CreativewithClay: Charan Sachar said...

Like always, great tips. As soon as I moved to doing wholesale, I put up a calendar for keeping track of things. I write up an entire order on a large post-it notepad and stick it on the day it is due.
I check the items in that list as they get done or if they are already ready. This way at one glance I can see what items need priority and not get distracted.