Stock answers

Amy Hicks is vice president/ director of operations/catalog for The Virginia Co., a Warrenton, VA-based catalog of locally made furniture, jewelry, and home accessories. Annual sales, less than $10 million; annual circulation, 250,000-500,000.

In the past, we have done only one mailing a year, at Christmastime. The criteria for our catalog products are based on the sales in our eight stores in Virginia. Therefore, all the items available in our catalog have been tried and tested, so they usually sell rather well by mail order. But if we had any extra stock after the holiday season, we would fan it out to our stores and sell it at sale prices.

In 1999, we’re planning two catalogs, including one in the spring. So a good portion of any merchandise left over from the holiday season we can sell at regular price through the spring catalog.

We are in a unique situation too, because we feature Virginia products. About 85% of our vendors are in-state, so if we run out of an item, we can get a new shipment within one or two days instead of waiting four weeks for it to arrive. As a result, we don’t have to order excessive quantities of merchandise, which helps us eliminate the risks involved with ordering large amounts.

Janice Bonifacino is the owner of Just Pasta! The Gourmet Shoppe, a Tyner, NC-based wholesaler/cataloger of pastas. Annual sales, less than $2 million; annual circulation, approximately 15,000.

We haven’t had a problem in the past because pastas usually sell out really quickly. Pasta also has a longer shelf life than some other foods, so we don’t need to get rid of it as soon as possible. This year, though, I thought I would put a special on our Internet site (www.justpasta.com) to get rid of whatever overstock we have, but we don’t normally have much of it.

We’re a small family business that began as a wholesale company four years ago and launched the consumer catalog three years ago. We’re growing slowly, and the catalog is becoming more popular all the time, but because of our size we’ve never really had to deal with many overstock problems. We’re lucky, too, because when we run out of an item, we can just reorder it by the case and not have to buy thousands. So we aren’t stuck with too much.

We recently relocated to Tyner, NC, from Mount Dora, FL. In Florida, there were several organizations and people that we could donate to if we had excess stock. So whenever we had overruns, we would give it to those organizations.

Carla Turner is the product manager for Vineyard Music, an Anaheim, CA-based catalog that sells Christian music and videos for children and adults. Annual sales, less than $10 million; annual circulation, 65,000.

We insert a Vineyard Music Group Closeout Specials flier in each order that we mail to customers. The flier offers what we call “dead” inventory, merchandise that we might not restock and that we make available at reduced prices.

We also make some of our overstock available through stores affiliated with the Christian Book Association (CBA), an organization of Christian-booksellers throughout the country. But most of the items we ship to CBA stores are sold at regular price, not discounted. So if people see an item that they like in the flier, they might not be able to go to their local Christian bookstore to buy it for that price.

Another thing we do is give away some of our dead inventory items at conferences, as well as to ministries, missionaries, and prisons.

One thing we usually hold onto for the next year is the Christmas music overstock, especially previously released albums that tend to sell well-they’re always going to move.

Robyn Roberts is president of Blue River Trading Co., a Fort Lauderdale, FL-based catalog of southwestern apparel and furnishings. Annual sales, less than $10 million; annual circulation, more than 3 million.

Overstock is a problem. You can’t win 100% across the board in this business, but we deal with the problem as best we can. In my opinion, the big- ger your business becomes, the bigger the problems you encounter.

We have a store in Fort Lauderdale through which we funnel overstock at sale prices. In the past, we’ve enclosed a brochure of discounted overstock with shipped orders, but the response was not overwhelming. In fact, I was pretty disappointed. So since it wasn’t very successful, we probably won’t do that again.

I try to keep our inventories really tight, especially in the store. I also keep a tight inventory of holiday merchandise. This is our fourth Christmas with the catalog, so we’re still trying out different things. We usually sell some holiday overstock through the store at about 50% off. But I’ve found that a lot of Christmas items can be wrapped up and held for the next season.

Vickie Limparis is the owner of Doggie Diamonds, a Payson, AZ-based catalog that sells home, gift, and clothing items decorated with the images of 110 dog breeds. Annual sales, less than $10 million; annual circulation, 14,000.

Everything we sell, from pillows and quilts to matted prints, is custom- made, so we don’t order a bunch of stock from a manufacturer, and overstock isn’t really a problem.

In the event of a canceled order, we can usually wait until someone else orders the same item and then ship it to them. Our biggest months for business are around Christmas and January, before the spring dog shows. But since our customers see the artwork before they place their order, they know what they are getting. So we don’t have too many canceled orders.

Is overstock a problem, especially after the holidays? If so, how do you get rid of it?

We expected to hear at least a few tales of woe from the small catalogers we questioned, but it turns out that many of them take precautions to minimize overstock problems. While some do end up filtering their overstock through stores or additional catalogs, their philosophy seems to be one of keeping stock counts low to begin with. One cataloger cites the ability to order small quantities from her vendors as the reason she rarely experiences a problem. And two other catalogers note that when it comes to holiday merchandise, stock can usually be remarketed the next year.

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