One question I am asked often by fellow artisans and handmade sellers is how to plan and prepare their inventory and shops for an impending busy season or holiday season. With each passing year, there's always a desire to think about how you can take on more each season--how you can increase your productivity and order capacity while minimizing the sleepless nights.
For me, the Fall (August through October) constitutes the busiest season of the year for The Lillie Pad. Each year I start preparing materials and pre-making stock in January in preparation for the Halloween costume shopping season. And with items that sell in 14 different sizes and 8 different colors in those sizes, projecting inventory needs and materials appears to be a daunting task!
But with a little bit of research it's not that terrible. It's easy with the power of spreadsheets! I promise! Let me fill you in.....
First I take a look at last year's sales. I will use my Etsy shop as an example. In Etsy I export a .csv report for all of the items I sold from July 1 through October 31 of the previous year. To do this in Shop Manager I go to Settings>Options>Download Data. In the Orders box I choose Order Items as the CSV type, and choose the corresponding month and year for the CSV. I run separate CSVs for every month July through October for that year.
Then it's time to take those CSVs and copy and paste all of the info into one spreadsheet. I apply filters to the spreadsheet and sort your sold items by name. (If you are not familiar with Filters in spreadsheets learn how to use them in Google Sheets or Excel and make them your new best friend). You may have to play around with it, especially if you have a lot of variations for your items, to make sure you can get each item and it's variations all sorted and grouped together next to one another so that you can take a count of each breakdown.
From that information I create a separate spreadsheet chart for my items broken down by size and color. I use my filtered combined .csv spreadsheet to count up how many I sold during my busy season for each breakdown. For example let's say I'm looking at a particular hat I make. I create a separate spreadsheet that has a column for each hat size I sell and a row for each hat color I make for that one hat. Then once my .csv is all filtered and sorted the way I need it to be I do a count of each hat size in each individual color and record it on my spreadsheet in the corresponding box. And that is how I create a total breakdown count of last year's sales for that particular item during my busy season.
Once that is complete it serves as a starting point for projecting sales for the upcoming year. I look over my size/color count breakdown sheet and look for patterns--my most popular sizes and color combinations. Then I decide if I want to prep inventory to match 50%, 75%, or 100% of those counts. Usually for my least common items (size/color combos) I decide not to prepare stock inventory in case I might not be able to move the product during the season. For example if I only sold 2 newborn sized hats in the color red over the entire season it's not worth it for me compared to the rest of the color combos to pre-make 2 NB Red hats for the upcoming season.
For some of my mid-range popular size/color combos I prepare 75% of last year's sales of those combinations. And for my most popular ones I sometimes plan to prepare 100% (maybe even 110% if I'm feeling gutsy) ahead of time.
I know this may sound daunting. But if I spend all year preparing those items, then when my busy season hits I can keep my turnaround times low and potentially attract and keep more customers. Then all I am doing during the busy season is focusing on customer service, shipping, making orders that are placed for the less popular sizes and color combos, and replenishing stock on the popular sizes as they get low.
Once I have the chart complete of how many items I need to pre-make before my busy season I start thinking about materials. All materials. Every single raw material or accessory that goes into production. January and February are the months where I prepare all of my item tags. I prep them with string and a size sticker on the back (with the size stickers corresponding to the numbers I intend to pre-make plus 25% to have extra on hand). I bag them and store them and pull them out as needed as I'm making inventory. I also have to place my yarn and other raw materials on order (I wait for a sale and usually order every other month). I use February and March to order and pre-cut all of the ribbons I anticipate having to use for the season. I buy printer paper and ink and highlighters, new tape measures, and all of the things I know it takes to process orders for my busy season.
By April it's time to order all of the shipping materials I will need. This includes mailers and boxes, labels for my Dymo printer, Thank You card inserts from the printing company, tissue paper, branded stickers, and more.
If the cost of buying so much material at one time so far away from when the income will roll in during your busy season, consider buying in waves. Or consider just aiming to have 15-25% of your projections pre-made. Just do what you financially are able to do in your shop.
The key to all of this is to think through every detail that goes into your making, selling, and fulfillment process and determining what you can do ahead of time (especially during the slowest part of the year for you). As much ahead of the game as you are able to be before your busy season begins, the more you will be able to take on during the busy times and hopefully increase your order capacity, and in turn, your profitability next season.
Wishing you all the best as you prepare for the next big wave of orders! If you would like to talk or brainstorm more in-depth about what this process looks like for your business let me know! I offer one-on-one coaching sessions here at The Lillie Pad anytime!