Acquiring inventory for your perfume store

Last week I wrote the first in a series of articles about opening your own perfume store. I promised to write about acquiring inventory this week. One way to do it is to create your own fragrance products – perfumes, colognes, soaps, candles, incense, etc. – I've written about creating your own perfume here and here and about developing a wholesale fragrance business here. But suppose you just want to sell fragranced products in your store. How do you go about finding products for your store? You need to find products people will buy and you have to obtain them at the "right" price. If your store is small and your business is new it can surprise you to discover that established brands won't sell to you, nor will they allow their distributors sell to you. What do you do now?

Obtaining inventory for a small perfume store is an art.

While you may not be able to obtain the famous stuff, you should note that your competitors can't get it either, yet they are obtaining inventory and making sales. Before we look at what your competitors are doing, a word of warning.

When you are setting up your new store (or folding table) and are in need of inventory, there are easily found sources that are happy to sell you all the off-brand perfume you want at their non-negotiable "list" prices. They will encourage you by telling you how to set your retail price and, from that price, show you what a great markup you will have, a "standard" markup they may call it, but beware. In the first place, their perfume might not sell in your store at the retail price they suggest to you. Then, if you are a novice, you might not realize the markup they promise is really inadequate. And, when you find you can't sell their fragrances for the retail prices they suggest, when you have to slash your prices to make sales, you are also cutting your markups. Now what you get from a sale will be far less that what you anticipated. This issue is discussed in depth in my book, Creating Your Own Perfume With A 1700 Percent Markup! Now it's time to look at your successful competitors and study what they are doing.

You can learn a lot about what your customers will like and buy by studying your competitors. Whether your competitors are online or in local shops, see what they are offering and promoting with advertising or social media week after week. These will be the items that are selling and these will be the items you will want to acquire for your store. If it sells for them, it will sell for you. The question now is how to obtain the items your competitors are selling successfully and how to get those items at the same or a similar price.

In most cases the same wholesalers and distributors who are selling to your competitors will also sell to you. In most cases it is unlikely your competitors are buying enough of any one item to get an exclusive on it. So your first step is to track down the vendors that are selling to your competitors.

How do you track down these vendors? Sometimes it is as simple as asking a competitor where they get their merchandise. It may sound unlikely but it happens more often than you might imagine, particularly when there is a major source that "everybody" (but you!) knows about and they are confident that, if they don't share the information with you, you will soon enough discover it on your own.

If this strategy fails, a standard strategy is to buy a popular item from a competitor – provided it is packaged and labeled – and then look to the packaging for clues as to its source and the source's address. Even a few initials on a box or bottle combined with a Google search can often turn up the original source. A wily competitor will obscure this information on the items they sell but most of your competitors will be too lazy or too unaware to do this.

The issue now will be price. You want to be sure the vendor is giving you the same price your competitors are getting. Here you may have to do some negotiating, to convince the vendor that in time you are likely to become a very good customer, so the vendor should treat you well now. And it doesn't hurt to ask what you would have to do to get lower prices.

Aside from supplying your current needs, vendors can be useful because they are aware of trends and what might become a hot item tomorrow. It helps to cultivate a good relationship with vendors. Pay what you agreed to pay and pay on time. Don't try to get tricky with payments to save a few dollars now. This could cost you some needed good will later.

A starting point for stocking your store is to offer the same or similar merchandise as your competitors are selling. This won't make you rich but it will help you start to generate a cash flow.

Go for variety

As you don't yet know what your customers want (since you haven't yet opened your store!) get some variety in your offerings -- don't have it all the same. Why? Because by having a variety of scented products, for example, you will get a sense of what will sell profitably and what won't sell. In going for variety keep your ordering for each item minimal. If it sells profitably, you can get more . If it doesn't sell, you haven't lost much. Information is your best friend and, by being able to see what people select out of a range of products – especially a variety of perfumes and scented products – you'll become a more effective buyer going forward.

Copying your competitors is a starting point. Do it carefully and thoughtfully and you should be able to get your business started. Hard work will keep your shop going but, if you want to make more than just a living, you should look into some "advanced" merchandise acquisition strategies. I'll write about them next week.

Now available: "Creating your own perfume from dropper bottles: Methods, mechanics, and mathematics"

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Philip Goutell
Lightyears, Inc.