A special coverage from Coalition of Visionary Resources COVR in partnership
with Kim Perkins
Q: How do I use last year’s holiday sales to gauge my restock for 2019?
A: Having a Point of Sale (POS) system on your computer makes planning for next year’s holiday sales easier, but tracking inventory manually and visually are also perfectly good ways to determine inventory needs if you keep good records.
With a POS system, you can generate multiple reports to determine your holiday merchandise needs for the upcoming year. Suggested reports to generate are: 1) a full year-end inventory showing how many of each item are still on hand, and what has sold out that shows zero on hand, 2) a report that shows all zero on-hand merchandise and the last sold date (So you can see when it sold out. Merchandise that sold out a week or more before Christmas can indicate lost sales), and also an inventory by department or area for your best-selling merchandise (again to get more specific information about sales that might have been lost when popular products sell out early). If you don’t have a POS system, it works best if you have done a visual walkthrough of your store on December 1, 15, 24 and 31. Note what merchandise you are out of and also what merchandise you have plenty of that may not have sold as anticipated. Make notes so you have this information when you get ready to place your holiday orders in a few months. It’s amazing what you may forget without having it written down to refer to.
Another method is to track your inventory needs with vendor invoices. This is far more time consuming, but it still works well. To do this, make a copy of your holiday vendor invoices. You will make notes on these and then file them for use later in the year. Use each invoice as a “list” of what you received and in what quantity. Determine which merchandise you still have a lot of in stock that didn’t sell as well as you have hoped, and note the styles that sold out. This will help you determine where not to invest holiday dollars next year and where to increase quantities to avoid lost sales revenue. File your invoices and notes so you can access this vital info when holiday ordering time comes around again.
While no method of predicting next year’s sales inventory needs is foolproof, the more information you have and the more detailed notes you have recorded, the easier it will be to feel confident when you start thinking about holiday orders in a few short months.
Q: Should I carry insurance for my business that covers contract psychic readings that occur in my store?
A: Your best bet is to confer with your insurance agent concerning your store liability for contract workers. Over the 20-plus years we had independent contractors who provided psychic readings at our store, we switched insurance companies a few times and each one had a slightly different opinion and approach to the matter.
Most of the time, we carried the usual retail store insurance policy that covered general liability as well as inventory and furniture and fixtures. In addition, we carried what is known as an “umbrella” policy. This is over-arching coverage that will protect you beyond the limits of your usual policy. It’s sort of a catch-all that kicks in when you have reached the liability limits of your current policy. Although we never had to use it, we found that this type of additional coverage provided good peace of mind for a very affordable price (a few hundred dollars a year for over a million dollars of extra coverage). Another avenue is to require all contractors to carry their own liability insurance coverage. While doable, we found that contractors were reluctant to invest in their own insurance (and for some it was cost prohibitive to purchase prior to offering reading services). It is also another thing to keep track of and ensure that their policies are up-to-date. So, for us, the umbrella policy was the answer.
Q: Is a social media policy for my employees which restricts their posting about their job at my business allowed? Is it similar to a non-compete where an employee voluntarily gives up something as a condition of employment?
A: Because you are venturing into undefined and evolving legal territory, I would definitely suggest that you have any policy you create approved by an attorney who is up-to-date on current employment law. The laws governing employer social media policies are still be established and tend to be unclear. That said, in general, you cannot restrict an employee from posting about their job on social media.
Having such a policy may seem reasonable since you are only trying to protect your investment and your business’ good name, but, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employer’s attempts to control or limit what employees post on social media websites and their personal accounts can often violate an employee’s right to engage in “protected” activity.
As I said, there are gray areas. Employees can’t claim they have a right to free speech because the Constitution doesn’t apply to private employers, but they do have a legal right to be able to talk among themselves about working condition, whether they are part of a union or privately employed.
The best way to avoid any conflict is to create an atmosphere where employees feel safe to express any grievances or concerns before they feel the need to post them on social media. If employees feel heard, and their complaints generate a swift and honest response, they are far less likely to post derogatory remarks online. While you cannot limit what employees say to each other or what they post on Facebook or Twitter, you can request that they come to you first and give you a chance to review their concerns before they share it with others, in person or online. For more detailed information about employer and employee rights, visit the National Labor Relations Board website.
Q: How can I freshen the look of my store to look more up to date and modern even while budget constrained?
A: The first step is to take a walk around your store from the perspective of a brand new customer. With these “new eyes,” make a list of what you see that needs to be improved. What stands out? What looks worn or dated? What looks cluttered and/or needs to be cleaned or freshened in some way?
If you are not sure where to get ideas for updating, try magazines, TV shows and don’t forget to visit major retailers and look around. They spend a lot of money to make their stores fresh and new and appealing to the current shopper.
Here are a few things that you can do on a budget that can make a huge difference to the overall look of your store:
Did you see shop-worn areas on your walk through?
Things that are dirty or dingy? Maybe your front door, or the door to your back room need to be cleaned or painted. Or hardware needs to be replaced. It’s the little details that contribute so much to the over-all store.
A fresh coat of paint, or a new color on an accent wall can spruce things up. If the flooring in your front entry or in front of your cash wrap is scuffed or getting threadbare, consider replacing just those areas with a complementary type of flooring or color in a rectangle or half-moon shape. If your countertop is scratched and unsightly, consider a new formica laminate top rather than replacing the whole unit.
And, finally, clean, clean and clean some more. Declutter any space that is too full or has been sitting for two long. Even if you don’t change all the displays, dust the merchandise, wipe the shelves, and rearrange the displays. Bright, clean and uncluttered goes a long way towards looking modern and updated.
Create great window and front entry displays
Use color and simplicity to draw the eye. And be sure not to overcrowd your display. Less can be more when you are highlighting your new and best merchandise. Take a cue from high-end retailers who know that creating space in a display is as important as the product.
Even on a budget, you can find and repurpose props for your displays such as small shelves, wooden blocks, vases with flowers or picture frames to create height and therefore more visual interest.
Changing your displays regularly, even if the merchandise is not new, gives customers the impression that your inventory is ever-changing and inviting.
Consider new lighting
This is a quick and cheap way to improve the look of an older store. Even if the bulbs are still working, they can age and become more yellow-brown instead of the crisp white-yellow that best highlights your inventory. Good lighting is crucial to increasing sales. Colors look brighter and customers can easily see your merchandise. If you can’t replace all the lighting, consider spotlighting, track lighting and uplighting to draw attention to promotions and highlight products and window displays.
A word of caution: Although LED lighting is very cost effective and long-lasting, so therefore better for the environment, some LED bulbs are a dimmer, white-blue light which is not the best lighting to enhance retail merchandise. Be sure to try samples before you invest.
Q: What are some ways that I can reduce shoplifting at my business?
A: All retail businesses face the potential for retail theft, but small businesses seem to be especially vulnerable. Unlike the bigger retail stores, many smaller stores cannot afford video surveillance or anti-theft security systems, which makes it much harder to protect merchandise from shoplifting.
One note: Before you decide that you cannot afford a security system, you might want to check. You can often get refurbished systems that come from retail shops that have closed at an affordable price. If you have a shoplifting problem, they can pay for themselves in short order.
So what else can you do to deter theft in your store? First thing is not to make it easy for customers to shoplift. You can prevent some theft just by taking away the opportunity to be in a concealed space, out of the line of sight from store employees. Make sure you are able to see the customers in your store and how they move around at all times.
Analyze your displays
Your displays may be wonderfully appealing, but if they are too tall or block clear visibility, you may be inviting shoplifting. This may mean creating shorter, less cluttered displays that you can see over or through.
Consider rounded mirrors in the corners as well as fake cameras
While mirrors do not always help to identify a shoplifter, they do act as a deterrent. Unless the customer is a professional thief, they may not know how limiting mirrors can be. Same goes for fake cameras. Most customers cannot tell the difference between real and fake cameras and will be less likely to pocket merchandise if there is a chance they are being watched. For very little investment, you can install a few fake cameras that can be a big deterrent.
Don’t forget the signage
Signage can help immensely with merchandise protection. If nothing else, it makes the customer think. You don’t have to have large, loud signs. Just a few well-placed, attractive signs that let customers know that shoplifters will be prosecuted and that a video security system is operating onsite, can be off-putting enough for the casual thief.
Greet every customer
As soon as a customer enters your store, they should be smiled at and greeted, just as if someone was entering your home. Studies show that when you make eye contact and customers are welcomed, they are far less likely to shoplift in your store.
Store owners I have spoken with often have an idea that the usual shoplifting suspects are teenagers, strangers, or someone who is poorly dressed. What I found consistently is that the people who shoplifted in our store were our regular customers – people who we thought we could trust and therefore often overlooked. Usually, they had some kind of justification (“I have been a good customer for years” as if that gives them a right to help themselves, “Prices have gone up but my salary hasn’t,” “It’s just a small item,” etc.). This was sad and tough to accept, but true.
Prosecute every shoplifter
When someone is caught shoplifting, it is important that you call the police and press charges. The message will get around in your community and this may be the greatest protection for your store that you can provide. Conversely, if you don’t prosecute, or let someone slide because it was a small amount of money, that message will get around too. Stealing is stealing, whether it is one dollar or hundreds of dollars. Calling the police for a $5 stone or other inexpensive item may seem like overkill, but you are setting a precedent that says it is not ok to steal from us. Your local police will respect that and respond when you call. If you feel that there are extenuating circumstances, you can always work with the district attorney to advocate for probation or classes, or even dropping charges later.
Employee training is crucial to success
Deciding to prosecute every shoplifter may be a shift in your current policies and your success in protecting your store requires that your employees are trained well enough that how they need to respond is second nature, especially since these incidents may not occur very often.
No person automatically feels comfortable handling a shoplifting, or potential shoplifting incident. Your employees need to know exactly what is expected of them. The best way to accomplish this is through providing clear expectation and lots of training so they know what to watch for and how to handle a shoplifting incident. Have regular role-playing exercises. Teach them how to support each other if an incident occurs. The better trained they are, the more comfortable they will feel in carrying out your guidelines.
The Coalition of Visionary Resources, COVR is a non-profit trade organization dedicated to supporting independent retailers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and publishers in the body-min-spirit industry. To learn more, visit www.covr.org