Don’t Panic – Retail Tips to Stay Profitable in a Rough Economy
by Jennifer Manuel Carroll
A life-long lover of lingerie, Jennifer Manuel Carroll has shopped for underpinnings during her travels in North America and Europe and is a savvy lingerie expert. After years of experience in the intimate apparel world, she was inspired to share her knowledge with others. Carroll is the author of Underneath It All, A Girl’s Guide to Buying, Wearing and Loving Lingerie (Harlequin 2009), a comprehensive resource for the lingerie lover and novice alike.
Having weathered close to nine years of specialty retailing, I have had more ups and downs than a Coney Island roller coaster. While I am no longer emotionally affected by daily sales numbers (which used to determine my mood!), managing the state of my accounts payable, monthly sales and employees can be enough to stress me out on a good day; let alone in a down-economy.
When the economy is rough, which is still the case for so many businesses, retailers can make some pretty bad decisions. When we are not confident in the economy, our place in it, or our ability to earn a living, we begin making mistakes because we are making choices in panic mode.
Panicking is the worst thing you can do in your business. It can cause you to freeze up and make zero decisions, which is fatal. Or you can start making a lot of short-term, emotion-based decisions, which can be equally as devastating to you and your business. So, what do you do?
This is hardly an exhaustive list, but rather the first things you should do when you go in to panic mode.
1. Take a deep breath and say out loud “this too shall pass”
Because it will. I often find myself singing Bob Marley’s lyrics “Everything’s gonna be all right….” over and over again until I calm down. Find your happy place. Whatever it takes.
2. Step outside of your shop
If you work full time, hire someone and take a day off from behind the counter. It has been said that you need to get out of your business to work on your business. I agree wholeheartedly. You need some perspective and you can’t get that by staring at your empty store. Also, customers can sense desperation, and it will behoove you to clear out any negative energy plaguing you before you return to work.
3. Edit your merchandise orders
If sales are slow, and you have three racks full of black nightgowns, then for heaven’s sake, cancel the next month’s shipments of black nightgowns. And put one rack of the current gowns on sale! If a vendor refuses to cancel a shipment, move it out. Move it way out. Six months out.
4. Edit further
If you are drowning in merchandise and have large shipments coming in that you simply can’t afford to pay, call the vendor and explain yourself. Honesty is key. I once cancelled an entire month of orders (with the exception of the small designers) and it saved my business. Literally saved it. Believe me; your vendor will be happy to sacrifice a month or two of orders to keep you as a long-term customer.
5. Do not stop bringing in new items
This may seem in opposition to what I have just said, but it is not. You need newness in your shop. Customers still want to be excited about visiting your store, even if they aren’t buying anything. Bring in a few, exciting, colorful items or unique products. Just buy small.
6. Re-merchandise your store
If you are canceling orders and you have scant amount of merchandise in your shop, nobody will buy anything. Bring in some big pieces of furniture to take up some space, move fixtures around, if you have bras or other items in drawers, hang everything up and put it all out! Make your store look full so customers will spend more time peering through each section.
7. Do not talk about your bad times with your customers
I know it is tempting. They are your “friends” and you want someone with whom to commiserate. Don’t do it. The customer comes to us for a warm and fuzzy experience—not real life, depressing stuff. Put on a confident smile and if anyone asks about business, you just say that you feel really lucky to have such loyal customers. Which is true, right?
Want more Advice?
Read Jennifer’s other articles on Lingerie Retail Advice