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Hi all,

I sell most of my shirts at events so inventory is usually not a problem because people buy what I have. HOWEVER, when I do get online orders it becomes problematic b/c sometimes I don't have items in stock.

All of my items are screenprinted. Does anyone have any suggestions on effective inventory management systems for small businesses?

Layla
 

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It's not as much that as it is selling one or two products online that are out of stock. Then I have to special re-order for just that item. It's so easy selling at events b/c people just buy what you have.
 

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layla, I see what you're saying. Trying to figure how much to have of each design can be
hard to figure out. I would hate to just say it will have to be trial and error, but I think you may have to go that way. Try to have on hand more of what you "think" you might sell more of and less of what you think will be less popular. Give it some time and see what sells. I know it might not be the best idea. Maybe somebody else that has gone through this can help you with it.
 

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laylaazure said:
It's not as much that as it is selling one or two products online that are out of stock. Then I have to special re-order for just that item. It's so easy selling at events b/c people just buy what you have.
Well, my suggestion was basically to only sell online what you have in stock :)

That way, a person can only buy what you have.

If you only have size Mediums and XL in stock, then only show those sizes as available in the shopping cart and you won't have to re-order until you're ready to place a good sized order.

For example, if I have a design that I carry S-XXL in, and I sell out of Smalls, I just remove the Small option from the shopping cart so people can only order M-XXL until I'm ready to reorder that design.

After you've been selling online for a while, you get to know your customer demographic better and you see which sizes sell out the fastest. This gives you a better handle on when to reorder that designs.

So I may not reorder a design right away when I just run out of smalls, but if I run out of Smalls, and get low on Larges, then I know to reorder that design (and get both smalls, larges, and any other size that may be dropping low).
 

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now we're getting somewhere :). This is what I may have to do, although, I have to pay someone everytime I change something on my site. I followed most of all of your suggestions with the site changes, however, i forgot to put the product link next to the home page :-(
 

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Layla, it may be worth your while to learn some HTML basics. That way you won't have to pay someone for small changes like that.

If you ever move to a full fledged shopping cart (like Miva/Shopsite/Oscommerce), making changes like that (and managing products in general) will be easier.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Rodney, yes, i think you are right. I can take a course at the community college here unless you can recommend an online site to learn from. Also, how much does it cost to get a full fledged shopping cart and how can I do that? Layla
 

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Laylaazure..
Contrary to what rodney suggested i think that may not be the idea for you.
for two reasons.
one you have to pay for the work to get done.. and even if u could take the time to learn.. the expense.. in time and effort may be an issue u cannot afford to be sidetracked by. For instance.. I had to teach myself basic HTML to put the site that i have up now.. and to be honest.. at this point i can't even point u to my site cause it is a travesty.. LOL.. all the while i was learning to muck up HTML.. i wasn't developing new leads.. which is the business i am in.. new leads and satisfying orders.. HTML.. isn't the business that i am in.. can u dig it?

Secondly.. as a customer.. when i got to your site and see that you only carry a shirt in certain sizes.. i dunno.. seems like that might take away some of the luster of your company. Makes u look like u can't keep up with your own business.... cause i would be like.. why don't she make this in Med.. or XXXL.. u know.. it would make me confused.. or if it was like She got Med.. XXL .. and that's It?!?.. that would strike me as odd..
I think the trick here is setting up shop and your stock designs in such a way that you can produce the item on the spot..
For instance.. i have this wonderful Anti George Bush t-shirt i put together.. People responded to it.. (and since i use heat Transfers) I kept the design on cue.. and i keep about 6 shirts in all my popular sizes.. When someone wants that design it's a simple matter to just print and iron on.. lol
and if someone is ordering bulk.. and it demands that u print a quantity and u don't have the stock on hand.. having a wholesale t-shirt spot that u can call upon for quick delivery.. is KEY.. assuming that the shipping time on your product allows for at least a day or two to make it happen.

i hope that it makes sense.. i will leave it at that for now.. and give u an opportunity to respond cause i think u use silkscreening don't u? which kinda changes things.. but even in that... u gotta rework your business procs.. so that u can make this work for u..
 

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QP makes some good points. I run into the same problem with my site. And I don't like it when I have to take certain sizes off the website. I agree that it takes aways from your site and customers may just leave the site knowing you don't have the right size. If this would be a common experience for customers I think it would be important to have something on the website explaining shortages and for what reason maybe. You want to limit too many excuses but having something may help a customer to come back and check it out.

Rodney is right however, that you should take sizes off when you don't have them. Nothing more would frustrate a customer to go through the entire buying process to find out that the size is not available. We have just wasted the customer's valuable time.

So this leaves us in a tough spot. I think you have to make sure that if want a succesful online business, with screenprinting, you have to have a lot of stock on hand and if you run out, order some right away, so you limit your vulnerability to customers leaving the site for lack of sizes. And as QP says, you would need a great relationship with your suppliers (assuming you don't do screenprinting in house.)

Where QP says they use on demand printing with heatpress, I don't think that is a suitable alternative to your online site using screenprinting. I think you should stick with screenprinting and figure out a way to balance the inventory issue. I would recommend looking into buying plastisol transfers over direct printing transfers. You can manage your inventory really well with plastisol transfers and a stack of blank shirts in a variety of sizes. You can manage purchasing behaviour more effectively. And plastisol is as good, or some say nearly as good, as screenprinting. I don't like however, how plastisol transfers look on darker shirts. They are great for lighter coloured shirts from white to lighter blues, khaki and greens. I tried some pink on brown and it looks ok but not great.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
What is the industry standard for shipping screenprinted items? Is it 2 - 4 weeks, less than that? I see some sites that say expect 2 - 4 weeks delivery time. It seems like a lot of time.

Yes, point well taken about learning html, QP, however, I think Rodney was talking about minor changes since my site is already done.

Thanks for all the advice.
 

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I don't think there really is a standard - the time varies from operation to operation, and what is acceptable varies from customer to customer.

Standard practice for stores that hold inventory is 12-48 hours. Threadless take up to 2 weeks during their sales (which is generally considered acceptable I think). I know at least two large shops that print on demand in batches, their time before delivery is one week. I know at least one shop that prints once a month and tends to fall behind schedule - a customer could wait up to six weeks between ordering and having their item sent (I haven't spoken to him about it, but I'm sure he must get a lot of irate customers).

Other than that, I have ordered a couple of things that turned out to be on backorder - one I ordered in June and received in November (it ended up being very nearly six months). The other I ordered in September and received in December (just over three months). Obviously I'm not thrilled about either, but the first place I will be buying more from in future, and the second I will not. The key, as always, is their communication and professionalalism.
 

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laylaazure said:
Any feedback on industry standard (acceptable time) for shipping screenprinted items would be appreciated.

Are you talking about shipping from the screen printer to you or from you to your customer?

2 weeks would be "normal" from a screen printer to you, but from you to a customer, that should be a day or 2 at the most (from the time of their order till the time you ship it out your door). At the outside, maybe 5 working days.

People that order online want their stuff NOW. Some sites have gotten away with longer shipping times by hammering down the lengthy wait times on every step of their shopping process (like tshirthell).

But as a general rule, faster than a week is preferred.
 

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QP Apparel said:
Laylaazure..
Contrary to what rodney suggested i think that may not be the idea for you.
for two reasons.
one you have to pay for the work to get done.. and even if u could take the time to learn.. the expense.. in time and effort may be an issue u cannot afford to be sidetracked by. For instance.. I had to teach myself basic HTML to put the site that i have up now.. and to be honest.. at this point i can't even point u to my site cause it is a travesty.. LOL.. all the while i was learning to muck up HTML.. i wasn't developing new leads.. which is the business i am in.. new leads and satisfying orders.. HTML.. isn't the business that i am in.. can u dig it?
I think it depends on the person and their abilities and willingness to learn.

For me, learning HTML was natural if I wanted to have a website. Learning PHP, no. But learning the basic building blocks of a webpage can save you both time AND money.

The type of edits that she needs should only take 2 minutes, tops. Her site is already done, but to remove a product, edit text, add a link, are all quickies that I think most people should learn how to do. When you're running a small business, it's common to wear many hats.

I'm not saying to get all complex and learn the ins and outs of web design, but basic HTML so you can save yourself time (waiting on a designer to make simple changes) and money (paying a designer WAY more than it actually costs to make those changes) is just smart business.

I understand your point about spending time on what you do best though. I can design a website, make it pretty, code some HTML, even edit a little PHP here and there, but my strong suit is marketing/promotion. So even though I know the basics, I will still pay to have someone to design a site for me every now and then because 1) I know I'll take too much time doing it when I'm so close to a project. I try to make everything TOO perfect and 2) I'd rather have the basic outline/design of the site done so I can get to what I'm good at, promoting the site.

So for me, the investment in a design layout is easily recouped by the fact that I can get to marketing sooner.

But that's not true in call cases, especially when you just need a few edits to a site. Learning basic HTML doesn't have to consume your time, and it can save your lots of money in simple edits.

Secondly.. as a customer.. when i got to your site and see that you only carry a shirt in certain sizes.. i dunno.. seems like that might take away some of the luster of your company. Makes u look like u can't keep up with your own business.... cause i would be like.. why don't she make this in Med.. or XXXL.. u know.. it would make me confused.. or if it was like She got Med.. XXL .. and that's It?!?.. that would strike me as odd..
I've seen sizes/styles/colors out of stock notices at the smallest and largest of online stores (including Amazon, threadless, and other major sellers).

I think customers prefer to know that what they are buying and what they see on the website is IN STOCK. As long as they have an accurate representation of what they can buy and what they can't, I don't think they get confused at all.

I think it can show that you have a popular product that people actually buy. That your site is open and in a state of motion (Being updated with inventory).

I think the trick here is setting up shop and your stock designs in such a way that you can produce the item on the spot..
For instance.. i have this wonderful Anti George Bush t-shirt i put together.. People responded to it.. (and since i use heat Transfers) I kept the design on cue.. and i keep about 6 shirts in all my popular sizes.. When someone wants that design it's a simple matter to just print and iron on.. lol
The problem with that is that not all designs can be done with an iron on, heat press, digital print or even direct t-shirt print (only screen printing) and some merchants specialize in screen printed products.

If you can print on demand and you want to worry about printing in house or want that control, then that's one option. But it's still choosing one "challenge" over another (handling self printing over handling inventory).
 

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jdr8271 said:
As long as you make it clear to the buyer upfront how long it will take to get their order, anything is acceptable.
I would stress making it very clear. Also, keeping in contact with your customers is key.

If I have a size shown on my site that happens to sell out, I quickly notify the customer of the backorder and their other size options. Communication goes a long way in keeping a happy customer.
 

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I'm going to be mysterious and entirely non-helpful here. I apologise. But this information came through a lot of reasearch and testing, and having it posted somewhere like here will rip out the competative advantage that it brings.


There is a way to screen-print to order, on runs of only one shirt, and it's as easy and quick as heat pressing. Hunt the bowels of the web.


Sorry about the mystery....I feel bad now.
 

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monkeylantern said:
There is a way to screen-print to order, on runs of only one shirt, and it's as easy and quick as heat pressing. Hunt the bowels of the web.
Are you talking about a do-it-yourself method or a service that a company provides?

Even screen printing to order seems like it would bring its own inventory issues (blanks, ink, etc). And if you have a nice volume of sales, printing yourself could turn out to be more of a pain than a benefit (I would assume).

I know people that do their own in house screen printing (like curing in their home ovens, etc).

It also helps if you have an "in" with a screen printer like Jay from dicktees does :)
 

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Rodney said:
Are you talking about a do-it-yourself method or a service that a company provides?

Even screen printing to order seems like it would bring its own inventory issues (blanks, ink, etc). And if you have a nice volume of sales, printing yourself could turn out to be more of a pain than a benefit (I would assume).

I know people that do their own in house screen printing (like curing in their home ovens, etc).

It also helps if you have an "in" with a screen printer like Jay from dicktees does :)

I use both an outside screenprinter and an in-house method (or at least will when properly re-established in Oz after leaving all my equipment behind in the UK).

The outside printer does the work for large orders of medium and large sized quick-selling shirts, as well as retail wholesale bundles.

From a basic inventory of blank ts (I currently have 6 colours in s-xl....I'm not sure how you can avoid this...I can get my wholesale pick-ups in 2 hours of ordering, but unless you're buying 100+, you're throwing money away in discounts), I can use the other method to make smalls and xls across my range (the two lowest selling sizes) and less popular designs.

I can't really go into detail about how I screenprint currently (hell, I've already given you guys the best label maker in the world as my contribution...I'm not giving all my secrets!). I've been a traditional screenprinter for years. The new method is talked about in certain cult-circles, but is 100% eco-friendly (big plus), 200% easier, and very short run friendly. Taken a lot of testing to perfect though.
 
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