Thursday, April 28, 2022

Pull the Lever

Working from home turned me into a professional buyer.

As a store owner, I wear many hats, none of them more than 10% of anything I do. However, my hat collection shrank dramatically when I handed my manager most of my operational responsibilities. I did not intend to be become a professional buyer, it's what happens when you only have a couple of levers to pull. I can attempt to clearance items online, since I have no active sales role in-store, or I can be a better buyer. Those are my two levers.

Buying while working in the store was always an interruption. Yes, you can say the key to a stores success is in the buying, but you wouldn't tell a customer to wait while you placed an order. Buying might be the most important thing, but it's rarely the most important thing right now. Being a buyer at home, without interruption from staff and customers, meant I could focus all my energy on my main job. Normally, I would be constrained by budget, represented by my "open to buy" worksheet. It might tell me by Tuesday that I've bought quite enough, cool it.

With loan money both from the government and shareholder reinvestment (I refinanced my house), I suddenly had a huge budget for buying, near limitless at the time. This money was to rebuild sales and customer confidence, through any means necessary. If you had all the money in the world AND all the time in the world, what kind of buyer would you be? That was my situation in 2021. I added new distributors and a couple dozen new vendors, about ten of which are core to our business now. Our inventory doubled and sales supported it. It wasn't about shoving product down customers throats, it was meeting demand, both pent up and new demand. 

A lot of this spending was hampered by shortages, and to some extent, still is. There was no amount of money that could acquire the product I wanted. I had to create new demand, find new product for my customers. Thankfully I have peers who have gone before me who could turn me on to new vendors. They didn't always work for me, but they mostly did. 

In 2022, we still have shortages, games I would buy by the case if I could get them. I no longer have unlimited funds as before. There is a lot of money in the bank, but I'm planning to pay back my EIDL loan completely before its due next year. We are on a budget. If I had to go back to work in store, my guess is I would let some of my vendors go. Some of these folks are an enormous pain in the ass, taking far too much time to place orders with far too little shipping when they do. As long as I'm at home, I'll continue my new role as professional buyer, looking for new vendors and coddling the ones I have now. 

COVID brought us challenges. We were forced to reinvest in the business, to go in debt for the business. We were also forced to innovate and expand for what appeared to be a perhaps permanent shrunken market. Maybe doubling inventory was what was necessary if you've lost half your customers? We didn't know. We had money and one lever left to pull.

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