Friday, August 17, 2007

Finding Products for the LadyBug Shop

One of the big tasks one faces when starting up a retail sales business is finding good wholesale suppliers for the products that you will offer your customers. The task is especially challenging when you have decided to dedicate your efforts to a very narrow line of products—in our case only products that incorporated ladybugs in their design. Very early in our search we made a fundamental decision—that we would warehouse all our products and not rely on what are termed “drop ship” relationships with wholesalers. Drop ship allows a retailer to handle the marketing and sales of item, while the wholesaler fulfills orders when directed by the retailer. It is attractive in that the retailer does not have to invest heavily in inventory. But we decided it would not work well in our case as we would have to work with a large number of wholesalers, ordering only a modest amount from each. And the unit cost of our products is lower than that which usually works best for a “drop ship” mode of operation. Also we think customers find it less appealing when they purchase a number of items and then have them shipped by multiple suppliers.
From the very beginning we wanted to encourage artists and crafters to make products especially for our shop. And many of our early offerings were from this source. And even today some of our most popular products—such as Marilyn’s customized, hand-embroidered pillows, shirts and hats—are handmade just for us. But we found we could not build up the selection of products we needed from this source alone.
Fortunately, we heard about the International Gift Fair that is held in New York City twice each year. And since I work in New York during the week and have an apartment there (coming home to Delaware every weekend), it was easy for us to check the show out. The first time it was a truly overwhelming experience. Thousands of wholesalers set up shop in the Jacob Javits Convention Center on the Hudson River for one week. Rhonda and I walked, looked, talked and bought until we dropped. Fortunately, with such a large assemblage we were able to find dozens of companies who produced wonderful ladybug items. Products from these companies became the bulk of the LadyBug Shop’s initial offerings.
Since our first visit to the Gift Show we have returned every six months over the last four years to renew our contacts and find additional products. We have also occasionally visited similar wholesaler shows in Atlanta, Washington and Philadelphia—but the New York one is still our primary venue for finding suppliers. And it just happens that Rhonda and I are at the show this week looking for even more special ladybug items to add to the LadyBug Shop!

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