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What Is Your Store Doing to Improve This Year?

Okay, it's January. For those stores that see a slight drop in business after December, it's time to assess the previous year so that this year will be even better. Here are some tips for having a great year:

Technology

1) If you do not have your store running on a point-of-sale system that can keep track of inventory, sales trends, customers and purchase orders, it is time to get one. There is a wealth of information you are letting escape you when you don't have some way of analyzing your sales and customer buying patterns.

2) Get online. Whether you use our storefront program or build your own, you need to have some kind of web presence. Our program takes care of everything for you except your marketing but you may have that adventuresome spirit that compels you to build your own from scratch. If you do, make sure you shop around for the best combination of pricing, service, and features.

Profit

1) What are your most profitable categories in the store? I'm not talking about what sells the most, what makes you the most money per sale? Consider expanding this section of your store.

2) What items are just gathering dust in your store? Do you still have some items from your grand opening ten years ago? It's time to clean house! Have a clearance sale. It is far better to free up the money stagnating in these products at a 40% discount instead of getting nothing at all.

3) Are there some products that you are constantly reordering or you have to constantly tell customers are out of stock? See how many you sold the year before and each year before that if possible. If you sell the same number every year, order them all at once. You'll save shipping, probably get a better discount and actually end up selling more because you won't have to turn away customers. If you can see a growth trend, order in line with that trend. The small paperback catechism is still one of our bestselling books. Before Christmas we ordered several dozen even though we usually only order about ten at a time.  From that big order, we only have eight left and we were able to go through Christmas without ever having to tell a customer no. We have also gone through nearly 1000 copies of the St. Joseph Sunday Missal and Hymnal for 2007 since we ordered them in October. It may be scary to put in an order that large, but if you combine getting rid of stagnant inventory with ordering inventory that is always selling, you will have a much healthier business.

4) Create a spreadsheet of all of your vendors and make columns to record the most recent pricelist you have received and the last time you updated those prices in your system. If you don't have your vendors' catalogs and pricelists organized in a file cabinet, invest in one of these too. If your most recent pricelist is over 9 months old, it's time to call and see if prices have changed. Make sure that you always stay on top of price changes because these will eat up your profits very quickly. In December we had several large sales for books and when we placed the order, we found that the price we sold them for was almost the same as the new wholesale price!  Well, we ended up losing one of the orders and sending books back to the publisher. We talked to the publisher and were able to get the remainder billed at the old price since they had never sent us a revised price list.

Business Health

1) Is your business profitable? If not, then you really need to pour some time into the things I mentioned above. Also, assess your expenses. Are you getting the best price for your phone service? Are your employees aware of order minimums from your vendors? Are your bulletin ads really effective? If your ad isn't a coupon, no one will ever bring it in and you have no way to track sales. If your ad is a coupon and you aren't getting any business from that parish and you don't have any kind of relationship with the parish, you may want to consider stopping the ad.

2) Do you have relationships with Catholic organizations and parishes in town? If you don't do a significant amount of your business on the web, you have to reach out to local groups for business. Do book fairs at parishes. Contact local groups like Sera and CUF to see if you can sponsor events. Give gift certificates to Sera to be given out when they send anniversary and birthday cards to priests. Set up a "seminarian registry" so that customers can buy things your local seminarians need.

3) Running a Catholic apostolate is like sending the Devil a hand-written invitiation to kick you. Bulk up your spiritual life because you are going to come under assault for the work you do. If you don't, you probably need to assess how truly Catholic your business is. Go to Mass more regularly, pray the rosary and find a spiritual advisor.

4) Every year your sales drop off after Christmas and Easter. This year resolve that you aren't just going to accept that without a fight. Spring and Summer are a great time to sell school items and also to strike up a relationship with your local nursery so you can sell plants. Plants? Yes, plants. Create packages that include a plant and a book or holy cards for different events such as Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Easter.

Okay, that should keep you busy for a while. Remember that if you don't think of your store as a business, you probably aren't going to be in business for very long.

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