S2E4 // Sourcing + Curating Products

November 7, 2018

When you’re a product-based business, one of the biggest hurdles is sourcing materials and managing stock and inventory. In today’s Making a Business episode, we’re digging into what you need to consider when searching for a source for your raw materials, curating a shop and selling other makers’ goods, and ordering and maintaining stock as a business owner.

Learn More about the Topics Discussed in this Episode
"Really, sourcing materials or retail goods just requires some good research skills."
- Emily Thompson

Discussed in this Episode

  • Deep Google searches to source materials
  • What goes into sourcing materials for a candle
  • Carrying other maker's goods in your shop and curating a shop
  • Dealing with wholesale as a product-based business owner
  • Ordering and maintaining stock as a product-based business owner

Resources

More from Kathleen

Braid Creative

More from Emily

Almanac Supply Co.

Transcript

Emily Thompson 0:00
And from Being Boss, this is Making a Business

Kathleen Shannon 0:05
A podcast about starting a business from scratch and overcoming the obstacles face when pursuing your dreams. I'm Kathleen Shannon.

Emily Thompson 0:13
And I'm Emily Thompson.

Kathleen Shannon 0:22
In this miniseries, we're following Emily's journey as she jumps into life as a maker and retailer with her new creative endeavor Almanac Supply Company.

Kathleen Shannon 0:37
In the last episode, Emily share the growth struggles and opportunities that she's facing now that Almanac Supply Company is launched and the ball is rolling. In this episode, we dive into production with a look of what it takes to make and curate products as a new retail business.

Kathleen Shannon 0:57
Alright, Emily, in our very first episode of season two, Making a Business, you talked about how losing your business partner four months, and really allowed you to shift your focus and how you were going to grow your business and kind of going from this vision of having lots of things to offer to really narrowing in your focus. So I want to talk a little bit more about that today. And as it relates to sourcing and stocking and all of the things. So I want to talk about how you philosophically start to curate things or even literally, to then the systems and processes that you have to, you know, make it do you do?

Emily Thompson 1:39
Right, so this is probably one of the pieces like sourcing and whether that be raw materials or like finished goods that I'm just going to turn around and retail like from wholesale to retail. It's a piece that I like I get really excited about, but once I'm in the middle of it, it is such a slog. And it is such a slog for so many reasons. Like it's funny, I keep using the term, I find myself using this a lot lately, the words deep Google, I've been doing some deep Google searches, guys, we're like, you're not just going through page one. And page two, you're going to like page 15 and beyond, after searching for a term like, like candle container suppliers, or whatever it may be. So really, you know, sourcing materials or retail goods, just require some good research skills where, Yes?

Kathleen Shannon 2:36
So let's talk through like the life of a candle. For example, from from square one, how did you go about sourcing and stocking the wax, the wick, the container, the boxes, walk me through it.

Emily Thompson 2:51
So some of this is some of the candle in particular was from past experiences. So I knew a place already where I could get bulk wax, and wicks and scents, and those sorts of things. So that was just using some resources that I had before. And same thing with boxes. So things that I've used in past product business life, where I just went back and sort of retapped some sources that I used a couple of years ago. It's funny, someone on Instagram asked, like, what all has changed is the last time I did product business, not a whole lot. Not a whole lot like product and like real world businesses don't change very quickly. I think in the online space, we're also used to, you know, things being different every day. But offline, they're all basically the same. So a lot of the places that I sourced things from 10 years ago, I'm able to continue sourcing things from now especially boxes, I'll even share like Uline is the best for things like boxes and packing tape and those sorts of things. They're also super close to us or their warehouses. So I can order, you know, a bulk of 100 boxes and have them here tomorrow without paying any extra shipping at all, which is really nice. So it's finding places like that. And really, I do have a bit of a bit of a thread of questioning that I do. One of them is how close is their warehouse to me. So how fast am I going to be able to get things and what is the shipping cost going to be like, I do get some things from the other side of the country. And that affects my profit margins a lot. I want to be able to source things on the eastern seaboard as much as possible so those shipping rates can stay cheaper. So a lot of the things for the candle, we're going back to some old sources and just buying things in bulk as much as possible. So the wax, the scents, the wicks, the containers were sort of the anomaly there where we had a really great source they ran out, the time with which they were supposed to restock doubled, a couple of times, when they finally got more any, we were able to restock some of those. But we're still actively searching for an alternative, still have no solution there, though our original supplier does still have some in stock, and we're able to purchase as long as we can from there.

Emily Thompson 5:17
And then labels are also a source that I've used as a designer for the past 10 years for, you know, client labels whenever they needed to order things. And that was a really great thing too, because I had clients ordering from different sources. And I was able to learn through their experience, who had the best quality labels and customer service and shipping times and all of those things. So I've been able to pull from a decade of experience, decade plus of experience to really create at least for the candles, as a chain of supply that has served me pretty well except for those containers, but we're still working on that. But then other things, let's talk like just retail goods like pre-made goods, we're sourcing from two places now. One of those is makers, so makers that I have relationships with already. So just Sami Jo Jensen from Florapothecarie was the first one that we contacted to, to carry her product actually even I think she contacted us, but she was the first one on our list. So it was like meant to be. So being able to carry other maker goods has always been a part of our part of our mission. And that comes from a decade of working with creative entrepreneurs. And then the past four years of cultivating the large community of creative business owners here at Being Boss as well. And then everything else is from deep googling. So thinking about the kinds of things that I want to carry and then Google searching, and Google searching and Google searching until I find things and this comes from also, I have wholesale accounts with like 100 different websites, and not that I'm planning on buying from all of them. But you just have to get into people's processes to find out if they know how to accept a wholesale account, what they're buying minimums are, what their products and pricing are like. And that also usually gives you access to information that I find really important. Like, sort of their mission is always really important to me if the products are sustainable, where they're sourced from as well, those sorts of things. I do want to get as much US made product as possible, though I'll say it again, I do love globalization in many, many ways. So I'm definitely not opposed to buying things that are made in other countries. But I do want to make sure things are not made with you know, an unreasonable amount of plastic, or are you know, unsustainably sourced or whatever it may be, so, there's some extra research that goes into it as well.

Emily Thompson 7:59
If you're looking to source products for your business, the thing you need to do early and reference diligently is a line of questioning as to what products or materials you want to carry in your business. For example, will you only accept goods that are made in the US or your home country? Must all products be small batch? Or will you only work with suppliers who will allow you to check out on their websites as opposed to spreadsheets or faxed order forms which draw you online savvy folks may be surprised to learn is still the way a lot of companies do business. Then you need to know how those standards will affect how you do business. For example, sometimes small batch will be more expensive, but may not come with the level of quality control that comes from mass produced products, and may affect your ability to by and large bulks, which could make time's like the holidays a little more difficult. If you're looking to source sustainable products, this will require a long inquiry into the sourcing of everything that goes into producing that product to ensure that they're truly sustainable, affecting the time that it will take for you to find just the right products for your store. Knowing and understanding the drawbacks of any of your standards can help you prepare and keep you from being surprised if and when setbacks arise.

Kathleen Shannon 9:27
And then what about the aesthetics of things? And how are you curating that experience from these raw materials that you're using to make your own product to the things that you're curating and reselling, as a retailer.

Emily Thompson 9:40
I do a lot of mood boarding. And I honestly just like even to get practical. I use Google Docs, like I'll open up a Google doc and put a little table in it and sort of create, create a little mood board for the kinds of projects or products that I want to bring in for the next season. And this can incorporate obviously the candle of the season, which is sort of a cornerstone product for every season that we have, as well as any crystals that we have in stock, but any add ons as well. So spring was a really fun and easy one, where we were able to source some really cool like gardening kits and those sorts of things. So it's just fine like doing some deep Google, finding cool sources for things going through all the questioning, pulling some products, and to into my Google Doc to mood board it but then also look at pricing and things as well. Visually, making sure it's visually in line with our brand is of utmost importance. For sure, as a designer who loves curating, it's all about the look, even though it has to fall into so many of those other those other lines as well, making sure it goes with the flow of the overall brand or whatever is going on that season is also really important.

Kathleen Shannon 11:02
Okay, I want to get into wholesale.

Emily Thompson 11:06
Let's do it.

Kathleen Shannon 11:07
And because this is the most confusing part for me, and I also feel like it's a little bit more of the more political side of running a retail business. And so for you, for example, it's this idea of how do you balance carrying other people's stock, and then your own candles, which then you can wholesale to other people, because you're making those and then also are you then reselling, for example, crystals that you've curated to other retailers who are then selling those, I mean, it's just, it could be almost like a hall of mirrors. And maybe I'm wrong here. I don't, I just can't really visualize this part of the business. This is the part that makes my head spin.

Emily Thompson 11:52
This is the newest part for me, for sure. And it is one that can make your head spin. But I feel like we've done a pretty good job of dividing this out thus far. And also just testing and changing, having some really good relationships with some of our first retailers so that like we can really see what's working and not working and have an open conversation about it has been really, really helpful. I have to like send a high five out to Hilary from Wildflower Tea Shop in Chattanooga, who was a friend of mine and was our first wholesaler and is always open to having conversation about what's working and what's not working and what, what can come next and those sorts of things. So again, community is always super important as well. But we've, we sort of divided it out so that anything that we're making in house, and that at the moment, at least at the moment of recording, this is candles, and our crystal grid kits. Those are the only things that we're wholesaling. So we have like a nice little wholesale kit that we send out to shops that we find we find them through either our customers telling us about some of their favorite shops that they shop at locally. Or if it's just some more googling that we do or shops that we've been to around the country, we'll pitch them and we have a nice little wholesale kit where we're selling our candles and our crystal grid kits. We're not selling a wholesale any products that we've bought from other people like I that's I think that's even like a no, no. And if not, like legitimately a no, no, it's like socially a no, no, you don't do that. Um, but we have had a shop reach out to us wanting us to source crystals for them. So that being and sort of making it an experience, so less about Oh, just send us some like labradorite palm stones, and more, let's brand these labradorite palm stones so there Almanac. And that being that we're going to be creating these really cute little, like rock cards that we send with the crystals so that we can tell a little bit more about what they are and where they came from. And those sorts of things and those having Almanac branding, I don't imagine us doing that. I won't be adding that to the kit, or anything. I don't want to do that in large quantities. But when requested and if you know I can have a really open relationship with those people, then that's something I'm definitely happy to do because we are sourcing rocks anyway, if we need to expand that into some other some other marketplaces, we can absolutely do it.

Kathleen Shannon 14:16
And so then you're almost blending your skills as a buyer into your brand as well.

Emily Thompson 14:22
Yes, yes, but like and also wrapping design into it again. And I think the differentiating piece there is the only things that we're wholesaling are things that we can add our design to. So whether that be you know, the little crystal grid kit cards that come in on those little baggies, or if it's, you know, our designed candles or these rock cards that we're going to be creating for the crystals that we send off. We are only wholesaling things that are ours that we have made our own.

Kathleen Shannon 14:54
Alright, I'm curious about ordering and maintaining stock because as we're recording this, you have this beautiful shelf, stocked with a ton of candles and tins and rocks and gardening kits. So I'm curious, do you have you ever had stocks that you can't unload or that hasn't done well,

Emily Thompson 15:13
We haven't had to worry about that much yet. We're being very careful about not ordering too many have anything at the moment that we are learning some things like, for example, a lot of the things that we bought for spring were like gardening kits, which include seeds. Those are like seeds don't keep forever. So I hope we're not stuck with a couple of pieces that we can't sell, you know, by the time that your deadline is up, or whatever. But I think also, I've used seeds like five years later, and they're fine. So like, when is the cutoff date for things like that? I'm not really sure. So that's one place where I don't know if I don't want to work in seeds.

Kathleen Shannon 15:56
Does all of this make you so grateful that you don't have a grocery store?

Emily Thompson 16:00
What do you mean? Oh!

Kathleen Shannon 16:01
Like can you imagine having perishable stock.

Emily Thompson 16:04
Havng onions that you can't, well guess onions last a while, right? No, it does. And that's something I've thought about. And it's still something if you guys will go back and listen to season one, I talked about how we've kind of thought about turning Almanac Supply Company into a corner market and maybe carrying some like onions and bananas and those sorts of things. We've made no further decisions on that whatsoever. But yes, absolutely, it makes me think about that. I always want to have products that I can unload at some point. So we haven't really had a problem, like having things in stock that we can't get rid of. Because we've been so careful about not over ordering anything while we're really just testing and changing and sort of feeling everything out. But I will say that maintaining stock has probably been one of our hardest things. But in terms of the not products, our products are fine. Again, preparing for Christmas, we're being really careful about making sure that we are consistently like growing our candle stocks so that once the holidays come around, we will simply have enough for all those corporate gifting clients that we have. And just like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and leading up to Christmas, or being really careful about having enough stock, the rocks or something where we can only buy things in a limited quantity. And that's something like, if you guys are buying rocks from me, you need to understand this, we're only buying things in quantities, you know, 4 or 5, 6, 10 or so like we can only buy them in those quantities. So people are putting off buying things, and then wanting them later or even wanting bulk later. So having someone come and want want 15 of something for you know, wedding party gifts, like those are the sorts of things we need slightly larger lead times for rocks. And that's just because of how we're currently able to purchase those things. But the place that we're having the biggest struggle is in things like remembering to reorder business cards before you run out, or remembering to reorder Thank you cars before they run out, or remembering to order boxes in certain sizes before we run out, or whatever it may be. And we're actually working with a system called Crafty Base, which is helping us track some of that we're still working on fully setting it up so that we can then fully use it to the best of our ability. It just takes quite a bit of time to set up and the way that needs to be set up. But we're working on that. And then we'll have some better systems in place for telling us when we need to reorder boxes or thank you cards or whatever it may be. Because and raw materials because that's a place where we keep finding yourself going Oh shit, we should have ordered that last week.

Kathleen Shannon 18:44
All right, and that's called Crafty Base

Emily Thompson 18:46
Crafty Base.

Kathleen Shannon 18:47
Not sponsore.

Emily Thompson 18:48
Not, Crafty Base is not sponsoring this though guys if you're listening and you'd like to hit us up because I think I love you.

Kathleen Shannon 18:59
All right, well you better stock up so you can get ready for Christmas. Right?

Emily Thompson 19:04
Isn't that the truth I mean, that really is the name of the game. We've we've learned a lot of things over the past couple months about what moves most quickly. What people are most interested in and we're using all of that information to properly plan for Christmas. I mean, I think it's it's regular for people to make as much as 80% of their annual revenue in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas like that is not abnormal.

Kathleen Shannon 19:33
On the next episode of Making a Business.

Emily Thompson 19:38
People say they want you know organic wax and cotton wicks and those are all things that we hold very important to us like we have cotton wicks. Our wax is a soy wax or soy based wax. But then our scents our fragrance and essential oils and most people get all bent out of shape. About things not being purely essential oils, but essential oil candles don't sell because they don't smell as much as Fragrance Oil and essential oil blends. So it's one of those things where we have to balance what consumers want and what consumers will pay for with what is available. And how it is that we can you know, make money doing the thing I have heard a story of

Emily Thompson 20:28
Mindset, boundaries, habits and routines. These are what turn a creative into a boss. These foundations and more makeup our new book, Being Boss, Take control of your work and live life on your own terms. A guide slash workbook slash sleep have it under your pillow book filled with what we've learned over the years as working, thriving creative entrepreneurs. Plus what we've picked up from the hundreds of conversations with industry leaders and experts on the Being Boss podcast.

Kathleen Shannon 21:01
And it's all so that you can cultivate confidence in your work, make good money doing what you're best at and live a life you'd love. To learn more about our book and order one for yourself go to beingboss.club/book.

Emily Thompson 21:14
And to check out Almanac Supply Company head on over to AlmanacSupplyCo.com get 15% off of your first order with discount code being boss at checkout.

Kathleen Shannon 21:25
Do the work.

Emily Thompson 21:27
Be boss.