Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Q: In the short amount of time that I have been in business, I already have a recurring problem with customers asking me to order or reorder things. As a new business, I really want to cater to my customers needs, but it is difficult to justify a $250 minimum order for four napkins that retail for $5 each. And sometimes it's even worse! Right now I need to place about $1,000 worth of product for a request of $50 in retail sales. I know this sounds like a no-brainer... but how do you avoid offending or irritating or losing the customer? I'd be interested to know how you and other shop owners handle this situation.

A: Isn't this a pain? I want to please customers too but sometimes this can really push the limit of customer service when you have to watch your money so closely. The real problem is the customer hasn't a clue there are minimums so I have learned to do a couple of things:
1. Learn how bad they want it.
Sometimes customers just want to whine. They say they want it, then you ask for a deposit and you find out just how serious they are. They are really just mad at themselves that they didn't get it when they saw it the first time.
2. Fib a little.
If it is a smaller item and far from meeting minimums I may tell them the item is no longer available or discontinued. This sounds silly but it separates the serious customers from the ones who are just talking, but more importantly it lets you off the hook. Take their phone number and say you'll check on it. (and do!) Call later and tell them the vendor is out of stock until- whenever. Let's face it, there are compulsive shoppers out there and they just want what they want when they want it and some especially want you to bend over backwards for them because they are used to getting their way. These are very few and far between but don't we always remember them?
3. Train your customer.
My staff has learned to tell customers I do not buy deep into anything so they better jump on it right away as I seldom reorder because I do not want everyone in town to have one- which is true! This takes awhile but they start to learn and are glad the entire neighborhood doesn't have the same item and it makes them buy early and return often.
4. Call the vendor.
Explain the situation as MANY times there is a only a $10 fee when you are under minimums and you can just charge it to the customer. Tell the vendor it is for a wedding or something so they understand the request.
5. Reorder on a schedule.
But seriously, this is how I do it: First, if it is a popular vendor that I reorder from often I tell the customer we place orders on the 1st and the 15th. (or maybe once a month, or once a season). This way you can build up some special requests and hopefully meet minimums. This is especially good with bedding and jewelry.
6. Offer quantity discounts.
I may offer the customer 15% off if they buy multiple items, a case of something or an ensemble- anything to entice them to help you meet the minimum with that vendor. I offer this a lot when we discontinue a line and someone has gotten addicted to it- like candles or soap.
7. Remember them.
My staff takes a lot of names with special requests at the counter and they constantly call these customers when we are ready to order from a vendor or have received a shipment. This really pays off and they feel special we have taken the time to remember them.

I read recently that Sue Fisher King in San Francisco said she will reorder anything for a customer even if it is just one glass to complete a set. Of course the customer is thrilled but when you are small and starting out can you afford this? Take into consideration what always sells, if this is a really good customer and if you are fairly certain you will sell whatever the remainder of the order might be even if you may have to save it for the next season. All in all you have to draw the line somewhere. Ordering a $50 item for a customer when the reorder is $1000 is painful for relationships but not smart for finances. You must decide.

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