How to Move Stale Merchandise
Speaker and retailer Mary Liz Curtin reveals her methods to move 'dog' merchandise, including close-out sales and new displays.
 

Good retailing is about turning inventory quickly. But merchandising dollars often get tied up stocking slow products and funding customer returns. Never let a sleeping “dog” lie in this business. Speaker, author and home furnishings retailer Mary Liz Curtin of Royal Oak, MI, has a few ideas for how to get those duds out the door.

As a rule, she says, give a stocked item 30 days. If it hasn’t sold in that time, take action.

“I believe in holding closeout sales, usually twice a year,” explains Curtin, author of the recently released “A Shopkeeper’s Manual” and presenter of this month’s Dallas Market seminar “Who Let the Dogs Out?!” “You’ve got to create lots of hoopla and excitement, and a sale is a great way to do it.”

According to Curtin, chain retailers regularly buy closeout merchandise from vendors, taking full markups on these already discounted goods. The idea is to blend full-margin closeouts with dog products from the floor, beefing up the profitability of the promotion.

“You’d be surprised at how many vendors have terrific closeout merchandise,” she says. “Some turnover 40 to 60 percent of their lines each year.”

As you mix in “healthy” closeouts with stale merchandise, be sure to cultivate the dreaded “sale customer.” She may not be your favorite shopper, Curtin notes, but she’s precisely whom you need to pick over your closeouts.

Just don’t turn to liquidators, she cautions. They pay only fractions on the dollar to move aging goods, making liquidation a poor, and usually unnecessary, way to move “dog” merchandise.

One alternative is eBay. Curtin says the online auction service has seen tremendous growth in furniture and lighting, so it’s a good marketplace for unsalable goods.

Sometimes moving dog merchandise calls for actions that seem counterintuitive. A distinctive item that isn’t moving may have caught somebody’s attention—you just don’t know it. If you have a good instinct about an item, Curtin suggests removing the piece from the floor and packing it away in the back warehouse for a time. In one instance, when trying to liquidate a large mirror, Curtin sold it at a deep discount. She was surprised when, soon afterward, three separate customers asked what had happened to the piece. One disappointed lady had even been saving to buy it and would have paid full price.

Before considering any of these thornier options, pay your displays a bit of attention. Moving product around the store keeps it fresh and stimulates both shoppers and staff. Be sure to avoid that “picked-over” look by lumping your dogs together. Try placing them among the newest arrivals.

“Sometimes you have to buy items in order to sell the ones not moving,” Curtin says. “This is especially true with smaller items.”

The Feel-Good Option

Lighting showrooms can turn excess inventory into a tax deduction by donating overstock merchandise to charity. More than 7,000 companies have donated inventory to the National Assn. for the Exchange of Industrial Resources since its 1977 founding. Goods are redistributed to 9,500 qualified schools and nonprofit organizations, and there is no cost for the service other than the shipping charges that are incurred. For a free NAEIR kit, call (800) 562-0955 or send an e-mail to donor@naeir.org.

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