Inventory Genius Method: Unstick Yourself and Your Business

boutique business boutique business tools boutique ownership education coaching ecommerce inventory genius series product-based business Jun 22, 2023
Profit strategist, Ciara Stockeland in doorway of retail business; text

In this post, we're continuing on our journey through the Inventory Genius Method. I am going to share stories from my own business journey in order to work through how to unstick yourself and your business when you encounter hard points. In these Inventory Genius Method posts, every story you read is real, and every business journey is a lesson for you as you make your way forward on the path to profitability.

I hope that the bite-sized, actionable steps I offer will give you the hope you are looking for and the energy to put one foot in front of the other. After all, business is hard but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

As you read, you may decide to print these posts and highlight sections you find especially important. Or, you may just decide to take notes. Please feel free to write down questions as you have them and reach out to me when you are ready for the next step or to share your realization moments with me. I want to celebrate your wins and applaud your efforts as you work to become an inventory genius!

Now, take a look at this moment in my life:

As I sat in the back room of my flagship store surrounded by boxes of inventory, crying (again), I looked down at what was on my desk and had an epiphany. It was so profound that I had the wherewithal to pull out my phone and snap a picture. This picture showed a bottle of Tums, a crumpled up tissue, and the logo of the brand I had grown to despise.

A third-generation entrepreneur, I was never content with the thought of going to college, hammering out a four-year degree, and sitting in a cubicle working for someone else. In fact, I was so underwhelmed with the idea of “picking my career” that I didn’t even know what I wanted to do once my high school chapter closed.

I had started a small theater business in my freshman year of high school, and by the age of eighteen, the natural path for me was to forget about college altogether and focus on my entrepreneurial dream. The acting company had grown from a backyard idea to a full-blown business, focusing on impacting kids from grade school to college, kids who were home schooled, kids who were both privately and publicly educated.

Fast forward a few years. I was married with a little one, as well as another on the way, and my ever-adventurous spirit was calling me to a new business venture. So, I closed my theater studio, sold out the seats for the last production, and decided to try my hand at retail.

Say hello to spring of 2006. I remember the excitement and anticipation of opening my own store. As most of you likely did, I wrote out a plan, discussed it with family and friends, created a logo, and picked out the colors of my brand. After all, that’s what matters, right? The location, the font on the sign, and the colors of the hangers in the store is the fun work and the work we all think we should do to make it big!

I knew nothing about retail. I had no formulas or spreadsheets. I didn’t know that open-to-buy was a thing. Financials? Those were for bankers. Cost of goods sold? Never heard of it.

I did, however, know how to sell. I understood how to be my own PR firm, how to tell my story, and how to treat my employees. These things were taught to me during long hours in my father’s and grandfather’s window businesses during my elementary and teenage years. The value of hard work, the ability to connect with clients, and the skill of looking for opportunities everywhere were bred into me. However, the foundations of business, focus on what matters, the ability to deal with conflict and create structure were either never shown, or I simply never chose to pay attention.

My high-end maternity and baby boutique took off with a bang. In fact, it started off so successful that a few short months after I started, I was presented with an opportunity to open a second retail concept right next door. I jumped on board. My designer outlet store, MODE, taught me my first lessons in consumer behavior and product pricing. While my high-end boutique followed the more traditional retail flow of going to market and merchandising with style, the designer outlet concept offered me the opportunity to buy in bulk and sell to the masses.

In the fall of 2007, customers began to ask if franchising the concept was an option.

Note the word “franchise.” I promise I will get back to the tissues and Tums.

I figured, why not franchise? Saying yes to opportunity hadn’t failed me yet. I could figure this out. I could grow the brand in locations around the country without having to hire an internal team and be on the hook for dozens of leases. So, we combined the two retail concepts into one. I wrote an operations manual, set up a little warehouse in the back room, hired a team, and franchised the brand.

This post isn’t about franchising, and it isn’t even really about my journey. This post is about the hard work I was doing on my brand instead of the right work I should have been doing to become an inventory genius.

Let’s fast forward through many years, many dollars, and many headaches to that day at the desk in the back room.

Scaling the business without the right foundation meant scaling the problems and expenses right alongside the revenue.

Between the launch of the new concept and the bottle of Tums were so many amazing wins—a seven-figure business, the prestige of going to the White House on behalf of all business, gaining a seat on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Council, receiving awards and accolades, and a sparkly exterior.

But behind the scenes, I began to feel stuck. Scaling up the business without the right foundation meant scaling up the problems and expenses right alongside the revenue. A lack of understanding of what the financials were saying meant a balance sheet that was out of control and that was creating more and more risk for my family. Most importantly, the impact of not realizing, from day one, that inventory was my secret weapon—that inventory and how I managed it would make or break the business as well as my sanity—continued to compound until the franchisees were all gone, we filed for bankruptcy, and I was sitting in the back room in tears after liquidating every last pair of jeans and earrings.

If only I had understood the power of the inventory—to write a paycheck, to eliminate debt, and to drive the right customers through the doors.

Some parts of our story are written for us. Some circumstances are beyond our control, but we have to own part of our story as well. I knew that. What had gone wrong? How was it even possible that after over a decade of growing and expanding this amazing business, I had paid a team of twelve and had never taken a consistent paycheck? How was it possible that after giving everything—after doing all the work—I was going to turn my keys in and drive home with nothing to show for it other than an ulcer and a dumpster full of worthless files and obsolete supplies?

The season that followed gave me time to reflect and to truly ponder what I had missed in that first go around. I knew it wasn’t for lack of trying; I had never been afraid to seek council, ask advice, or put in the effort.

Yes, I had gone into franchising completely unaware of how the process could change a brand. But there was more. What if I could rewind to when I said yes to franchising in the first place? What if instead of jumping into the shiny opportunity for growth and expansion, I had understood that what showed up on the bottom line was a thousand times more important that what the number at the top looked like.

What if I had thought about that number at the very bottom and had been truly curious about what drove it to increase? What if I had looked around my beautiful store and my massive warehouse and thought about my inventory as cash on hangers and cash in boxes. I would have realized that every one of those hanging and sitting “dollar bills” could grow more cash and deliver even more to that bottom line number.

What if I had realized I could control that bottom line growth without multiple locations, a team, and so many liabilities on the balance sheet? Would I have even franchised at all?

“What ifs” are futile. There is no point in wishing to rewrite the past unless we use those “what ifs” to create our genius. We must own our mistakes and dig deeper into how to do it better the next time around.

After losing it all, I had a choice. I could sit on the couch with my bottle of Tums and my box of tissues, growing bitter and resentful, or I could give myself a little time to mourn what could have been and then get up and do it again, this time differently. I could take the “what ifs” and turn them into the “here’s how.” Build a new inventory-based business with an entirely different perspective. One that focused on profit instead of sales. One that chose to look at my inventory as the counterpoint to my success instead of the opportunity to buy and sell pretty things. One that wrote me a consistent paycheck every month.

I chose the latter, and you can, too.

Let’s use my “what ifs” to prompt you to begin to rewrite your story before you end up on the couch with your own bottle of Tums. Let’s talk through how the Inventory Genius Method can breathe new life into your product-based business.

Here's a list of what you can do when you get stuck in business:

1. Ask yourself this question as if you're asking it to a coaching client: If you could wave your magic wand and everything could be exactly as you want it to be in your business, what would that look like? Here's the thing about feeling stuck: we oftentimes can't see the forest through the trees. We forget that we have tools and a team at our disposal. We're trying to claw our way out of our situation and we forget to look at the big picture and the end goal. By intentionally asking what we want our businesses to look like, we're able to take a step back and remember our goals and vision.

2. Once you have that vision back in the front of your mind, ask yourself what you need to make it happen. You have to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. You have to get ready to do it - to really make it happen. And oftentimes, that can feel uncomfortable. I believe you're willing to do the uncomfortable things to make your vision a reality.

3. Finally, ask yourself how you'll get to that vision. Look at your business as a puzzle that needs to be solved. Figure out how you'll make it happen.

So remember, to get yourself unstuck, ask three things: what do I want, what do I need, and how am I going to get there? 

If you're looking for next steps beyond these blog posts, I invite you to get started with the Quickstart to Inventory Genius. 

The Quickstart is my keystone coaching roadmap. Three modules will quickly layout five things to focus on in your inventory based business. You can implement these five strategies right away in order to drive immediate profit. And with the Quickstart, I GUARANTEE that you'll double your investment through either making, saving, or finding that amount in PROFIT. The Quickstart really is the perfect way to get your inventory based business on the right track.

Looking for related posts? 

→ Simplify Business with the Inventory Genius Method

The Right Work for Inventory Based Businesses

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Weekly bite-sized advice from Ciara Stockeland.