“Since we operate in the Northeast, we reserve purchasing and product research to the fall and winter. We do the bulk of our buying and product research in the colder months because it is slower, and most of us wear many hats throughout the year. When we aren’t needed on the sales floor, the cash wrap, a water test or at a customer’s house, we focus on the upcoming season. We have time to evaluate sales and trends from the season that just passed. Most of our managers are the buyers for a product category or categories. We present to the group what we have decided to carry and why we made those decisions.
We never stop looking and learning. Sometimes, carrying new products is a reaction to the competition or consumer demand, and is done on the fly. For example, customers started seeing [bottles of] liquid pool solar blankets in mail-order catalogues and asking if we carried them. We bought some in May and were sold out by June. Now we sell hundreds and hundreds of bottles a season.”
“We usually prefer to bring in new products during the early season (January/February) to be comfortable with them before we enter our busy season. Any time we bring in a new product category or even a new product within a category we already offer, it will take time to understand the features and benefits of that product in order to properly describe it to a potential customer. Bringing a new product in during our slower season allows us to become familiar with the product and present it properly, recommend it when it suits a particular need and to establish the correct pricing. There are sometimes early-buy offers we can take advantage of by purchasing off-season. Special terms or discounts may make an off-season purchase sensible for us.”
“I like to make most of my patio purchases in July/August; it is easier to project my needs for the following year while the current season is still fresh in my head. Plus, I like to get my patio business out of the way so I’m not overwhelmed in the fall when I have to make purchasing decisions on my pool and spa supplies. But patio seems to sell at similar times as spas — when the weather is not too hot, not too cold — so we like to have inventory on hand almost year round. Also, most [manufacturers] offer incentives to get orders in earlier than fall. It’s not always easy, since you are making assumptions on how the remainder of the season is going to play out, but it is worth the effort. Plus, it gives a head start for the following season.”