Lessons from a mistake of Christmas past

November 19, 2011

Our first Christmas as a company was in 2009 — and it was crazy. We got into Oprah magazine in the holiday gift guide. Our sales skyrocketed.

We had to scramble to meet all the demand. We were working 24/7 keeping up with all the orders. We were packing boxes. Our parents were helping. Our friends were packing as well. On top of that, we were setting up our warehouse.

We sell Footzyrolls — shoes that women can roll up and slip into their purses. We sell them wholesale to boutiques and department stores and to consumers through our Web site.

That first Christmas taught us important lessons about preparing for the holidays.

When we set up our warehouse, we made two mistakes: We didn’t order enough inventory for the demand and we didn’t know how to properly fill the orders. When someone ordered five pairs of gold shoes, we’d send them three. But we were lucky. Had the warehouse followed the proper instructions we would have run out of shoes.

When we realized the mistake, we sent them the additional quantity through Fed Ex and we paid for it.

The experience taught us the pitfalls of under ordering. When you under order, you lose your customer who will go somewhere else. Over ordering can also cause problems — you get stuck with inventory. You can’t get out from under that weight until you sell it.

It takes experience to get the balance right to know how your sales will increase.

Now we err on the side of overordering. We keep extra inventory based on the lessons learned from the first year. If it doesn’t sell at Christmas we can sell in January or throughout the year — for Mother’s Day or a birthday.

In retail, it’s important to have great customer service representatives. We try to get some extra people to answer the phone during the holidays. When they go home, we use Google Voice. The phone rings to our cell phones and we take the orders at night and on weekends.

We find people through referrals from friends and Craig’s List. In New York, Craig’s List is the best place to find reliable people.

We look for people who are personable, energetic and fun. They’re representing us and they have to be like us.

Footzyrolls is not a big company and we can’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising. So we use referrals and word of mouth to get people to come to our Web site. This year we’re giving out a golden ticket. If you come online on Black Friday or Cyber Monday and purchase items you’ll get an e-mail with a gold ticket and a unique link that you can forward to your friends. If your friends purchase from us, they will get a 20 percent discount and you will get a 20 percent discount on what your friends buy. At the end of Cyber Monday, whoever has the most referrals will get a $100 American Express gift card.

We can’t offer free shipping but what we can do is get people to tell other people about our business.

What we’re saying with this promotion is that you’re like our sales reps and we’re willing to compensate you for that. We want people to feel like they’re helping a small business and not some big corporate person sitting at a fancy desk.

We want people to feel we are small and individualized and we’re here for them.

Sarah and Jenifer Caplan own New York- and Miami-based Footzyrolls.

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