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Merchandising 303: Evaluation and Expansion
By Oliver Chin
Reprinted with permission by the author
Step 3 completes the cycle of the merchandising process.
As you may recall, step 1 was understanding how licensing drives the production of anime, manga, and ancillary goods. Always remember that selling bootleg and import goods undermines the market's legitimacy and growth.
Step 2 was selecting a desirable category of merchandise that relates to existing lines of anime and manga you sell. That way you deepen customer interest while you broaden revenue streams.
Now finish the feedback loop. Pay attention and score your sales test results. Make the next decision whether to continue and strengthen your commitment to selling anime and manga merchandise.
Did you make the Grade?
Providing that you have found products that are "sellable" to customers and even opened an account to purchase them, your job has just begun. Adding items to sell is no easy task. Indeed, sometimes business economics is a zero-sum game. Dealing with finite space (floor and inventory) and money (rent and capital to purchase goods), retailers often must discard stock that hasn't sold well in favor of new stock keeping units (SKUs) that have the potential to move.
Often you can't find more warehouse space, a bigger discretionary income or even qualified employees. Assuming that retailers have one or more of these problems, you must be even more diligent about weeding out underperforming stock and giving more types of anime and manga merchandise a chance.
Bereft of these key options, retailers are evolution's agents, enforcing the survival of the fittest products. From a publisher's perspective, some retailers only try anime and manga due to desperation where others have optimistically embraced the category due to faith in the product's potential.
In baseball terms, that is the difference between a reactive manager and a visionary planner. Much like utilizing foreign star players, a manager, due to the need for better performance, should let them step up to the plate and earn a spot in the starting lineup. It is no coincidence that the major leagues have opened up their doors to players from overseas, after many decades of ignoring foreign competition. Hideo Nomo paved the way for Hideki Irabu. Meanwhile Americans are more receptive to trying and incorporating Pacific Rim culture. Talent should be recognized as talent universally. The same is true of the quality of anime and manga products.
Analyze Anime's Appeal
Measuring a category's performance may take a month or more. Keep in mind that just because you've pinned a poster to the wall doesn't mean that existing consumers know or care. Or that you shouldn't try to attract new customers who would care. Stocking product is simply the first step. The next is educating your staff and then your customers on why they are worth buying.
After grouping merchandise categories distinctly but next to each other with clear signage, train your staff. Assign them appropriately to the store's high traffic periods, and provide them with special approaches to sell both high and low margin areas.
For larger stores, standardize receiving procedures and create a merchandising team for stocking and presenting product during the weekdays. This can free up sales people to work the floor better and provide them more time to focus on customers during the hours when most sales occur - weekends and evenings.
Provide staff with unique ways to promote high and low profit areas within the store. Staff high profit areas with the most experienced people to spend more time with each individual customer. In lower profit areas, newer staff greet each customer and assist customers who are interested in purchasing. In both areas stress trading up the customer to higher-margin items and suggesting add-on accessories.
Call Customers Back
Evaluate past promotions to identify patterns of success to duplicate them in future programs. Better advertising and promotion result in increased sales and gross margins.
Develop an overall turnaround strategy to make room for new merchandise, such as closing unprofitable products, trimming expenses, and reviewing your advertising program.
Use merchandise as attractive promotions. They can be very trendy, so you need to be vigilant about when to jump off a slowing locomotive. This year, a retro product (what a surprise) is back in the spotlight. A prominent retailer in a big city recently told me he is doing great business in...
To promote the product to new customers he conducts training classes for free and happily notes that enrollment is high and enthusiastic. This is smart retailing. How is this related to anime and manga? Well in Japan, yo-yos have been a huge sensation, spawning a plethora of merchandise by leading entertainment companies who wish to repeat their success in the West. To be sure, animated yo-yo packin' heroes exist and wait to be reborn in English.
Analyze promotions to understand what types generated the best sales and profit increases in the past, and identify why promotions were successful. Checking the facts helps you make better decisions for future purchases and marketing programs.
Personally I am actively pursuing more merchandising business opportunities, not only to produce more licensed products but also to work with companies that already do. I have barely begun to scratch the surface of items and potential partners, but am encouraged by publishers who want to grow their audience, product lines, and brand awareness. This trend bodes well for retailers who have the mettle to join in.