Ask a cross section of retailers how they feel about special orders and you’ll get a variety of answers, but there’s really only one right answer. Do you know what it is?

Special orders are a nuisance. Right? They involve more paperwork and probably phone follow up. Of course you’ll be fielding the calls from the customer wanting to know if their order has arrived yet. And then there’s the freight. Retailers dread paying extra freight because it lowers their margins.

So why, with all of these negatives, would consider special orders? Actually, there are many reasons. The first and most important is that you’ll retain the customer. You never want them to go elsewhere because they will continue to patronize the store that has their item. So, when you make a special order, you should do it with a smile, even if you don’t make a penny.

Think of it as the cheapest advertising you can get. You’ve just shown this customer that you will go the extra mile to make them happy. They respect and appreciate that you’ll do that. And don’t worry about the freight. More than likely, you’ll cover your product cost (at a minimum) and there’s really no overhead attached. So, write a special order and make a long term customer.

When the order comes in, you generate another wave of excitement with your call to let them know they can come pick up the item they wanted. And while they’re in the store in a great mood, you can sell them some additional merchandise.

As important as that is, the effect on your inventory will be really positive. As a merchant, you cannot be all things to all people at all times. If you were, you’d have so much inventory that you would never be able to pay your bills. Your inventory should consist of the popular items in the popular sizes. Customers who require odd sizes know full well that they won’t find what they want in most stores. But if they know when visiting your store, they can still get what they want if they are willing to wait a bit, they will come see you. You can get it faster than they can on the internet or running around town trying to find it. Help them out with a special order and you’ll make a friend, keep your inventory at the right level and wind up making more money.

And where does open to buy planning fit into this mix? Your open to buy plan will tell you how much to buy to keep your inventory lean and turning at optimum rates. Special order what your stock doesn’t support and you’ll always be a sales winner.

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