There are two, well I guess three approaches to selling stuff. You can do ready to ship, made to order or some combination of the two. I find that many people when starting out only think of ready to ship or made to order. That is they wonder how on earth they are going to restock when things sell (ready to ship focused) or how they will ever keep up with orders while juggling the demands of their family (made to order).
Both approaches have their pros and cons. I primarily do made to order, it has worked well for me. I understand that it’s a very personal decision that depends on so many factors so I decided to recruit Lindsey of the lovely Pleated Poppy blog and shop who primarily sells ready to ship so that those of you who are thinking through this can get a bit more of a balanced perspective.
What draws us to one or the other
Lindsey (ready to ship) – I began my shop with a mix of ready to ship items and then people started asking for custom orders. Because that meant more customers, I said yes and started on custom orders. Then I was going crazy with completing my orders before anything else, like taking care of my kids. I realized that for me, as a mom with kids at home, it is more important for me to prioritize my time with them and put business second. So when I do have a spare minute to work on products, I will. But its only when I can and want to and not when I have to.
Me (made to order) – I started off listing items that I had made for friends so I had photos and explained that I could make a variety of sizes. In the beginning I even showed pictures of fabric swatches saying I could make the same design in various fabrics. This worked well for me. I have tried to sell ready to ship items and they just sat around. I sold most eventually (but over a year or more for some). Now I don’t do the fabric swatch, if I have a new product or fabric I either make one up and list the sample as ready to ship or use it for a gift to friends and family. Still to this day my ready to ship items move painfully slow. Even though I think I know what sizes sell somehow I always pick the opposite sizes of what people want of those exact fabrics. So making things to order works better for me. Also I’m the kind of person that needs deadlines. It’s really hard for me to be motivated to make things with no goal or time frame. I don’t leave things to the last minute but I do work better when I’m a little busy.
The benefits as we see it
Lindsey (ready to ship) much less stress! I only sell what I’ve made, so if I want to take a vacation, I just make a bunch of items, list them and leave. I also have much less emails than when I was taking custom orders. I also get to make what I want. I don’t have to wait for a customer to tell me what they want.
Me (made to order) less wasted time and product sitting around. I can appeal to more people with more sizes without having to put unnecessary work in first. I get paid before I invest the time so I know my time is covered. I give myself a very lenient turnaround time. I don’t have to worry as much about reading potential customers’ minds of what they will like and in what sizes.
The harder part
Lindsey (ready to ship) not everything sells as quickly as I would like them to. You definitely have more money invested ahead of time when you have an inventory of products.
Me (made to order) You have to stay on top of how fast/how much you’re selling. Most of us will have limited resources both from the point of labor (how much time we can invest) and from the point of materials. You need to make sure you have enough supplies for what you sell. Please don’t sell items if you don’t have everything to make it on hand because stores stop carrying things, products that were staples at your local craft store go on back order and then you’ll be stuck explaining to an angry customer why you took the order in the first place. Also if there is a rush that I don’t notice it can easily become overwhelming. But having had that experience I know how much I can handle so if things start getting backed up I can just stop relisting the items that sell (this slows the movement of orders). If I really need things to slow down I can simply put the shop in vacation mode or edit the listings to increase the turnaround times. Not all customers want to wait for their items to be made but in my experience 80% of the people who want things faster are willing to pay a rush fee.
Some things you’ll want to think about either way: turnaround time, what happens if you get sick, what will you do about vacations, what if you get a ton of orders all at once, if you want to do ready to ship will you be open to custom orders and if so under what circumstances (for example you might consider it if it’s a large order and you have plenty of time to fill it), will they be one of a kind or multiples of a kind, remember that if they are one of a kind you’ll need new pictures and descriptions for each which takes more time).
One last tip from me when deciding on your turnaround time set it at 1/3 more of what you most often can handle. For example. my turnaround time is 2-3 weeks before shipping because I can almost always get the orders done in 2 weeks, but people get sick, fun things come up that I want to be apart of and other life things can add delays. Pay attention to if you’re constantly pushing the max of your turnaround time you may need to increase it, consider raising your prices or lighten you load (either by taking less orders or getting help).
Hope that’s been helpful. As always I know many of you have get tips so please share them in the comments since I’m sure it will be useful for someone. A huge gigantic thanks to Lindsey for sharing her experiences check out her shop here.