Q: What methods do you use to help you buy the right mix?
Mercer: A good friend, Eric Cortina from Rogers Gardens, taught me about storyboards. There are two parts: the inspiration board and the storyboard.
The inspiration board is created before going to market. It creates a direction with color, texture and theme. And then after returning from the market, I create storyboards from what I bought at market. Storyboards let the floral designers and display artist understand my vision.
I take loads of photos at the giftshows and assemble them on a large poster for each theme I have chosen. It is also helps my buying, because sometimes I will get the photos together and realize it won’t be successful. Then I go back and change my order and reinvent.
I always include a coordinating ribbon on the storyboard because floral design is very important in our store.
Putting together the boards is time consuming, but I feel it gets us all on the same wavelength.
There are a couple of other tools I use for buying I want to mention. First, I never leave home without open-to-buy numbers. I run inventory level reports on December 22, which gives a focused picture as I do my buying, especially what did not sell.
One of my strongest recommendations for new buyers is: Network! Get to know your neighbors in town and other parts of the country and have dinner together at market. Those relationships and the information shared has been invaluable to me.
Q: When you are on buying trips, how do you discern what will sell and what won’t?
Mercer: First and foremost I always look for intrinsic value in everything I buy. Then I try to cover all bases when it comes to price point. I want to sell both the $2 drawstring bag from Peking Handicraft and the $2000 Russian Santa. I need to be proud of all the product I sell.
You never really know what is going to sell, but if something really sends me, then I know my customers will be excited about it too.
I try not to fill my store with reordered product. I have a few bread and butter items, but success is all about change.
Color stories are often the core of our displays, so mixing product lines is imperative. I am extremely observant of color when I shop. Each season there are category trends that I feel strongly about and this will direct my buying.
Home décor has been on a downward spiral for us for a while, but apparel has filled in that gap. It has become a very important part of our inventory, so I have created a boutique in the back of the store that really focuses on jewelry, hats, scarves and clothing.
Q: What tips do you have for how to work the tradeshows?
Mercer: I really work the whole show in Atlanta (AmericasMart), trying to walk every floor in every building. I like to get an overview before I start buying. The first few days I take note of new styles, colors and trends. Then I’m ready to start creating a look for the store. Often a trend will look new and exciting in the first showroom, but by the time you have seen it everywhere, it has lost its allure. That’s when it is vital for a buyer create her own look.
Get out of your comfort zone, go into showrooms you think have nothing to do with your store. It opens your mind and you may come across the next great thing. Every store needs a few far out items. This year my stretch was an item called the Coobie bra. I took a chance and it took off. Since June I have sold 350 pieces at $22. Wish I could find more items like that where customers come back to buy two or three more.
When I try something new I will often offer it to the staff at cost to get them on board. Then everyone has an experience they can share with the customer.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Mercer: My vendors are always changing, which presents a challenge in getting Net 30 terms. Most new vendors want credit cards or COD. Another area of struggle is we have the advantage and challenge of merchandising in a real house. So we try to romance each room so our customers can imagine what our product will look like when they take it home.