If you've shopped with us a lot, it's possible you've received an email that goes something like this:
Dear (your name),
While fulfilling your order we discovered that one of the prints you've ordered is out of stock. If you like, we can replace it with another fabric of equal value, or provide a refund for the missing fabric.
Relative to the number of orders we fill, coming up short on an order is a pretty rare occurrence. That said, when we have bad news for a customer, it's usually this. And if you're like me, you probably wonder how something like that could happen. After all, we had the fabric listed on our website, so where did it go? It's a fair question, with a really long answer.
In retail, there's a thing called shrink, which is basically any loss of profit you can't plan for. And one of the most common kinds of shrink is merchandise that mysteriously disappears.
Of course, merchandise doesn't really disappear. It either goes somewhere where it's not easily found, or it was never delivered in the first place. And sometimes you just never know which one it is.
In the fabric business, for example, we trust our manufacturers and distributors to deliver to us exactly what we order. But just like us, they're only human, and mistakes happen. We have one person (Josh!) whose job it is to check in fabric, to make sure we get what we order, but even then, we can't unroll every bolt and count every inch of fabric. Sometimes the bolts are just wrong...we get sent more or less of the fabric than we were expecting, and we don't know until we get to the end of the bolt.
And while that does happen, and may even be fairly common, there are plenty other ways for things to go awry.
For instance, we have computer software that tracks our inventory for sales both online and in our brick-and-mortar store, but there are plenty of times we have to adjust inventory manually - the first time a fabric enters the store, for example, or anytime we have to deduct yardage to cut custom bundles - and each point of contact is a chance for a number to be skewed. The fact it happens as seldom as it does is a testament to our own care and attentiveness. It's something we're really proud of.
Sometimes fabric gets misplaced. We have a lot of fabric, and if one bolt gets put back wrong, it can become impossible to find. On more than one occasion we've emailed a customer to let them know we were out of their favorite print, only to discover a short time later that we really did have it...it was just not in its usual place.
Sometimes we actually do have the fabric...at least, we do when the order is placed. But while cutting the order we may discover a defect - anything from an ink blotch to a tear - that makes it unusable. If it's a small problem we might check with our customer first to see if it they still want it, but if it's not salvageable it means we can't fulfill that particular order .
There is another big cause of shrink that we, fortunately, don't have to worry too much about: theft. Shoplifters account for a huge amount of property loss to retailers every year and it's a major concern for a lot of companies. It's also one of the hardest to control. It's a problem we're glad we don't have!
There are other causes too - bookkeeping errors, bolts being tagged incorrectly, and so on - but the above are the really big ones. We do everything we can to prevent this and we're proud of how seldom it happens. But if you ever got an email saying we were out of stock of something and wondered how that could have happened...well, we're probably asking the same question!