Recent guest speaker Erin Elliott is the co-owner of specialty retailer Maude Specklebelly’s; located in downtown Monmouth, IL (see: http://www.maudespecklebellys.com/). While speaking to the class she did indeed say: “We Have No Idea What We Are Doing.” I do not believe this.
Maybe there was a bit of truth to this when the business first started but I think the quote more so exemplifies the fact that any young entrepreneurial venture involves a lot of trial and error and adaptation of the original business plan.
Below, class member Charles Powell tells the very special story of Erin Elliott and Maude Specklebelly’s with a focus on what is arguably the business’s greatest constant challenge; inventory management.
Three years ago Erin Elliott didn’t think that she and her best friend Jaime Ballard would be running their own business. Together, they entered the City of Monmouth’s Retail Business Competition and created a winning business plan in just six days; something she does not recommend to anyone else. Erin, with a degree in marketing, and Jaime, a great graphic designer, together are an efficient team and have created a successful business.
Erin spoke to our class about her business and how it started and works, as well as reasons for its success (even though Erin claims “we have no idea what they are doing”). I found that inventory management is a particularly interesting and important part of this business. The buying, storing, and selling of goods in their store is interesting and says a lot about the people who run and shop at the business.
Their inventory is from many places due to the need to constantly have unique items in the store. Erin will search online and Jaime will even go to Las Vegas in order to find the products they think will be a good addition to the store. The huge variation of goods in the store causes them to have many open lines and they have even been told by the producers that it is unusual for a store to order so many different goods in such small quantity from so many different sources. Erin believes her business needs risk and constant change to succeed. She wants Maude’s to never grow stale with the same stuff for any extended period of time.
Erin firmly believes in “where the dollar is best spent,” which corresponds with her view on what inventory, and how much of that inventory, to get. Erin is very proud of the uniqueness of the store and keeps that in mind when buying goods. Only the minimum amount of a certain product is typically bought at one time. This means no “volume discounts” but preserves the “rarity value” of the products. People who buy something from the store know that they will not see many people with the same thing. Erin does not re-order any particular item very much because after something is sold it should be replaced in the store with something different and unique.
Inventory is commonly kept at Erin’s house (if it is not in the store). She does have to take out specific insurance to be able to do this legally but it is considered an acceptable cost. An advantage of this is that with the inventory being in a place like this it can be very well managed. Because of close proximity and easy access, Erin can be in full control of everything and makes it worth most any risk associated. As we have learned in class, entrepreneurs using their own individual resources to help their business in the beginning is not unusual.
Inventory that is being sold at Maude is never just set out randomly. Erin wants people who enter the store to have a certain experience that will make them come back. This mindset has caused Erin and Jaime to put thought into everything from product placement to the smell of the store. Erin says they learned early on that product placement is important. Originally they had the ‘better products’ in the front, they happened to be on the expensive side, but the cost would scare customers off who would immediately assume everything in the store to be too expensive.
Inventory selection, storage, and selling all have obvious correlation to the owners and how they run their business. Erin had a clear goal in mind when creating Maude Specklebelly’s and has worked very hard to keep that goal clear and integrated in the store. The store has grown and prospered under the ownership of Erin and Jaime, who have stayed true to their foundational goals. They are always working to create a special experience for each customer and to keep the store unique, giving consumers rare oddities that they cannot normally find in the area. Careful thought is put into every aspect of their specialty retail store.