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Is it Possible to automate this business? Please share your expertise. Time is very crucial

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lovetodance

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Hi Fastlane Member,

This year is a challenger…

My father always says that he wishes health, health and once again health to everyone who has anniversary.

It happened that this year we had health challenges going on in both of our (my and my husband’s) families. And…
2 days ago we got a very sad message to hear, that the mother of my husband has a couple of weeks (maybe months) left to be here with us.

She and her husband have an online business, which they want to a.s.a.p. be out of their hands to be able to have as much time as possible to be together for this last few weeks.

I decided to help them and to run the family business.


To the business point:


I need to create / redesign this business to be able to run it at the beginning by myself and in half of the time they both did it. So the time plays a huge roll.

My question is how to automate this business, because it is not automated at all ! and according to my father-in-law it takes 2 people full time to do the job. (And I have other activities, which I can’t and do not want to drop).

The business is in the items for hand sewing.

I do not have yet a clue about the business itself and I am not worry about that. It is not complicated, so I know I can learn it and be knowledgable.

They have more than 50K items for sale. The web is running for many years and has already many customers. And it seems that clients really order all this 50K items!

The problem which I see directly is, that the customers order small amounts = low costs orders.

Every day orders are coming from different people. There is some stock of the items at hand, but at least once a week some items have to be ordered at warehouse.
Then sorted to a smaller sets, packed (sometimes repacked and check if all colours are ok etc.) and then send to the client. Returns are very rare.

Of course there is also a communication with the clients. How do you do it in the most efficient way? (Apart of FAQ)


The website is not running up to the nowadays e-commerce standars (on my unprofessional eye I can see it already). So that would need to be updated or totally remodelled in the near future. What would you recommend (program, platform), how to make the most efficient e-commerce web and how to redesign it so that all runs smoothly?

How to connect the inventory of the items with the shop?

I made a couple of websites for my own use (no programming, only visual - DreamWawer, Muse, Divi), but these were no online shops. Where can I learn about it? Do you have a good tips for the first steps and direction?

And the biggest QUESTION is :
Can you please share your expertise on the field of automatisation for this kind of business? -> Many (50K) items in very low prices, many clients, answering the clients questions daily, lots of sorting and posting every day.


In 2 weeks I am going to see the business from the “inside”. What I understood is, that the drop-shipping is not going to work.

Please, could you be so kind to share you experience/expertise/tips/ideas. Everything is super much appreciated!
Looking forward to hearing from you,

Thank you!
An :blush:
 

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Jon L

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I run a custom software business, so I have experience with automating things like this.

My first line of attack on this, though, isn't software. Its Process.

First: I highly doubt that you sell 50,000 items evenly. I'd bet that, maybe 500 things sell regularly, and the rest trail off from there. Do you have a way of analyzing your sales over the past couple years? Can you dump all sales into Excel and figure out what is actually selling? Which items are you making a profit on? (If you make $1 on a product that isn't made very often, you're likely losing money on it. It takes time to switch from one item to another. The seamstress has to find the right pattern, set up her machine, get the right cloth, etc.) If you do end up keeping all the items, you should adjust your price so you're making money on most things you sell.

Second: When you say that things are hand-sewn, what do you mean? Is that sewn by an employee of your company? If so, how efficient are you at doing this? Where is it being done? (US or India etc). Can you outsource the actual manufacture of these products?

Third: How labor intensive is your ordering system? What can you do immediately (without programming) to simplify it?
 

kelvinfernandezm

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I run a custom software business, so I have experience with automating things like this.

My first line of attack on this, though, isn't software. Its Process.

First: I highly doubt that you sell 50,000 items evenly. I'd bet that, maybe 500 things sell regularly, and the rest trail off from there. Do you have a way of analyzing your sales over the past couple years? Can you dump all sales into Excel and figure out what is actually selling? Which items are you making a profit on? (If you make $1 on a product that isn't made very often, you're likely losing money on it. It takes time to switch from one item to another. The seamstress has to find the right pattern, set up her machine, get the right cloth, etc.) If you do end up keeping all the items, you should adjust your price so you're making money on most things you sell.

Second: When you say that things are hand-sewn, what do you mean? Is that sewn by an employee of your company? If so, how efficient are you at doing this? Where is it being done? (US or India etc). Can you outsource the actual manufacture of these products?

Third: How labor intensive is your ordering system? What can you do immediately (without programming) to simplify it?
Sounds like a good example where the 80/20 rule can be applied. Get rid of the 80 percent of your items and leave the 20 percent that make the most profits. So you'll have to get rid of 40000 items and keep the 10000 items.
 

biophase

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Exactly my thought. You can’t do anything without a sales breakdown by SKU. When you get that come back and let us know how many are in the top 20% 50% and 70% of revenue.
 

LordGanon

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1. It's pretty obvious, as mentioned before, that you first have to cut down your product palette. See which 20% (max) of products have the greatest returns.

2. Redesign the product line in a way that you don't have to manually sort through your stuff. If your top-sellers (not only in volume, but profit) really demand that, hire cheap labor for that. There's no way around it if you want it out of your hands.

3. Switch to a shopping platform that has an API that can be used by routinized fulfillment & logistics providers.

4. Stop handling the inventory yourself immediately. Outsource the fulfillment. It's crucially important to cut your product palette beforehand and reduce your stock (---> big clearance sale, use your mailing list for that) to reduce costs for this.


After that, you can automate the online marketing. I've no experience in that (but I know that Shopify has tools for that).

You probably won't be as profitable as before, but you'll have reduced your workload vastly. Since there's no creativity involved (as far as I understood your business correctly), you can hire someone for absolutely everything who is probably better at this job than you.

Good luck.


.edit: If the business isn't profitable enough to pay someone to do such menial work as answering customer questions or it isn't possible due to the nature of the business, then you really have a problem and the business has violated a fundamental rule: Untie your profits from your time.
 

Tourmaline

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When you say automate hand sewing, I want to remove the hands from the process.

So I'd figure out first, what others have mentioned, what are the 20% that bring in the 80%.

Then how can I take those and make them creatable by robots/machines.

Then what sort of investment would be required, and how long would it take to turn a profit.

Then decide if it's even worth doing this, or selling the business and finding something more worthwhile.

Unless you're going high end, it feels like you're competing with Zara which......................
 

lovetodance

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Read Millionaire Fastlane
Sep 30, 2020
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I run a custom software business, so I have experience with automating things like this.

My first line of attack on this, though, isn't software. Its Process.

First: I highly doubt that you sell 50,000 items evenly. I'd bet that, maybe 500 things sell regularly, and the rest trail off from there. Do you have a way of analyzing your sales over the past couple years? Can you dump all sales into Excel and figure out what is actually selling? Which items are you making a profit on? (If you make $1 on a product that isn't made very often, you're likely losing money on it. It takes time to switch from one item to another. The seamstress has to find the right pattern, set up her machine, get the right cloth, etc.) If you do end up keeping all the items, you should adjust your price so you're making money on most things you sell.

Second: When you say that things are hand-sewn, what do you mean? Is that sewn by an employee of your company? If so, how efficient are you at doing this? Where is it being done? (US or India etc). Can you outsource the actual manufacture of these products?

Third: How labor intensive is your ordering system? What can you do immediately (without programming) to simplify it?
Hi John L.,

Thank you so much for your reaction and good questions.

Yes, I was thinking as you that it is impossible to sell all 50.000 items and I am totally convinced that I have to go deep in what are the bestsellers and get rid of what is not selling well. And yes, the switch from one item to another (or web feature) can take time and as MJ DeMarco wrote in his book, the audience is going to decide if they agree with the change.

To answer your question about the business profile:
The business is located in Europe, and it is not sewing at place anything. It is an online selling store with lots of items for people interested in 1 specific way of sewing (so it is very much focused niche) at home for a hobby. There are lots of patterns, threads (colours, thicknesses, lengths) and needles (sizes) etc. So customers know that they can find everything for this specific way of sewing on this web and accordingly to their preferrences (brands and tastes).

Ad. Third: I am going to experience myself (in 2 weeks) how labour intense is the daywork. I understood that they both start at 8.00 and finish at 21.00. Sometimes working also during the weekends. The work is: checking the mails and answering; checking the orders, sorting the items for the orders (sometimes make a different color combinations on demand), ordering the missing items at warehouse, answering the phone, labeling, preparing the packages, sending, bookkeeping daily. Any idea which of these can be automated somehow already? Are you maybe familiar with any smart programs connecting some of the written above?

Thank you,
An
 

lovetodance

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Read Millionaire Fastlane
Sep 30, 2020
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Amsterdam
Sounds like a good example where the 80/20 rule can be applied. Get rid of the 80 percent of your items and leave the 20 percent that make the most profits. So you'll have to get rid of 40000 items and keep the 10000 items.
Hi Kelvin,

Thanks for sharing. Yes, I know this rule. I was thinking about it as well ;) And I am more than sure it has to happen.

Cheers,
An
 

lovetodance

New Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Sep 30, 2020
13
9
15
Amsterdam
1. It's pretty obvious, as mentioned before, that you first have to cut down your product palette. See which 20% (max) of products have the greatest returns.

2. Redesign the product line in a way that you don't have to manually sort through your stuff. If your top-sellers (not only in volume, but profit) really demand that, hire cheap labor for that. There's no way around it if you want it out of your hands.

3. Switch to a shopping platform that has an API that can be used by routinized fulfillment & logistics providers.

4. Stop handling the inventory yourself immediately. Outsource the fulfillment. It's crucially important to cut your product palette beforehand and reduce your stock (---> big clearance sale, use your mailing list for that) to reduce costs for this.


After that, you can automate the online marketing. I've no experience in that (but I know that Shopify has tools for that).

You probably won't be as profitable as before, but you'll have reduced your workload vastly. Since there's no creativity involved (as far as I understood your business correctly), you can hire someone for absolutely everything who is probably better at this job than you.

Good luck.


.edit: If the business isn't profitable enough to pay someone to do such menial work as answering customer questions or it isn't possible due to the nature of the business, then you really have a problem and the business has violated a fundamental rule: Untie your profits from your time.
Hi LordGanon,

Thank you very much for your tips! And the comments. It opened up an other way of sewing things :)

I was not aware of the existence of nr. 3 and API (also did not know this abbreviation). It gives indeed good possibility.

And, yes I agree, that in the near future I will have to look for an employee (OMG!).

In 2 weeks hope to have sorted out 20 % bestsellers.

Once again Thank you.
Cheers,
An
 

lovetodance

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Read Millionaire Fastlane
Sep 30, 2020
13
9
15
Amsterdam
When you say automate hand sewing, I want to remove the hands from the process.

So I'd figure out first, what others have mentioned, what are the 20% that bring in the 80%.

Then how can I take those and make them creatable by robots/machines.

Then what sort of investment would be required, and how long would it take to turn a profit.

Then decide if it's even worth doing this, or selling the business and finding something more worthwhile.

Unless you're going high end, it feels like you're competing with Zara which......................
Hi,
Thank you for thinking with me.
Yes, I am going to start with then 20% bestsellers :) and then write the update on the forum.
An
 

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biophase

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How many orders are they getting per day? How much money is this business making in a year?

You’ve got 2 people working full time and more plus weekends?

Seems like they either needed to hire employees or their margins were really bad.
 

Kid

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Hi @lovetodance,

First i feel really sorry for your family situation.

There are good points in posts earlier. One thing i think wasn't mentioned
is quite counter-intuitive. Namingly, keep what's working intact but find a way to improve your revenue. Expand this business.

It seems that your site is a goto place for people so you could offer them something more (that doesn't require much time to fulfill )

Offering online courses or being affiliate of someone who provides courses is thing that comes to mind as easiest to start.

I don't have anything more specific at the moment since i don't know this niche much.

Gist is:
If you could increase revenue with little time required you could decouple yourself from business.

Ok, that's all from me now, good luck!
 

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