Subscription Box Basics

Be an Inventory Genius with Ciara Stockeland

October 16, 2023 Episode 184
Subscription Box Basics
Be an Inventory Genius with Ciara Stockeland
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Get ready to uncover the exciting world of inventory with our special guest, Ciara Stockeland. Ciara is a seasoned entrepreneur, profit strategist, and inventory expert who has spent her career advocating for small businesses, including on Capitol Hill. 

She'll take us through her captivating journey of launching a unique subscription box business, nurturing its growth, and eventually, selling it with success. Her deep-rooted passion for small businesses and her fascinating tales of entrepreneurship are sure to leave you inspired and informed.

In the latter half of our conversation, Ciara will delve into the nuances of leveraging inventory to generate higher profits and keep more cash in the business. She shares her compelling experience of recognizing the importance of prioritizing profit over top-line revenue and the strategic use of inventory to amass wealth. 

The discussion will also touch upon an interesting concept - size doesn't matter; profitability does. Ciara will also introduce her book, Inventory Genius, which offers valuable insights into her method and her success story. So tune in for an enriching discussion packed with actionable advice and lessons from a very successful entrepreneur.

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Speaker 1:

So you want to launch a subscription box and don't know where to start? Girl, you are in the right place. I'm Julie Ball and I'm Renee.

Speaker 2:

Gonzalez, your host here at Subscription Box.

Speaker 1:

Basics, a podcast for new and aspiring subscription box entrepreneurs wanting to avoid overwhelm. So grab a coffee, some pen and paper and let's have some fun. Hey everybody, and welcome back to Subscription Box Basics. I'm really excited to introduce you to my guest. Today. We are talking about Profit and Inventory. Of course, I brought on a profit strategist and she's also an inventory genius. I would like to introduce you to Sierra Stockland.

Speaker 2:

Hello and welcome to the podcast. Hi, julie, thanks for having me.

Speaker 1:

Yes, I am so, so interested in your zone of genius, because we haven't had anyone come on the podcast and really talk to us about inventory. Now I've talked about, like, what to do with excess inventory here and there, but you're a strategist, so a lot of people are meeting you for the first time. Why don't we start with an introduction and tell everyone a little bit about yourself?

Speaker 2:

OK, yes, so I am a third generation entrepreneur, so I've been around small business forever and born and raised in North Dakota that's always a fun fact. It's very cold there, yes. So after many years, we actually migrated south about a year and a half ago, so I'm in Nashville right now and I am loving warm winters, so I've just been exploring the opportunity to sit outside even in January. It's great. I have a couple kids that are grown now One is getting married this year and and my husband travels a lot so I get to travel with him and see amazing inventory based businesses all over the country.

Speaker 1:

That's awesome and I know you've had a business with lots of inventory before. We're going to get into that in a minute. But I want to kind of toot your horn here because you have some serious street cred as an advocate for small businesses. So tell us about some of your work in that, in like the area of government, and score where you help small businesses and how it affects us all.

Speaker 2:

Yes for sure. So I've always loved. I think it's because I've been around small business forever and I've seen the inner workings. You know the Easter table, the Christmas gathering, and you're talking about the stress and the strain and the winds and all of that from such a young age, and so I just love every single small business story. And so when I started building my retail business and went into the franchising space, I got really involved in the International Franchise Association small business side of things, and so I was able to do some advocacy on Capitol Hill, testified on behalf of small business, went to the White House a couple of times and then really got involved in the US Chamber of Commerce at the national level and so sat on their small business council and it was just really amazing to be able to tell the story, my story of small business, but then to bring the stories of small business owners to Washington, because people that have not been around a small business just really don't understand it. And so I love just telling the advocacy is just telling our story.

Speaker 1:

I love it. Well, on behalf of small businesses, thank you, because that sounds terrifying to me. So I'm so glad that there's people like you that have the courage and the drive to stand up for small businesses in areas that can make change, you know. So that is so awesome. I wanted to make sure everyone knew like this heart that you had for small businesses. So you've run all kinds of different businesses, but our listeners are new and aspiring subscription box business owners. So tell us about this subscription box that you launched in the past and then sold.

Speaker 2:

Yes. So I started my retail business in 2006, built that and grew it into a franchise and at the end of that journey, ended up selling the franchise brand to one of my franchisees. And I was thinking what was this all for? You know, a decade plus of relationship building and learning all these things, and then here I was, with nothing to do, no team anymore, like literally sitting on my couch and I thought you know, where is there, where's there's a, where is there a miss right now in the industry, and I had seen, towards the end of the retail business side of things, that the way people bought product was different. So in the past, if you had a retail store, you'd go to market, you'd buy six months ahead of time, you had a line of credit. It's completely different Now. It's like open to buy, you just buy all the time. It's fast fashion and there's boutiques everywhere and a lot of them were in small communities, and so for them to be able to shut down their store, you know, travel to Atlanta, it's just so expensive. And so I thought, okay, if I could bring together the relationships I have with the actual designers and vendors themselves and like deliver that product right to the doorstep of a retailer, so they never had to leave and they could just shop from the convenience of their doorstep. Could that be done? And the subscription box you know model is like starting to boom right, like you know, that era leader in this industry. And so I thought no one's doing it in the wholesale space, like we have wholesale platforms but no one's delivering it. And so I built the boutique box. I knew I didn't want to build it and grow it and have another team and all of those pieces, so I thought I'm going to grow it to a place where I can sell it and give it to someone else, and so that's what I did. I built boxes that brought samples right to the doorstep of a retailer. They could look at the samples, order what they wanted and then wait for their next box.

Speaker 1:

I honestly remember seeing this box back in the day and I thought to myself that is brilliant, like who? Nobody else is doing that. Everyone is bringing product samples to the consumers, but you were bringing it to the boutique owners so that they could discover new brands that they might want to feature in their own boutique and I just thought it was brilliant. So I do remember seeing you back in the day. I didn't know that originally that it was you, so it's so fun to see something like that come full circle. So, as you were doing that, what you do coaching now for profit, first strategy right, and you do inventory coaching what led you to focus on your coaching on inventory Like? What was it about just niching down to inventory coaching?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so actually it was the subscription box that led me to coaching. I never thought I would be a coach or build any type of education platform. Looking back now, franchising is all about coaching, like that's, all we do is build curriculum for potential you know, in my case, retailers and then teach them a system and a process. But I didn't look at that. Like a lot of times we don't look at what we're doing as worth. You know it's not worth anything, right? So we look back and say wait a second. So I was building, unbeknownst to me, I was building like a curriculum and all of these things. And so when I launched the boutique box, because I was matching up inventory with retailers, I would start to get these similar questions all the time, like well, how much should I buy? How do I know when to buy? Like, how much should I spend. And I was hearing these same things over and over and at first, like I would just give answers. You know people say can I jump on the phone and just chat with you about, like, how to make a budget? And I was like sure, and then I thought, wait a second, maybe I start charging for this advice. Maybe I should formalize this because there was nothing out there for retailers small retailers that helped them with numbers when it came to inventory, and so that's how I got into the coaching side of things and so started to build that while I was also building the boutique box, and then sold the boutique box and then just really dove into the coaching platform for retailers.

Speaker 1:

It makes so much sense. I feel like that's how a lot of coaches fall into the coaching role. Same thing with me. I launched my subscription box in 2016 and then over the next two years, I had so many people reach out to me on email, text message, dm, just saying hey, can you tell me about this or can I pick your brain? And one day I was like I'm repeating myself over and over again. Wouldn't it just be easier if I just recorded this answer so that I could just shoot that quick message over as a video when someone asks me the same question, but that's the 100th time? And then for there was a variety of other needs. My husband was in like a toxic teaching career and we were trying to figure out a way to replace his income, and coaching ended up being it for us. And so subscription box bootcamp was born, and I've loved it. It has fulfilled a need in both the market, but also I've grown to really love coaching. So I love to hear your story. When did you launch the boutique box and when did you sell it?

Speaker 2:

So, oh, my goodness, I have to think about this. So I launched it in 2018. Okay, and then I would have sold it in 20, while we started working on the deal in 2019. It was 18 months, oh that was a quick turnaround, yeah, and then I stayed on for a while, cause there's a lot of different ways that you can sell a business. You know, sometimes it's owner financing or you're involved and there's earnouts all different things and so we had a really creative buyout plan where I stayed on for a while and then I was fully out by 2020.

Speaker 1:

Okay. So, and I don't know how much of my history you know but we sold Sparkle Hustle Grow my subscription box last summer. Okay and yes. And since then we've had so many conversations about selling your business because I never launched the box thinking that I would ever sell it, but we were ready for our next season and it opened the door to this whole new world of some people actually build a business to sell Some people. There's maybe a change of season, like us, or maybe there's another need or maybe their interests have changed and they can sell. And one of the things, sierra, that I learned during the process of selling my business was it's not, there's not a magic number of subscribers you need. The magic is that you're profitable. Yeah, and so I know that you believe profit matters more than the top line revenue, so let's talk a little bit about that.

Speaker 2:

Yes, yeah, I think it's really easy in anything in life to compare to the glitzy glam piece of whatever we're looking at and we don't talk about as business owners. We don't talk about profit, in fact, thinking about, like growing up in a small business family, I never, ever heard them talk about numbers ever Like how to be profitable, we're content, we're taking a pay, like nothing. It was always the struggle and the stress of getting new people right, like selling the sales. And it's fun to say I have a seven-figure business, I have a six-figure business, I have a multi-sale like we like to say. All those things, well, great, what does that mean? Cause I had a seven-figure business and I had paid 12 people and didn't take a paycheck. So you know good for me, I had a million dollar business. It did me and my family no good at the time, right. So I worked with people who have a million dollar business and are stressed out, can't sleep at night. And then I've worked with people who have a $250,000 business and only work three days a week and you know, and so I really wanna help people understand that it's about the bottom number, which is what we get to keep, not the top number, and the top number is important. Like a lot of times, it goes in line with what we, you know, have at the bottom. But when we just focus on sales, all of our expenses, all of our problems, all of our stress, we'll just chase those sales and we'll keep growing and growing, but every problem grows with it. Until we understand what the bottom is saying.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I know one of the things that helped me with that is, as I was preparing to sell the business, I needed to make my business a little bit more profitable and I took a big hard look at what I was spending my money on and what I was spending my time on and I couldn't believe. Well, I guess I could believe it. I tend to Get Distracted by shiny object syndrome, so I'd like, ooh, that looks like a fun new software. I'm gonna buy that software. And then maybe there's I, maybe I don't need it, maybe it's not crucial to running my business. And I found that I created more work for myself Because I always wanted something new and shiny to work with. Yeah, and so when I Stripped down the business of the software, I didn't need stripped down the business as far as Staffing even, and they were all contract workers, but again, I was trying to make it as lean as possible for the sale of the business. I looked at it and I said, oh my gosh, I could have been running a much, much leaner business and I was in my own way. So I guess you know the moral of that story is, if you're listening and you're thinking, okay, how do I lean down my business. I'd say start looking at your credit card and what those recurring charges for software are. That was like the easiest way for me to start leaning down. But you talk a lot about inventory and using inventory to create more profit and to keep more cash. So tell us about your, your strategies behind that.

Speaker 2:

Yes, so in my book I was just thinking in the book inventory genius, I give this story I don't know if you know if you have kids, but the story of like if you give them also cookie.

Speaker 1:

Yes, I know that story.

Speaker 2:

I refer to that in my book because that was me and I'm guessing a lot of you that are listening. You know, by no fault of yours you haven't thought about it. That's you as well. So I thought, okay, I need a bigger warehouse, and then, if I have a bigger warehouse, have to get a bigger forklift. And then if I get a bigger forklift, I have to have someone run it, and then, if I have them, I need a boss to watch them. Like it's just all these things. We just so yeah, and before we know it, we're so top-heavy and so with our inventory, we can actually get really lean because we can learn how to Use our inventory to create more profit and keep more cash in our business, which then forces us to be really smart editors of the choices that we make. So, looking at our inventory as creating cash and profitability, instead of looking at sales and all the things we think we have to add and buy and subscribe to to make the sales, we're looking at our inventory as that secret weapon in our business to create money.

Speaker 1:

Oh, that is so interesting to me and so you mentioned you have a book. Tell us about this book.

Speaker 2:

Yes, inventory Genius. So it's just my method and Interwoven is my crazy story and some of the amazing wins of my clients. So it's really easy to read. It's short and sweet and to the point. But we just walk through like how in, if you're an inventory-based business which every subscription box is if you have inventory, how it relates to what's happening with your money? Because in every inventory-based business we look at our inventory as like this thing over here that we have fun with or that stresses us out. And then we have our business over here and they're very interwoven. So we have to understand how inventory can tie up cash, how probably you know if we have debt that probably came from inventory. But because we're inventory-based business owners, we have a secret weapon that a service-based doesn't have, and that's this thing that we can turn into more money. So I like to look at inventory as like a seed and we want to plant money trees. So we want to plant trees that are going to grow more money really fast, and then we pick that money and we plant more money which grows fast, and so we have to be really smart with what kinds of seeds we're planting. And that's what we walk through in the Inventory Genius book. Ok, when can we get this book? It's on Amazon, so you can just inventory genius on Amazon, or you can get it at my website too.

Speaker 1:

OK, we'll make sure that we link both of those in the show notes. I definitely want to read this because I think about some of the different seasons of when I was running Sparkle Hustle Grow. When it was at its height and it had probably 1,500 subscribers, I was buying my inventory sometimes five months out, six months out, and that was really challenging for me and as I figured out what my sweet spot was, which I found to be around 1,000 subscribers, just as a benchmark, I found that I could order about three months out and that made such a difference in the cash flow of the money in and the money out. Because you think about it as a subscription box business, you're buying inventory so much in advance than when you're actually going to generate the revenue from it, based off of when it goes on sale, but also when those renewal dates are. But what I do like about subscription boxes is it's that regular cycle I could hold on to hope. If I was struggling with cash flow I'd be like well, the renewal day is coming, it's right around the corner and if you're a product-based business and you don't have that subscription or that recurring revenue, that can be really scary to invest a lot of money in inventory up front, not knowing is this going to sell, and you have to continue to chase a new buyer over and over again. So I think that's why this is such a unique conversation for subscription boxes, and I'm really grateful that you are covering this type of stuff in depth in your book, and I think you have a coaching program, right. Can you tell us about that?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So the Profit Acceler Mastermind, it's really a one-on-one program with a component that adds in a group, because I know that you have felt this. I felt this it's very lonely to be a business owner. You can't share a lot of your wins, even with family, because they just don't understand. You really can't share your losses, because people are like what are you talking about? You must be so rich, why You're so independent? All the things we hear and we're like if you only knew. And so there is a group component to it too. We also benchmark because we are a numbers program so you can create or add into our dashboard and see where you stand when it comes to operating expenses and things like that. I remember, as a small business owner, I would Google how much should a small retailer that's this size make? And you're never going to find those answers. And so there's that benchmarking piece too. But we just work through my inventory genius framework with every client, whether they're a $500,000 business or a $1.5 million business, it's the same. Let's start at the top line, setting goals, let's move to the bottom where we have profitability, and then let's figure out all those pieces in between.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I feel like that's something that's really necessary. Like you said, we're so often running a business by ourselves, and it can be Google's the world west. So I mean, there's the scrappy side of entrepreneurship where you figure it out, but then there's something like this where, sarah, you already have those benchmarks, you know what they are, you know what those milestones need to be and how to fix things, and so I can see how this would be really valuable. So, if people want to get to know you more, follow you. Find you where you at online. I know you have a podcast and where do you spend your time online?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so probably Instagram would be great. Sierra Stockland or inventory genius, either. One of those are my handles where I post a lot of questions and answers in little 60 second. You know thoughts and things like that. My website, sierra Stocklandcom there's like a vast library of all inventory related articles and blogs and podcasts and interviews, lots and lots of free resources, so that's a great place to start. Kind of go over to the website, dig in a little bit, see where you feel like you need help and then you can always reach out. Okay, and what's your podcast?

Speaker 1:

called Inventory Genius. Inventory Genius. Okay, so we'll make sure that we link everything in there. And, guys, if you're listening and you feel like inventory is your Achilles heel, this is where you can start. You can start with some of those free resources on Sierra's website check out the book and the podcast. So thank you for spending some time with me today and kind of deep diving into inventory. Again, this is a topic that we loosely talk about, but I love that there's actually a coach that that's what you talk about all day, every day.

Speaker 2:

Yes, and I love helping people win with their inventory.

Speaker 1:

Oh, I love it. And again, thank you for the advocacy for all small business owners. Everybody. Thank you for listening today. We hope that you found this really helpful and you can dive into some of those free resources and we'll see you in the next episode. Bye, since there's actually a whole lot of additional MLảnN than coming right through the ging doors. I'm very much, very happy.

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