In my book Make Thousands on Amazon in 10 Hours a Week! I tell my readers how I run my business in about 10 hours a week or less, depending on the season. In order to do that, I have to be very efficient with my time. That’s why I use technology tools like Scan Power and Serial IO’s Scan Fob. In today’s post, however, I thought I’d list some of the other ways that I save time in my business.
There are several ways to save time when shopping:
- Map it out – have a route, know where you are going, make sure there is gas in the car already. One seller I know has Google Mapped all his best shopping spots so depending on which direction he is traveling, he knows what is on his route there and back so he can combine shopping trips with other errands. Find a hot item at Big Lots? Know where all the other Big Lots in the area are so you can quickly get to them and buy that item. That makes sense for me because there are over 25 Big Lots in the DFW Metroplex, but you get the idea. Many areas have more than one Target, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, etc. within a decent driving range.
- Shop Shallow, Shop Deep – Having spent time in most of the “big box” stores scanning; I’ve got a pretty good feel for where there might be good inventory. You can easily spend all day in one store and still not go through a fraction of the inventory. On the days when I’m in a hurry, I shop “shallow” which means I quickly scan through my “go to” departments and clearance shelves. When I have more time, I’ll shop deep and try new categories. That’s how I discovered bedding and pet toys, for example. If I find a great deal in one store, I will jump in my car and shop shallow the others in that chain so I can pick up more of that item quickly.
- Plan ahead – Make sure everything is charged up, that you have a back-up battery and all necessary cords. Bring food to eat so you don’t have to stop at a restaurant somewhere or – horrors! – eat junk food from the Big Lots (been there, ate the chips, felt lousy later). Make sure your shopping kit is always ready to go. I use a fanny pack so I can scan hands-free.
- Study – Look at Toys R Us flyers, study Amazon’s categories for the top sellers in each category for which you sell items. It will help you recognize a potential good deal at the store. Know your brands. Paula Deen stuff sells great, for example. Coca-Cola branded items sell great even though there are billions of different Coke items out there. Disney, same thing. I got a bunch of plush Tiggers, Pooh and Piglets at Tuesday Morning one day and they sold really fast at a good price – hooray!
- Leverage the store’s resources – Get to know the people in the stores where you shop most often. They are great sources of information for future sales, they can tell you if there are more in the back, they will get the flatbed for you if you have a lot of appliances and bulky items that don’t fit well in a cart…in short, they are your best helper in the store. They WANT you to buy lots of stuff and will help you do it. Never hesitate to ask for help – you don’t have time to be shy. In his guest post on Toys R Us, my Dad talked about how he asked the store manager what would be the hot toys of the season and how that gentleman took him all through the store and pointed things out to him – what a huge competitive advantage and time-saving activity!
- Check out – This is usually the slowest part of the process. I try to wait until a cashier is free and there is no line (not always possible, of course) because I know I’ll be a long time with my many baskets. In some stores where they know me, they open up a lane when I’m ready. I usually already have a basket or two at the front that they are watching for me. Tell them first that you have a sales tax certificate, pull it out and be prepared to remind them. Also, have your member reward card ready. I help the checker bag the merchandise to save time. Often they are kind enough to walk me out to my car and help me load which is important for time savings and safety. Or I’ll pull the car up to the front and they’ll help me load. [For all you New Yorkers with shocked looks on your face right now, remember you are one of their biggest customers! Of course they should help you! They want you back! And…this is why I moved from NYC to the South J]
- Be a member – Members get benefits like early entrance to a book sale, flyers ahead of time, reduced costs and more. It can speed up entrance to a sale if you are already a member and help you plan ahead of time. Usually membership is $5 to $10 a year –well worth it.
- Plan ahead – In addition to making sure everything is charged up and in your shopping kit, you’ll want to call the book sale ahead of time (during library business hours) and make sure they are not working with consigners and giving them their best books. Besides my kit, I put spare boxes, tape, a Sharpie, durable shopping bags (canvas), the amazing pocket chair and a dolly in my trunk. Bring cash and/or checks. Most book sales don’t take credit cards. Be sure you have your driver’s license and sales tax certificate.
- Come early if you can – Obviously if you can come in on members-only night, you’ll have access to more books than two days later which makes your time more productive.
- Know your categories – Focus on the categories with the books that hold their value the best like textbooks, cookbooks and other non-fiction. Audio books tend to sell for more than regular books. Children’s picture books in good shape tend to keep their value. I will go to the best-producing categories first and then work my way around a sale.
- Avoid the blockbusters – That self-help book on the best-selling list for years? There are 10 million of them already on Amazon selling for a low, low price. So while the self-help category can be very good, you can skip over the ones that you know are over saturated. In the beginning, you may need to scan everything. Later on, you’ll skip right over the overly popular ones.
- Sort – Book sales are usually run by elderly volunteers. The best thing you can do to speed up your checkout is to sort the hardbacks, the softcovers, the paperbacks, the DVDs, etc., so they can add your stuff up quickly. Sometimes there is a long line at checkout anyway, so I sort while I wait.
- Checkout – Be sure to bring an extra copy of your sales tax certificate with you to give them. Many of these sales keep a “book” of dealers and will keep your certificate there. It speeds up future checkouts if they can just look you up and confirm you don’t need to pay taxes.
- Be prepared – Have all your packing supplies ready and assembled. I have a packing center in my office with everything I might need from sticker removal to plastic bags (for plush items) to packing paper, labels and tape. Order before you run out. Simple I know, but it makes a difference when you have 200 items to process in one night. If you’re not getting free shipping labels from UPS already, be sure to do that. They are much easier to use than paper, more secure and they save you time over taping paper to a box.
- Have your boxes prepped and marked – When I’m listing my books/toys/whatever, I have boxes next to my chair. I mark the inside flap with the warehouse and, later, with the weight of the box in Sharpie. As I list, price and label an item with Scan Power, it shows me the warehouse where it is going. I put the item in the box that has that warehouse on the flap. I send a lot of stuff to Indiana so I might have boxes that say “IND1,” “IND2,” “IND3,” and IND4” set up in my office depending on what I’m shipping. I place the item with the barcode up (if possible) so it is easier for the warehouse guys to scan my items. Packing my boxes as I go saves me a lot of time.
- Weigh all at once – Wait to weigh your boxes until you’ve completed the entire shipment. Put in packing paper or bubble wrap as needed to keep things from shifting around in transit. Mark the weight of each box on the flap next to the warehouse. If you have a lot of boxes, write the weights on a piece of paper.
- Shipping Queue – At this point your boxes are packed and ready. At the appropriate step in the shipping process, key in the weights of your boxes. When you print off your shipping labels on UPS stickers, put them and the packing slip on each appropriate box (this is why you recorded the weight on the flap – so you can match box with weight that is marked on the label). Tape up and apply your labels.
- UPS Pick-up – If I only have one or two boxes, I’ll take them myself to a drop-off spot when I check my mail (same building). However, if there are a lot of boxes, I call UPS and they pick up for a small fee ($6 last time I did it). You can arrange a pick-up online through your business account or on the phone. You need to do it the day/night before if you are arranging a residential pickup. They’ll ask how many boxes you have, but won’t give you any trouble if there are more boxes than that when they show up. This is a great time and back saver.
- Leverage people’s strengths – What I’ve learned through trial and error is that I’m really the only person who can price and re-price my inventory. No one understands or cares about my business the way I do. However, I do get great help from my family. My son and husband remove stickers, sort inventory, assemble boxes, weigh boxes and help me unpack my car (a big deal some days, believe me!). My husband will sometimes scan, label and pack inventory. I come in behind him to price before he presses “ship” in Scan Power. I can price a lot of items in only a few minutes and this way we can both be processing inventory at the same time. He prices everything at the same ridiculously high price so it is easy for me to see what has and hasn’t been priced yet.
- Double your equipment – I have two Label Writer 450 Turbos and two USB scanners. This makes it possible for my husband and me to work together. Scan Power will allow multiple logins on one account. I make sure that Tom has a separate batch number and MSKU than I do so we don’t accidentally duplicate numbers. Obviously, I didn’t do this right away as we didn’t have the money, but it is well worth the investment to get help from my husband and son.
- Sort while you clean/de-sticker – This is another way that people can help. If you sort your inventory by category (toys, books, DVDs) and condition while you are removing stickers or cleaning up a book, you can process it very quickly in Scan Power. I have different descriptions for each category that I save in a word file. When I’m processing a bunch of books, I put in the descriptions/notes I have for books into Scan Power. This way I don’t have to reinvent the wheel and create new descriptions every time I switch categories. But also, I’ve now made it easy for my husband to list and label each item and I don’t have to worry that I won’t like his description, etc.
I’m an intuitive “big picture” kind of person, not an organizer, but I’ve learned the benefits of being organized over the years because I HATE not being able to find something I need and I HATE having to do something over and over again that I wouldn’t have to if I’d been better organized. When I’m working, I want to focus on the work and not the details (Do I have enough labels? Where will I eat lunch?). I want to get inventory up to Amazon as fast as possible so the money will come faster. These processes help me and I hope they help you, too.
Do you have processes or “tricks” you use to keep your business moving efficiently? Please share in the comments below!