You must think retail if you want to succeed

The problems encountered by women’s health care managers who have set up retail shops are rarely discussed in hospital administrative meetings or women’s center department meetings.

There is a small group of health care professionals throughout the country who have tackled the challenge of managing inventory, stocking displays, juggling orders from several vendors, evaluating new products on an ongoing basis, and overseeing a retail operation within a larger organization that is not retail-oriented.

The experts interviewed by Women’s Health Center Management point out that the individual initially responsible for getting the retail shop off the ground may be the only person thinking from a retail perspective as he or she pushes the project forward.

Prime stumbling blocks for some organizations may be the purchasing department and the established procedures set up for purchasing supplies and equipment.

"We use a large number of small vendors, many of whom provide only one product to us," says Nancy Held, RN, IBCLC, manager of the perinatal education and lactation center and manager of the retail shop at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

The procedure requires Held to submit an order to the purchasing department to get an approval from the chief executive officer who sends it to the purchasing agent, who contacts the vendor.

"The process is time-consuming, and our customers won’t wait for a product. They’ll simply buy it elsewhere," explains Held.

To keep from losing customers, Held generally over-orders nursing bras and other high turnover items, and stores them until display space opens.

"It is important that we have a wide range of sizes and styles to be able to fit our customers properly; [now] we just deal with storage problems."

Held’s primary piece of advice for prospective women’s centers is to try to set up a fast-track purchasing method that will enable the shop manager to place orders quickly, and make sure small vendors are paid in a very timely manner.

Other tips to make your opening smoother include:

• Obtain storage space. All managers of retail shops point out the need for plentiful, convenient storage space so you can easily restock shelves or look for an item that is not on the shelves.

• Use retail experts whenever necessary. No matter how talented you may be, there are times when to hire professional window display artists or retail architects to effectively promote and display your products. A good source of referral can be architects associated with your center or hospital.

Invest in technology. Susan K. Toth, RNC, BSN, CLE, manager of women’s education for Sharp Healthcare and retail shop manager, recommends purchasing a computerized cash register that automatically updates your inventory list and makes it easy to see what needs to be re-ordered.

"This saves a tremendous amount of time, and gives you a good report on what sells and what doesn’t," she explains.