Why are retail cycles so far ahead of the real world.

Last friday, I took a trip to my local home improvement warehouse. Despite the fact that it was early February and there were 5 inches of snow on the ground, the store no longer carried firewood or fireplace products. Instead, they now had a vast selection of barbeques and accesories. This seems to happen with other seasonal items as well, such as apparel. Its getting hard to find winter clothing anymore. Come August, good luck buying a bathing suit. Why is there such a large ramp-up time in these things? Does it take 6 weeks for the stores to put together their displays? Do people really plan so far in advance that no one needs to buy any more firewood for the rest of the winter? Should I be stocking up on charcoal now?

I can’t answer for the home improvement stores, though I assume it’s a similar thing.

In the apparel industry, planning for production is done at least six months and up to a year in advance. What’s likely in production in apparel factories now are goods for fall 2003. Why? Well, production takes time - the fabric/thread/buttons and the like have to be ordered. Once those arrive in the factory, they still have to be sewn. Many (if not most) goods are now coming in by ship from the far East. IIRC, that’s about six weeks on ships. Then it’s to the manufacturing distribution center. Depending on the customer, it goes from there to the store or the company distribution center and finally to the store. This doesn’t take into account any problems getting the fabric, delays in production, slowdowns at ports or any troubles clearing customs.

The stores set up in advance because they are trying to draw customers in. Right now, I’m sick of snow and winter, and looking ahead to spring and summer. If I go to the mall, I don’t want to be reminded that it snowed again last night - I want to see spring stuff.

It also gives the stores a chance to mark down inventory or return it to the manufacturer (depending on the agreement). They try not to order more than they really think they’re going to sell, or they could be stuck with a stack of winter clothes that they may have to sell at a loss just to make room for the summer stuff. Once the racks of winter stuff are clearing out, stores bring in spring/summer goods to keep the racks full - if the racks and shelves look empty, it can turn a customer off because it looks as if the store doesn’t have much to offer.
Probably more than you wanted to know…there’s probably been a stack of market research done by retailers as to the best time to bring the new season’s goods to the floor.

Darn retail stores. I don’t know why either, but last winter, my furnace broke in February and I had to try every store in town before I could find a space heater. Now, if I’d wanted picnic supplies, I’d have been fine.

That’s reasonable, but why are they panicking so early? Why do they have to “make room for the summer stuff” in February? Why can’t they wait until May, or at least April?

“If the racks and shelves look empty” in February, why fill them with summer items? Why not winter items?

Is the February demand for winter clothes really that weak? Is the February demand for summer clothes really that strong? Can anyone supply any statistics? With so many people complaining that they don’t have enough money for their needs, it is very difficult for me to believe that there is a significant number of people who buy their clothes 4-6 months before they have a slim chance of wearing them.

And this goes double for children’s clothes. Regardless of finances, how can one buy kids summer clothes now, with only a guess of what size they’ll grow into? Do the stores really find people actually buying summer stuff for their kids in February?

One of the key factors, as I recall from my dim past of retail experience is related to customer buying cycles. It’s hard to buy a bathing suit in August, because for the most part, if you’re in need of a bathing suit for the summer, you bought it in May, so you’d have it all summer, you didn’t wait until August.

“But it’s February and the spring stuff is already out! That isn’t the beginning of the season, that’s 2 months before the season!” you’re crying out in protest. Sure it is, and 2 months from now, when spring starts, and you want some nice new spring stuff, you’re familiar with it from having seen it in stores for the last 6 weeks, plus, they can start marking it down slightly, so when you actually go into buy anything, it’s already 10% off its original price.

Except that in May they already had the fall fashions out. And woe unto those who dared try to buy it in June!

Would layaway plans have anything to do with it, perhaps? The stores are displaying the summer grills now, in hopes that in addition to the people who could afford to buy one on the spot, the ones who would have to make layaway payments for several weeks to be able to afford it can do so?

Likely because they don’t have the stock of winter items. The company has purchased what they believe they can sell. The manufacturer has produced based on the retailer’s plan. Sure, they could put more winter items out, if they want to wait six to eight weeks (or longer) for them to be made and shipped in.

The only way to prevent running out of these things is to order far more than you think you’re going to need. This becomes a waste of money for the retailer - buying stuff that doesn’t sell increases your inventory, so increases your tax payments and reduces the floor space available for the items that are selling.

Well, look at cars, 2003 cars seem to start coming out a couple months before 2003, which means they were made in 2002 not 2003.

Well, that raises another interesting question. I know that clothing can’t be manufactured too far in advance since styles and fashions change, but is that true of durable goods as well? Does a company that manufactures fireplace tools shut down their line in june and retool to manufacture fly swatters for the summer market? Does Honda’s lawnmower assembly plant only run 6 months out of the year. Or do they just stockpile goods during the off season?

Try to find kids gloves right now…this is when they lose them! Good luck. I won’t ever be buying them in August I tell you.

Maybe if the stores sold things WHEN I NEED TO BUY THEM the whole economy wouldn’t be so bad?