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How to manage a business that sells thousands of different products

Managing a business is challenging. Managing a business that sells thousands of products is even more so. This is something that I have come to realise over the years of running my spare parts business, Cooker Spare Parts.

Established in 2011, the business has grown massively over the last few years – not just in terms of revenue, but also in the number of parts we stock. This of course, has made the management of the business much more complicated over time, but it’s a challenge that has kept me working and learning, providing a number of opportunities for further growth, particularly in the online field.

I’d like to share some of the challenges that I have faced while managing such a huge product catalogue – if you own a similar business or hope to start one, I hope that these insights will help to provide you with an understanding of what lies ahead.

While we do have a spares counter at our bricks-and-mortar location in Cardiff, the majority of Cooker Spare Parts’ sales take place online. Overseeing a large eCommerce catalogue is of course difficult; I have literally thousands of individual SKUs (stock keeping units) that need to be constantly managed. It is therefore very easy for product data to become untidy and inconsistent if not managed in the correct way, leading to time-consuming updates and corrections that impact other areas of the business. This leads us to the first challenge you will face when managing a high number of products:

1. Constantly updating products – Over time, my business has naturally grown through the addition of more and more products being added to my existing range. New cooker models are released all the time, each comprising a variety of parts that are very often unique to that specific product. This of course is extremely challenging, as each product requires its own individual code, price, and description on our website. Without proper management, this can become a real hassle for any business owner, so ensuring you spend enough time fine-tuning your items is very important, as the work can quickly build up and become a monumental task to try to rectify.

2. Handling supplier information – Most of the cooker replacement parts that I sell through my website come directly from the supplier, necessitating a lot of communication back and forth. Sometimes, unfortunately, there isn’t enough communication, and this can lead to a number of issues for my business as important product details can be missed or misinterpreted, resulting in the product becoming unavailable to sell. This creates an obvious cause for concern as this provides motivation for potential and existing customers to shop elsewhere if they can’t find the cooker spare they need on my site. Dealing with suppliers is a challenge that many business owners will need to prepare for, but it’s always worth going the extra mile to maintain a good relationship with your suppliers as this tends to make things easier down the line.

3. Ensuring data remains consistent – Many of the trickiest parts of running my business can all be linked to one important factor: data quality. Maintaining data whilst expanding an eCommerce catalogue, selling across multiple channels and working with suppliers is difficult. Product listings can end up containing incorrect information, misspellings and being placed within the wrong categories. Maintaining a consistent standard of data is one of the most difficult challenges of managing thousands of products, but gives extremely positive results when managed correctly.

These are the main challenges that I have faced over the years of managing a business that sells thousands of different products. One way, however, that I have successfully dealt with and overcome these challenges is by centralising where I manage all of the product information and data that I need. By doing this, I have created a place where I have a single view of all of the information that I need relating to every cooker part, type and model. This makes it extremely simple to browse and pull the specific data that I need to list products on new channels or adding new data when products are introduced to my catalogue.

A comprehensive and complete content management system (CMS) in the back end of my bespoke eCommerce website allows me to easily manage all of the data that I need in one secure location. Here I can customise important data such as prices, descriptions, meta tags and product features in a very simple and efficient manner, avoiding the headache of digging through files and Excel sheets to gather and update important data.

Ensuring you have a similar approach and system will go a long way in helping you run a business that deals with thousands of products, sold across a number of different channels.

Blog by Rhodri Howells of Cooker Spare Parts


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