Behind the Counter: How 35th+Butter Keeps Their Assortment Fresh and Engaging

This week, we’re thrilled to put the spotlight on 35th+Butter, a store in Walla Walla, Washington that sells home accessories, clothing, and gifts.

The store is loved by locals and tourists alike and it’s known for carrying an eclectic mix of products that make for perfect gifts (even to yourself)!

We recently caught up with the store’s owners, Ben Leitch and Mary Lee, and asked them to share the story behind their business and what they’re doing to stay on top of their sales and inventory.

Check out what they have to say.

A shared dream

The story of 35th+Butter started when Ben and Mary discovered that they both shared a dream of owning and running a retail store.

“I think it was on date two or three, she brought up the dream of hers to have a store. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve always wanted to have a store as well!’ So it was really early on in our relationship that she and I both shared this dream with each other,” recalls Ben.

Then, about two years into the relationship, the couple decided to go for it.

“We looked at our finances and said, ‘Well, you make just enough money to cover our home bills. If I quit my career right now, then we can potentially start this store right now, here in Walla Walla.”

And from there, 35th+Butter was born. According to Ben, the name of the store came from the streets on which he and Mary grew up.

“I grew up on 35th Avenue in Portland, Oregon, and Mary grew up on Egg and Butter Road in Thomasville, Georgia. And so we kind of look at it as the roads that pointed us toward this dream.”

Figuring out what to sell

“What should we sell?” is a question every new retailer asks at some point. And while there are plenty of ways to figure out what to put in your store, one of the most effective methods is to visit shows and markets to see the merchandise first-hand.

That’s exactly what Ben and Mary did. According to Ben, they both went to a number of markets across the United States to look at products and see which items would be a good fit for their shop

Ben says that visiting different markets not only allowed them to purchase what they needed for the store, it also enabled them to discover items that they weren’t intending to sell (but ending up doing so).

For example, Ben and Mary weren’t planning on selling baby items in 35th+Butter, but when they saw the different baby merchandise in the shows they visited, they decided to add that category into the mix.

“I know it sounds silly because conventional advice tells you that you should buy what appeals to other people, instead of just going for items that you personally love. But when Mary and I go to markets, we just buy what we love to look at,” says Ben.

And while the practice doesn’t necessarily follow traditional retail advice, Ben says that buying according to their personal tastes helps 35th+Butter do well with customers.

“Mary curates the space, and that’s one of the things that people really respond to. When they walk in the store, they go, ‘Oh my gosh, this store looks so different!’

How data influences inventory and sales

It’s not just about stocking what they love, though. Ben and Mary pay close attention to their sales and product reports to stay on top of their assortments.  

Vend’s reporting has been invaluable for us to really drill down and fine-tune our sales and inventory,” shares Ben. “We can go, ‘These are the 10 styles we picked out. These three aren’t selling. Get rid of them.’ And now we’ve got space for three new products.”

He continues, “It’s really is helpful for us to go, ‘Okay, well, even though we liked it, what didn’t sell well? Cut those styles. Put them on sale. Get them on the sale rack. And move in new styles.’”

So, which reports to they like to look at?

Ben says that the first thing they check is the dashboard, as it allows them to keep track of day-to-day performance. Beyond that, they both like to pull up sales reports per product, which lets them see how different SKUs are selling.

Ben adds that they look at hourly sales reports so they know which items to replenish. “We restock twice daily, so that’s a report we use every day.”

Another popular report for Ben and Mary is the Product Performance Report, which shows their current stock, first sale, last sale, items sold, and items sold per month. Looking at those numbers helps them make decisions on which items to order and how many units to bring in.  

The right assortment requires balance

Getting your product assortment right is a tricky balance, but as Ben and Mary showed us, achieving it is completely doable! Use your tastes and preferences to curate your products, but make it a point to track your sales and inventory performance closely to determine the right mix.

And if you need more inspiration, look no further than 35th+Butter!

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.