Brick & Order, Faire’s podcast for wholesale brands and independent retailers, returned this month for a special two-episode holiday season. Last week, we spoke with the power couple behind a Latina-founded brand and an apparel retailer on planning for the 2021 holiday rush.
For our second and final episode of the mini-season, we took a look at the unique supply chain and shipping difficulties facing brands and retailers this holiday season. Sarah Finch, founder of U.K.-based curated gift box brand Preposterous Penguin, and Dave Mays, an expert on international shipping and fulfillment, spoke about navigating an increasingly challenging global trade environment.
Handling shipping after Brexit
Sarah Finch began Preposterous Penguin during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020 as a way to help people send each other thoughtful gift packages while quarantined in their homes. “The only option in the U.K. at that time was sending a flower or alcohol delivery,” she said. “But there wasn’t an option for luxury gifting.” Preposterous Penguin quickly filled that need, offering carefully curated ready-made gift boxes that could be sent directly to recipients with a gift message. The gift boxes offer a wide range of products depending on the theme, from candles and specialty soaps to mugs, stationery, and gourmet snacks.
With dozens of gift boxes for every occasion and personality type, sourcing one-of-a-kind goods from around the world is a key component of Sarah’s business. “I’m constantly looking at what’s new, what’s coming in, and what’s working elsewhere,” she said. “I look to platforms like Faire to tell me what’s selling well in other areas, and I dip in and try those products.”
With so many unique products coming from all over the world, navigating the taxes that come from international orders in a post-Brexit economy has been one of Sarah’s biggest challenges this year. Her solution has been to adjust the way she approaches ordering inventory. Throughout the year, she’s been identifying which products are most successful, and now she’s prioritizing larger bulk orders of those items for the holidays. “With the U.S. market and with some of the European markets, it’s identifying what works and then going bigger on those orders,” she said.
The value of ordering globally
The shipping challenges Sarah and many other brand owners from the U.K. have faced are in line with what shipping expert Dave Mays has predicted this year. “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said. “The supply chain disruption has created a backlog, from the ports to the airports, to the lack of commercial air capacity.”
Despite current disruptions, Dave shared the value for brands to do business overseas. “The economy is clearly global and the consumer has never been smarter in how to buy, procure, and source products,” he said. He also cited the wide variety of products available in the U.S. as an incentive for many international customers. For U.S.-based brands, the well-established and efficient courier systems in Europe are an extra bonus of selling to customers abroad.
Ultimately, Sarah agrees—the value of ordering overseas products often outweighs the difficulties. “It’s worth it for the products I can get,” she said. “Some of the brands I’m working with on Faire from the U.S. have amazing products, and I know that we can’t walk into any store to get them in the U.K. or anywhere else.”
How to navigate this year’s challenges
To manage the hurdles presented by shipping delays and supply chain disruptions this year, there are a few tactics and adjustments brands and retailers can use. First, Dave recommends keeping customers in the loop, especially if this year’s supply chain challenges have meant an increase in product prices. “There needs to be some narrative to the consumers so they understand why something would be going up in price,” he said.
Next, he advises getting as much of a head start as possible on ordering inventory and fulfilling shipments this holiday season. “We all know that the large carriers in the U.S. have holiday surcharges that are excruciatingly painful at times,” he said. “If it’s possible, clearly getting out in front of the lead time would do a lot to save time and money.”
At Preposterous Penguin, allowing for additional lead time is just one of the many adjustments Sarah has made to navigate this year’s busy season. She’s also done some tweaking to her product offerings to allow for fluctuation of inventory. Rather than just offering pre-made gift sets, she’s now allowing customers to customize their own gift box. “Now if I don’t have enough stock for a specific gift box, people can create something similar using the box builder,” Sarah said. “I can reorder in the background and still have a product offering. It’s a much more flexible model, both for the customer and for us.”
This holiday season, Sarah sees this kind of preparation and willingness to pivot as essential. “Ultimately, it’s about planning and getting some contingency in there,” she said.