Category Archives: Creative Business Theory

How should I organize different versions of my products?

Blog Creative Business Theory - Product Versions-trimmed

I have a bunch of different products and a lot of them have different sizes, different colors, sometimes even different materials. Plus I do one-off customizations for my direct sale clients all the time (“make this a little smaller”, “use my birthstone”, etc.). What’s the best way to organize all this stuff?

First off, what tools do you have at your disposal?

All inventory and bookkeeping-related software, as well as any home-grown “spreadsheets-and-sticky-notes”-type solutions you can come up with, have the notion of “products”. A product is a top-level specification of an item that you make and sell, and usually has a unique name and/or SKU associated with it.

Most inventory software and marketplace websites also support the notion of “product variations”. How a product varies is defined by a set of product variation properties, such as “size” and “color”, and a set of options for each variation property (e.g. “small”, “medium”, and “large” for size). When you add items to inventory or a sale, you specify the item’s variation option for each variation property the product supports (e.g., I’m sending the “green”, “small” shirt). This information is used to distinguish the item from other variations in inventory and sales so that different versions, like the small green shirt and medium green shirt, are always separate line items. Specific software suites differ as to what and how many variation properties your products can have and whether variations of a single product can have different SKUs or pricing.

BenchWorks also supports the notion a “custom variation”. This is free-form text attached to an item when you are adding it to inventory or a sale, and is used just like normal product variation specifications to distinguish the item.

Specifying production variation options

Specifying variation options for a product in an order.

All right, so these are the tools at our disposal. Now how should you go about organizing things? Based on what we’ve seen and heard from users, there are two popular strategies you should consider:

1) Product Per Version

In this scheme, you create a distinct product entry for every single product version. This is similar to QuickBooks, where you often encode version information into the product name or SKU (e.g., EA-0021-small-gold).

The benefits of this approach are potential consistency with your bookkeeping software, as well as providing you with a unique SKU per version when communicating and reconciling with accounts. When you tell an account you are sending a specific SKU, it is 100% unambiguous what you’re sending and less likely to get confused. The obvious downsides to this approach are that it creates a very large product catalog, and it doesn’t allow for reporting across all versions of a product without manual tagging.

2) Product Per Price Point

In this scheme, you create a distinct product entry for each top-level product (or product price point if different versions have different pricing) and create product variations for remaining version differentiation. This is similar to how most marketplace websites work, like Etsy and Shopify, which allow customers to select variation options like size or color at purchase time.

The benefits of this are approach are potential consistency with your marketplace sites, keeping your product catalog more concise, and allowing you to see reports across different product versions. Keeping a unique product per price point also mitigates the risk of miscommunication with an account, because at least all versions of a particular product are the same price. The downside of this approach is that you don’t have a SKU per version for accounts or your own records.

Defining product variations

Defining variations for your product.

Custom Products and One-Off Customizations

Both of these approaches become a little more complicated if you do a lot of custom work, either completely custom products or one-off customizations of standard products. While some users prefer to maintain a unique product entry or variation for every single custom piece or customization, this is too much bloat and too much record-keeping overhead for most people. Instead, for custom pieces, we suggest creating a single product entry for each product family (e.g., “custom engagement ring”), and then using custom variations to record individual piece details on-the-fly. You can record one-off customizations of standard products on-the-fly via custom variations the same way.

Well, that’s all from us here at BenchWorks for now. Thanks for reading, and good luck organizing your products!