4 Rules of Thumb for Better Inventory Management

Do you know where your stuff is? I’m talking about your inventory, and whether or not you know exactly where it is. Surprisingly enough, many small business owners don’t know where their stock is (and isn’t) or when it will get to where it is supposed to be. Whether the items are in-stock or on-order, staged or stored, shipping or standing, managing inventory can be complicated.

Some inventory problems may be easy to identify but there are so many other issues that may be more difficult to track down.

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The challenges of inventory management are too numerous to count, but these four rules of thumb can help reduce much of the frustration for small businesses and midsize companies alike.

Rule 1: Get real-time inventory status information

To manage your inventory well, you have to know where each item is and what its status is. When you don’t have up-to-date information on product stock you will end up increasing your costs. It costs more when you are rushing the shipment of items in, overstocking products, transferring stock from the location that really has the product to the location that thought they had it, increasing losses due to spoilage or losing productivity by not getting materials to the site when the workers need it. Shipping, overtime labor and other related costs go up simply due to not knowing the status of every item, and customer satisfaction and loyalty goes down.

Getting real-time information on inventoried items requires that item status be tracked throughout the inventory lifecycle. From purchasing to sales, inventory item and stock tracking will allow you to more effectively manage your products and avoid the troubles and additional costs that come with not knowing whether you’ve got it or not. Centralize the information in a software system which has the functionality to support end-to-end inventory management functions and keep that information up to date as activities occur. This is the key to knowing exactly the status of your stuff.

Rule 2: Don’t rely on manual processes

Manual Processes are dumb, m’kay? Really, though, they’re inefficient and take a lot of time and generally result in too many errors. Spreadsheets are hard to manage and time-consuming to update, and manually updating anything makes it prone to errors. When information is managed through manual processes it makes collaboration and sharing of that information far more difficult, which often impedes the performance of those who rely on the data. Perhaps the worst thing about manual processes is that they do not lend themselves to analysis or history tracking, making it difficult to identify historic trends or areas of possible improvement. And manual processes just don’t scale well.

Using software to manage your inventory introduces not just efficiency, but provides the information required to make informed decisions about purchasing and stocking items. Inventory management software delivers a level of automation in recordkeeping for inventoried items that reduces errors and makes the data more useful. When the inventory management software is combined with barcodes and scanning, manual entry of data is further reduced which increases the accuracy even more while also stepping up productivity.

Rule 3: Everyone should get access to the information they need to perform their work

Workers throughout the business need information to perform their jobs, but not every worker needs the same information. Buyers may focus on which products are in demand so they can negotiate the best deal with a supplier, but finance likes to see that purchased stock isn’t languishing in warehouses or on store shelves. While all users may work with the same product inventory, not all users should be able to view or change data that is outside of the scope of their work. A change made inadvertently by one user could become a costly issue to track down and correct.

Getting access to the information necessary to perform the work is a challenge when the systems or software aren’t geared to fully support all the business processes. On the other hand, workers shouldn’t have access to information outside of their area or which is not relevant to their jobs. The key is in providing the right functionality and information for each worker, enabling them to perform their tasks efficiently but not exposing them to other information or processes that may complicate or interfere, or simply take focus away from the task at hand.

Another aspect of information access is making the solution available to workers regardless of where they work from. Warehouse locations and sales offices or retail stores are often separate, so any central system should also address remote office or mobile worker access. Cloud deployment of desktop and network software solutions enables anytime/anywhere access and allows remote offices and warehouse locations to work seamlessly together.

Rule 4: Just know that you can’t scale a manual inventory system

Keeping track of inventory may be do-able when there are just a few items and a single location, but increasing the numbers turns manual inventory unmanageable. More items mean a greater likelihood that products will be missed or miscounted, and more locations increases the complexities of stock management and logistics. Without detailed item and location tracking a business won’t be able to recognize costs or losses per location. The business is more likely to lose or misdirect product, in part because issues with missing product due to worker theft are more difficult to identify because of the manual system.

Scaling a business needs the support of good software and systems to ensure that productivity and performance aren’t stifled even as business requirements expand. Manual systems or low-tech approaches to managing products and inventory may seem usable when there are few products and limited sales activity, but when the activity and volume cranks up, so does the need for a robust system that can keep up. With more orders, products, locations and workers involved a business also increases the chances for loss due to logistical issues, theft or purchasing mismanagement.

Among the considerations when implementing an inventory management solution should be the ability of the system to adjust to changing business needs through customization of processes or by integration with other solutions which extend and expand functionality. Additionally, training workers to use the software should be straightforward and not unnecessarily complicated by other unrelated processes, making it easier to expand use of the solution in the business.

How do you set yourself up for successful inventory management?

Get better software. It isn’t as complicated as you might think and it is really important.

The expense is worth it because the business will end up being more efficient, which drives profitability. The challenge is that there are many software products to choose from and they all seem big and expensive. Inventory management and stock control isn’t a simple endeavor, but the right solution will deliver business benefit quickly rather than requiring extensive training and complicated configuration that eliminates a near-term return.

Connect with us to find the inventory management and control solutions that meet the needs of growing businesses like yours. Our team understands the intricacies of single- and multi-location inventory management, just in time inventory and purchasing for stock, and we also know that small businesses can’t be overburdened by their software else there is no business benefit.

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cropped-logo_mc_w_short-1Cooper Mann works closely with the experts at Mendelson Consulting, the best in QuickBooks inventory management implementation.