Even with advanced inventory and manufacturing software that is available today, many wholesale distributors still do not have a grasp on their inventory and/or their purchasing requirements.
And even after implementing new software, many distributors still don’t feel that they have gained control of their inventory.
These wholesalers continue to face many of the same challenges they experienced with their old systems:
- Stock-outs and lost sales are common while warehouses are bulging with inventory
- On-hand and available-for-sale quantities in their computer systems aren’t accurate
- The return on investment from inventory is not satisfactory
In some cases, the problem lies in the computer software. Some packages still do not have the necessary capabilities for effective inventory management. In other situations, a distributor is using a software package that is too complicated. His buyers don’t have the knowledge, time, and/or skills to take advantage of the system’s capabilities. But the most common reason distributors do not achieve their inventory management goals has nothing to do with the computer system they utilize.
Despite what many data processing salespeople will tell you, computers do not provide solutions to inventory management problems. Computers are tools. They must be used in the proper business environment in order to work effectively. This environment is comprised of several elements. All of them must be present in order for your new inventory management system to live up to its potential.
If your system is not performing up to this potential, be sure you have implemented each of the following characteristics of good inventory management:
1. Protect your company against theft – Make sure that the only people in your warehouse belong in your warehouse. Pilferage is a larger problem than most distributors realize.
2. Establish an approved stock list for each warehouse – Most dead inventory is “D.O.A” (dead on arrival). Order only the amount of non-stock or special order items that your customer has committed to buy. Before adding an item to inventory, try to get a purchase commitment from your customer. If this is not possible, inform the salesperson who requests the item that he or she is personally responsible for half the carrying cost of any part of the initial shipment that isn’t sold within nine months.
3. Assign and use bin locations – Assign primary and surplus bin locations for every stocked item. All picking and receiving documents should list the primary bin location (in either characters or a bar code). With correct bin locations on documents, order picking is probably the least complicated job in your warehouse. Assign inexperienced people to this task and your most experienced warehouse workers to receiving inventory and stock management.
4. Record all material leaving your warehouse – There should be appropriate paperwork for every type of stock withdrawal. Under no circumstances should material leave the warehouse without being entered in the computer. Eliminate “no charge/no paperwork” material swaps. Product samples should be charged to a salesperson’s account until they are either returned to stock or charged to the customer.
5. Process paperwork in a timely manner – All printed picking documents should be filled by the end of the day. Stock receipts should be put away and entered in the computer system within 24 hours of arrival.
6. Set appropriate objectives for your buyers – Buyers should be judged and rewarded based on the customer service level, inventory turns, and return on investment for the product lines for which they are responsible.
7. Make sure every employee is aware of the cost of bad inventory management – Inventory loss through theft, breakage, or loss must be paid for with net profit dollars. If your net profit before taxes is 4%, it takes $2,500 in new sales to make up for a $100 merchandise loss!
8. Ensure that stock balances are accurate and will remain accurate – Implement a comprehensive cycle counting program. A good cycle counting program can replace your traditional year-end physical inventory.
9. Determine the most advantageous replenishment path for each item in each warehouse – Assign one of these “paths” to each item in each warehouse:
- Distributive purchasing – The warehouse replenishes stock with a purchase order issued directly to the vendor
- Central Warehousing – The stock of one warehouse is replenished with a stock transfer from a central warehouse
- Cooperative Purchasing – Several branches “pool” their needs and issue one vendor purchase order in order to meet the vendor minimum order within a reasonable amount of time
10. Specify guidelines for setting the reorder method and other purchasing parameters to maximize inventory turns and minimize stock-outs:
- Minimum/Maximum quantities
- Economic order quantities
- Order up to a specific stock level
- Safety stock quantities
- Preseason buys
11. Document replenishment procedures:
- Line buys
- Non-stock items
- Price-break purchasing
- Preseason buys
- Importing material
12. Establish customer service, inventory turnover, and return on investment goals for the following 24 months for each branch and major product line – After each month end close, compare the goals to the actual results.
13. Initiate an on-going dead stock and excess inventory control program – Excess inventory is usually considered to be any quantity of a product greater than a 12 month supply.
- Transfer excess stock to a branch that needs the material
- Return the stock to the vendor
- Lower the price of items with excess inventory
- Substitute surplus inventory for lower cost items that are still popular
- Offer special commissions for the sale of surplus merchandise
- Sell the excess inventory to a competitor
- Donate excess stock to a non-profit agency
- Throw it out, take the “write-off” for your financial statement, and free up room in your warehouse
14. Make inventory management considerations part of corporate strategic planning.
Implementing an information management system is a lot like painting a house. When you paint a house, the success of the job is dependent on the preparation of the surface before the paint is applied. Even if you use the most expensive paint available, if the surface has not been scraped and sanded, the paint will peel off.
Likewise, the most expensive system will not deliver the results expected by a distributor unless it is operating in a business environment that ensures inventory accuracy.