The A,B,C’s of Inventory Management
One might think the books have not been written, the software not developed and the knowledge base empty when reading some of the recent headlines. When the largest retailer in the world announces they are reducing the amount of inventory in their stores because they have too much, it crowds the isles, confuses the customer and delivers the wrong message, one might wonder why they have this problem. After all the best and brightest work there and they has not held back on investments in technology. So how does the largest retailer in the world get themselves in a position where inventory levels are excessive?
Inventory management is an art not a science. The levels of inventory are a judgment call based on the available information. Let’s review how it is supposed to work. Before we start, this brief lesson applies to every company that has inventory no matter what industry and no matter what size the company. If you think this does not apply to you then I submit you are exactly the person I was thinking of when I wrote this article.
The primary reason for any inventory is to use it or sell it to make money. If you have an inventory of spare parts for a machine that is 20 years old, you are carrying that inventory to make sure you can repair the machine if it fails. If you dispose of the machine you no longer need the spare parts inventory. If you are a restaurant that specializes in prime cut steaks, you need the inventory to match the projected customers for today and maybe tomorrow. If your projections are wrong, then you either run out of steaks or have an excess. In the restaurant business, there rarely is any need to carry more than a couple days supply of inventory. Restaurant suppliers generally deliver more than once a week. In the fashion apparel industry, inventory is seasonal. In the early Spring merchandise is already in the pipeline for Fall and Winter. If apparel merchants misjudge the style, color, or fashion trend of their customer, they will be left with merchandise taking up valuable retail space. Blowout sales are then used to get rid of it.
Good systems will tell you the quantities on hand, on order, days of supply, gross profit in inventory, inventory turnover in total, by category, by vendor, by item and a lot more. Good systems will automatically process replenishment orders for item that are considered basic or staples. However, people makes policy decisions. Policy decisions are ones like inventory turnover will be at least 4 or we will now carry a higher mix of higher priced items to attract a more upscale customer. Inventory policy decisions drive the organization to action to achieve the goals of those policies.
In my experience, effective inventory policies are a result of business strategy linked to business financial performance and liquidity goals. When there is no clear definition of the goals then how do you evaluate actual results? Actual performance is always relative to the targeted goal.
The following is a brief summary of the impact of less than optimal inventory management:
Sales goals can not be met if you have nothing to sell. Forecasted demand along with replenishment modeling are key.
Gross margin goals cannot be achieved if your actual inventory mix does not match your gross margin goal or your customer demand patterns do not match what you have to offer.
Liquidity goals cannot be achieved if inventory turnover is less than target.
A,B,C Inventory Management Plan
1.Establish clear sales and gross margin goals.
2.Develop the same goals by line of business, product category
3.Identify the A items in each category. A items are the ones that make up 80% of the sales volume for that category.
4.Calculate the gross margin for the A items by category. Calculate the variance of actual gross margin for the A items vs. goal. If the result is the same, your goals are likely too low.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 for inventory turnover. Be sure the turnover goals tie into you liquidity forecast.
6. Develop detailed action plans to improve the performance of the A items. Assign a time line to those action plans along with specific accountability for implementation.
7. Extend steps 1-7 to the B items. Include in your action plan a goal of identifying which B items should move into the A category. This is normally done based on buying trends and gross margin opportunity.
8. Calculate the total investment for each level of inventory (A, B, and C’s) Evaluate the actual return on investment vs. target. You do have a targeted ROI, correct?
Project Manager: Make inventory a priority. Many people can be involved but one person should be accountable. If you have concerns about status or progress, hire an outside professional.
Complexities usually flow into the picture when people begin to spend a lot of their time on what they view are needed support tools. Those can include staff, systems and procedures. While tools are necessary to achieve your goals, a consistent focus on actual vs. targeted performance of A items should yield enormous benefits.
Steve Pohlit is a CPA,MBA and has been the CFO of several major domestic and international companies. Today Steve is an expert business consultant focused on helping companies improve their business performance including growing profits, revenues and customers. For a FREE 6 week mini course where you will receive 10 easy to implement action steps guaranteed to increase business revenue and profits by at least 30% in the next 90 days, please visit www.StevePohlit.com All articles published by Steve unless specifically restricted may be freely published with this resource information.