It’s not the sexiest topic around, but managing inventory can be critical to a business’s success. Failure to do so can result in excess products wasting valuable space. Those with a short shelf life may perish. Shortages mean an inability to promptly fill orders and a loss of customers.
Efficiency experts equate manually tracking inventory or doing so on a simple spreadsheet to calculating company finances with an abacus. Even if you have a simple database already installed on your computer to manage inventory, it’s more labor-intensive and time-consuming than software programs.
So how do you proceed? Compare what you need versus what you want, advises Dan Belanger of Grand Rapids, Mich., the president at Baltech. Need and want “can sometimes be miles apart.” With scores of vendors offering software programs at $100 a month to drastically higher, you should choose carefully.
Ask yourself these questions, suggests Steve Hopper, founder and principal with Inviscid Consulting in suburban Atlanta: “What’s the goal? What do you intend to use the system for? What’s the best fit?”
Inventory management systems can track—in real time—inventory in each warehouse, even to each shelf or rack location. These systems can also indicate whether an item in stock has been promised to a customer, provide automatic alerts when inventory items fall below a certain level, generate reports such as a list of the fastest-moving items, or those that have generated the most revenue and profit. Plus they’ll allow you to create and keep track of purchase orders, as well as where and when items were stored, picked and shipped.
Before choosing a system, decide whether you need to install a system on-site using your servers, pay a software vendor to install and host the system on its servers, or go with a cloud-based system. Disadvantages of the first option, Belanger says, are that you need a technically savvy person on staff and you have to pay for software upgrades already included with hosted systems. Hopper adds, “As a general rule, the smaller the business, the more it may make sense to go with a cloud-based system.”
Will one person have access to your inventory control system, or several? A single-user system is cheaper. With multiple people having access, you may not want everybody to see sensitive information.
In any event, look for a system that even users who have limited technical skills can learn easily, and one that offers customer support such as tutorials, online FAQs and chat help.
The bottom line: You may be able to track goods more easily, accurately, quickly and affordably with an inventory management system. “Companies that don’t have that ability struggle against their peers who do,” Hopper says.
Ahead in the Cloud
Start with these online solutions to inventory magagement.
Keep your products organized with pictures, prices and categories. On a regular PC, inFlow can easily handle more than 10,000 products.
Pricing: free up to 100 products, and $299 per licensed computer for more than 100 products
Multiple users can track and manage all stock levels across multiple warehouses and locations. Some accounts come with free training.
Pricing: starting at $39/month billed annually
A major upshot here is the transparency: Share capabilities with workers easily, control which actions they perform, and trace all changes to the user who made them.
Pricing: new accounts starting at $25/month plus $5/month per additional user