Daily Archives: July 17, 2008

Giving Your “Ugly” Supply Chain a MakeOver

Is Your Supply Chain “Ugly”? asked a very important question – is your supply chain an “ugly baby” — which it is if your distribution is slow, if your products are unpopular due to quality issues, and, most importantly, if your warehouse and inventory management is in shambles. This is a very important question because a $100 million dollar company can lose $3 million to $6 million a year by the time storage costs, depreciation and disposition costs, and losses are factored in (because it can lose $1 million a year alone on an inaccuracy of just 5%!)

To that effect, as my last post pointed out, if your inventory is not in order, you need to get it in order — fast — because a warehouse in shambles could be your undoing in a down economy. But how do you get your inventory in order? Supply and Demand Chain Executive, who ran the article by Rene Jones of Total Logistics Solutions, Inc. that highlighted the problem, comes to the rescue with an article by Sumit Chandra, Mirko Martich, Shalin Shah, and Kumar Venkataraman of A. T. Kearney who provide insight on getting to the root of the problems, and fixing them.

Inventory management is an enormously complex job these days. Some retailers have to track hundreds of thousands of stock keeping units (SKUs) from thousands of suppliers across hundreds or even thousands of stores and distribution centers. They must also differentiate the products based on consumer demand in local, regional, national and global markets while dealing with inefficient processes and inappropriate systems that only serve to complicate the process. And good inventory decisions must balance five key business drivers: consumer demand, lead time variability, pack mix, merchandising presentation requirements, and visibility.

However, many inventory managers don’t have a clear understanding of what drives inventory levels, don’t have metric-based tools to track the key drivers, and don’t have anyone providing them with this information. Add to this the fact that there is a margin of error for each driver you try to account for, and that most companies don’t have a good forecasting process, and you can easily start to wonder how today’s supply chains can even function! The slightest error in a forecast can be very detrimental, resulting in too much inventory, which comes with unnecessary storage costs and disposition losses, or too little, which results in lost sales. So what can you do?

  • Better Forecasting
    Use good software that can take into account different demand patterns and distribution methods for various markets, as well as the seasonal, geographic and competitive position of each store. And focus on the process, and not just the software or final result. A tightly integrated S&OP process will produce better data, and better forecasting intervals, which will in turn produce better forecasts.
  • Lead Time Variability Reduction
    De-list suppliers with erratic lead times and distributors with low reliability. Track performance data against key metrics, provide regular feedback on performance and introduce supplier recognition programs.
  • Pack Mix Improvements
    When possible, optimize the pack mix size from the supplier. When not (due to complexity or cost), “break-pack” the item at local distribution centers to insure that only the needed level of inventory is shipped to a store.
  • Merchandising Presentation Management
    It might be case that extravagant visual presentations get a potential customer’s attention, but it’s also the case that such presentations can lead to excess inventory. Pack and presentation can increase inventory over a base level by 15% to 25% for an average retailer! In addition, specials on seasonal items can cause dramatic one-time boosts that can disrupt the normal inventory flow. The employment of advanced inventory flow-path techniques to determine cost and service-level tradeoffs can lead to significant savings.
  • Track Inventory Accurately
    Make sure that both outbound flows and inbound flows are carefully monitored by state-of-the-practice inventory management systems. If your system is not tracking and managing returns, you really don’t know how much inventory you have where, and whether or not it is resalable or able to be refurbished – both of which lower your overall inventory costs and losses.

Finally, make sure you have across-the-board visibility into what is where in your supply chain, and where the demands are.