Daily Archives: October 16, 2008

Inventory Management Softens Tough Times

With greater supply chain instability, driven mostly by the soaring price of oil, but exacerbated by the rush to outsource manufacturing, comes a growing need for leaner, meaner, inventory management, as pointed out in a recent Supply Chain Brain / Global Logistics & Supply Chain Strategies article that was taking another look at inventory planning and optimization.

The article points out that solid inventory management strategies are an important component of your overall risk mitigation plan, which hopefully you are working on considering a recent Aberdeen survey found that 99% of companies have experienced a supply chain disruption in the last year and that over half of suffered a financial loss because of it. To that end, the article highlighted a number of strategies that you should be exploring.

The first strategy it highlighted was the practice of inventory swaps between nominal competitors who help each other out in regions where supply suddenly becomes low or demand spikes unexpectedly. Most raw materials are used for multiple purposes in multiple industries, and it shouldn’t be too hard to identify companies that are not direct competitors that you can hammer out inventory swap agreements with.

The second strategy it recommends is my personal favorite, inventory optimization. However, it’s important to note that you need to do multi-echelon inventory optimization across your supply chain, as pointed out by this Supply Chain Digest article, because you need to see the big picture. Otherwise, you’ll overstock some locations, understock others, and lose out on real cost savings opportunities.

When you have multiple locations, you have to see the big picture and remember that you do not need as much safety inventory at a set of locations that are all in the same region as you might think you need. It’s often a better decision to risk having to ship inventory between warehouses than to risk an overstock that will result in obsolescence and a material loss in addition to the losses incurred by unnecessarily tying up too much working capital.

The third strategy, brought up in both articles, is better forecasting. The best inventory plan in the world is useless if the forecasts are way off. Be sure to pull in sales data regularly and revise your forecasts at least monthly to account for unexpected demand spikes, demand reductions, competitor new product introductions, seasonal demand shifts, and other unexpected variables that can require a forecast update to prevent unexpected losses from overstocks or understocks.

The fourth strategy is to consider network re-design. If you have too many warehouses, or too few, you could be losing money on the associated warehouse overhead or on extraneous transportation costs.

A fifth strategy, if you have excess inventory, is to donate it. As per this recent S&DC Exec article, the benefits of donating excess inventory are fourfold. It helps you reduce taxes (under section 170 (e)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code), it frees up warehouse space to store more inventory of products that are in higher demand, it avoids liquidation problems (that will appear down the road), and it can fulfill your company’s philanthropic goals while generating goodwill.

Just remember, inventory is cash. Too much, and you’re tying up too much of your precious working capital. Too little, and you’re losing the cash that results from sales. So get your inventory in order, and in addition to reducing your risk, you’ll probably save quite a bit of cash in the process. Like Home Depot, who estimates that better inventory management could save them 1.5 Billion a year. That’s a lot of bling.