Business Sustainability: Inventory or Inventorture

Now don’t get me wrong, we haven’t been operating this company for 25 years without doing inventory. Much to the contrary, doing inventory each week had been an elaborate task, rarely balancing and taking too long. I wanted to streamline the system so there was less time spent and at the same time have less margin for error.

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About a year ago our business consulting firm told us that our inventory will never be absolutely accurate, no ones ever is. I just couldn’t think that. With all of the software, special equipment and time spent, surely controlling inventory should be easy enough.

Now don’t get me wrong, we haven’t been operating this company for 25 years without doing inventory. Much to the contrary, doing inventory each week had been an elaborate task, rarely balancing and taking too long. I wanted to streamline the system so there was less time spent and at the same time have less margin for error.

So we embarked upon this inventory adventure.

One thing I have learned in management over the years is “listen to the workers.” They’re doing the job, they can help you figure it out, straighten it out, and get it out faster than you can by yourself. You’re there to see what they do, get them the tools they need, help correct it when it flops, and write it up so it can be done again and again. So I listened.

We had some false starts, some big and small bumps, and some communication that wasn’t really understood. We also had a little waste, a shortage or two, and things counted as one thing when they were another. All the usual stuff that can go on did, but overall it went much smoother than I had anticipated.

No one asked for scanners, or software, or anything elaborate. The crew went simple, consistent, and streamlined.

Now we have a very good system, most of which was developed by the factory crew. We can easily determine when an item was counted wrong and correct it right away. I can walk out there right now and see exactly how much of any item we have on hand. We rarely run short of anything unless it’s preplanned. We still count every week, but it’s quick and amazingly accurate.

Our consultant is right, the inventory will never be absolutely accurate. But we have made vast improvements. What pitfalls and successes have you had in keeping track of inventory? Please leave your answers in the comments below.

trishPatricia Burkhart is the executive director of Controlled Release Technologies, Inc., a research, development and manufacturing firm based in Shelby, North Carolina.  CRT is an IFMA CSP, EnergyStar Partner and manufacturer of independently-certified Green products for HVAC maintenance. Since 1986, CRT has been creating leading edge HVAC maintenance products that have become industry standards, used in thousands of commercial buildings world-wide. CRT employees are members of BOMA, ASHRAE, ASHE and the American Chemical Society. www.cleanac.com (800) 766-9057.

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