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Maintaining lean inventory for distributors

In today’s economic climate, businesses are on a constant rolling diet. Owners and inventory controllers strive to pilot the leanest possible operation with next to no liabilities. Particularly in the Distribution scene, these companies are being run on extremely lean inventories - thus reducing the amount of capital tied up in inventory. Other companies will stock up in order to always have what the customer ordered.

There are pros and cons to both of these strategies, when a company chooses not to stock up they run the risk of losing an opportunity once a customer comes calling. By the same token, the distributor who stocks up on an item finds themselves in strife once they realise they’re not able to move the product quickly. The vital metric to any distribution business is sell-through rate. This metric is the number of times inventory of a product is bought and entirely sold in a given period. The more times a distributor can turn over it’s inventory in a year, the more money they will make. You can maximise your stock turns by avoiding stocking items that you cannot turn within 90 days.

Maintaining a lean inventory for distributors

The amount of inventory that you initially purchase is going to depend on where your customers are located and the quantity that they can reasonably demand. If your customers are in close proximity to your warehouse, then you can simply ask them how much product they plan to procure over a given period. On the other side of the coin, if your warehouse is servicing a far larger area of customers then you’ll need to have a buffer for any unexpected spikes in demand. Having good relationships with local suppliers comes in handy here as they can help you fill this demand within a reasonable timeframe.

One of the biggest errors a company can make is investing in too much inventory. If you aren’t able to move this product quickly, the inventory will be taking capital and shelf space inevitably costing the business cash-flow. The space taken by the slow-turning inventory could be better used stocking product that plays to what your customers want to buy. This comes back to the sell-through metric mentioned earlier, this metric is key to the success of any distribution business. The trick underneath it all is to hold just enough product to not run out of stock. Achieving this balance is key to your success as a distribution business.

Maintaining lean inventory for distributors

Another factor to consider when deciding how much stock to purchase is the product life-cycle. Products like food and beverages are high-risk items which have a finite shelf-life, whereas gardening tools are relatively low-risk and can be kept on hand. Another trick of the trade is to sell your stock before you’ve even paid for it leveraging payment terms. If you only have to pay for the stock 30 days after it is sent, you could sell the stock and have the cash in hand before you settle the bill with the manufacturer. This way you’re essentially acting as a middle-layer, never “owning” the stock, but clipping the ticket along the way.

When it comes to managing lean inventory, this task is impossible to do at scale without a high level of visibility into your purchasing, sales and inventory operations. The implementation of a specialised ERP platform will give you the power to monitor your sell-through rates and other metrics to enable you to make smarter purchasing decisions. If your current system isn’t quite up to scratch, Alt Shift can manage your ERP project from scoping to implementation and training. We can provide you the tools you need to take your business to the next level. Get in touch with us to book in a chat.